In first grade I learned to “program” using the logo software. That was my last encounter with coding until 2002. I had no idea what Computer Science was when I got to college. I thought it meant that I got to fix and build computers but it doesn’t, those are actually two other separate fields. However, those who choose those fields are required to take computer science classes as well. In fact, I took my first coding course in the spring semester of my freshman year, as a requirement for a completely different major: mathematics. After taking that course, I decided that I wanted to double major.
Districts across the country are working on getting Computer Science into their schools. Some are even building schools solely for computer engineering. It’s a gargantuan task given that in many states, Computer Science isn’t even a teaching license yet. By the time it becomes established as a regular course around the nation, millions of children may have lost the opportunity to learn about one of the most important subjects.
Technology use is growing rapidly and our students need to be ready for the future they are going to face. It’s easy to forget that the world is going to be very different for a current first grader when they are ready to join the workforce, it is imperative that they start learning the skills they will need now. This is why code.org is sponsoring Computer Science Week.
Why is Computer Science so important?
Computers are quickly taking over many of the tasks that we do, some people feel that this is a bad thing. However, they don’t realize that behind every computer, app or robot there is someone who wrote the programs that told the device or app what to do. In fact, our students already do some of the things that computer scientists do and are learning many of the skills they will need in other courses. Let me give you an idea of how the coding process works for an app or program:
The computer scientists, who usually work in teams, (collaborative work) spend months working on detailed instructions for the computer/program/robot to follow that cover every single possible situation that the technology would need to react to (modeling real world problems and creating algorithms). Then they spend more months testing those situations to make sure that the program is responding properly and working correctly (reviewing their work and problem solving). The programs are then released to beta testers. Beta testers use the programs and give the computer scientists feedback on what they think is working and report “bugs” or issues with the programs. The computer scientists take that feedback and fix the program so that it is ready for release (using data). After a program is released there is still work to do. Often times there are more bugs to fix, other times people just need customer service to help them learn how to use the program, and almost always there are updates and improvements to the app as new things happen and situations evolve.
So for every job that is “replaced” by a computer, there are several more jobs that are created to support the computer in it’s job.
“Computer science is a foundational science for the Digital Age”
Technology users often don’t actually understand how the technology they are using works, this is often the source of misinformation about technology in general and it is a great frustration to many who are trying to learn new technologies. In order to use something properly, it’s helpful to learn how it works, even if it’s just the basics. From there, you’ll be able to develop the skills to come up with ways to fix it or make it better! You might even want to become a beta tester!
As you can tell from the scenario above, computer scientists need to be able to work efficiently in teams and they need to have good problem solving skills to fix all those bugs they encounter. Good computer scientists also need to be creative and think out of the box. After all, those great app ideas and problem solutions have to come from somewhere! These are all skills that can be taught without coding!! In fact, many teachers are already teaching many of these skills in their classrooms. This video about the importance of computational thinking sums it up pretty well.
What can you do?
First get your students inspired!! Computer Science Week is December 9th to December 15th! Code.org has great resources that can be used to get your students excited about coding, including posters and videos from celebrities and pioneers in the Computer Science world. I found this article particularly motivating.
Then, bring code into your classroom!! Since coding usually involves a problem to solve or something to create, it can be done in any subject, you don’t even have to have computers! Code.org has several lesson plans that can be used without computers or without internet access. My favorite is MY ROBOTIC FRIENDS from Tinkersmith. It’s a full lesson plan with all resources included. Students work in groups to create instructions for a group member who has been designated the robot. Students have a set of possible instructions (move left, move right, etc) which they must use to instruct the robot to make a cup tower. Once the programmers put their instructions together the robot then joins the teams and tries to create the tower using only the instructions provided.
Do you plan on doing something for Computer Science Week in your classroom?