Students as Coders

I would like to take this opportunity to share with you one part of the computer technology curriculum that I have been teaching for many years and I feel is becoming more and more important as technology becomes increasingly prevalent. Coding (or programming) is a vital skill for students to learn. In fact, so much so, that there are concerted efforts to aid in the promotion of coding to students, parents and teachers. One such initiative is the “Hour of Code” (https://code.org/learn) aimed to develop interest in a fun and collaborative way.

Why should kids learn to code? There are many reasons. It is becoming a much-needed skill in the current job market today. Currently, there is a demand for skilled programmers in many companies. They are offering a sizeable income to employees along with meal, fitness and recreational facilities – quite an offering for a young, hard-working person. However, this is not the only reason, after all God has made us all unique and not all will be led in this way. Computers are so prevalent in our world that it only makes sense for students to learn the basics in order to use them in their daily lives. As an article published on CBC parents explains, “If grade-schoolers are taught biology and mathematics in order to understand the world around them, then knowing the basics of how computers communicate—and how to engage with them—should be a given.” (found at http://www.cbc.ca/parents/learning/view/why-kids-should-learn-to-code-and-how-to-get-them-started)

Additionally, coding is a great way to develop skills in problem solving and logical thinking. Students who learn programming skills increase proficiencies in Math and Science. Let us also not forget that coding is fun! Making a computer perform the tasks you want it to is quite rewarding. As a teacher, many times I have seen the thrill of a student watching the computer execute their first program.

What ages should students be? Any age! I have taught students from grade 1 to grade 8 and all have been able to grasp fundamental concepts. A great introduction to coding is using “block” stacking. Students build programs by stacking together short blocks of code by dragging and dropping. At MCS we use a technology called Scratch (http://scratch.mit.edu) which uses this technique. Younger students can build programs to make a character move around the screen and respond to simple events. Older students can use Scratch to make full-fledged programs using variables and sophisticated logic.

For the grade 6-8 students, they are ready to begin looking at more traditional forms of coding. At MCS we look at creating web pages with HTML and CSS and this year we are going to look at a prevalent language often used to teach beginners to code, Python.

What can parents do to help supplement the learning in the classroom? There are many books and websites dedicated to helping the student learn to code. The Huntsville Public Library has quite a few books written, for students ages 10 and up, to learn in a fun and exciting way. A great list can be found at the end of the CBC article (http://www.cbc.ca/parents/learning/view/why-kids-should-learn-to-code-and-how-to-get-them-started) including some aimed at girls using the “Frozen” characters (http://studio.code.org/s/frozen/stage/1/puzzle/1).

Written by Roger King who teaches technology to many of our students and who oversees our technology department at MCS.

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