By Teachers, For Teachers
What if you took just one hour out of your normal curriculum to teach your students something entirely different? This something would mostly likely be a large diversion from the “regularly scheduled program,” yet it promises to open up the door for your students to a world that might change their life forever. Interested?
Our regular curriculums include the regime of mathematics, science, social studies, language, reading, writing, physical education, and other typical core subjects. But to a certain extent, these traditional courses block out opportunity for student exposure to the next generation of technological needs. In this case, what if you took just one hour to introduce your students to writing computer code?
Well, now you can, and all the work has been done for you. Whether you already know computer code or not, whether you have time to prep materials for it or not, the opportunity to use technology in the classroom to introduce your students to coding is now.
No matter what subject or grade level you teach, taking a short time out to introduce coding to your students could be the spark that ignites many of them into a life of joy and success in the computer science field.
The late Steve Jobs stated, “I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.” Indeed, computer science helps to nurture critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and it fosters design, creativity, logic, teamwork, and a whole host of other 21st-century skills. Yet it often goes overlooked in traditional curriculums.
Who has the most power in any given generation: The ones who use the materials or the ones who create them? The literate or the illiterate? The producer or the consumer? No, coding is not easy to learn, but that’s why introducing it to students at a young age makes it so valuable. If students cannot just use technology but actively design and manipulate it, they are going to make themselves that much more powerful and desirable in a tech-saturated world. Coding is quickly emerging as the new digital literacy, and if our role as teachers is to help students develop necessary skills to maintain literacy in their world, then coding cannot be shelved as a “We-hope-students-discover-this-on-their-own” sort of skill.
The American economy will rely on talented, creative individuals who can design and create using technology. Co-founder and CEO of Code.org Hadi Partovi opines in a 2014 interview that, “Every single field is impacted significantly by computers and software, and the fact that our schools don’t even teach the most basic course of how computers work and how the Internet works seems like a gaping hole in our education offerings.” The Wall Street Journal recently provided some alarming statistics related to America’s educational computer science shortcomings. Even President Obama urges Americans to not “Just buy a new video game … make one. Don’t just download the latest app … help design it.”
Computer science is a vastly burgeoning field that, as we speak, is severely understaffed. The Wall Street Journal cites that 93 percent of high schools teach foreign languages, but only 20 percent include a computer science course. Even in the high schools with computer science classes available, fewer than 10 percent of students enroll in such courses, in large part due to the subject as “not recognized as a required ‘core academic subject.’”
Coding is not a passing trend, and Code.org points out that dozens of high-profile and influential people at all levels of society encourage coding. A recent study by Google, “Searching for Computer Science,” discovered a perplexing trend: Although 64 percent of parents and 67 percent of teachers think computer science is “Just as important” as other core curriculum courses, fewer than 7 percent of principals have reported that parent demand for such courses is high. This finding led Google researchers to conclude, “This perceived lack of demand from parents and students is contrary to the sentiments that students and parents in this study express.” We seem to recognize the importance of computer science, but don’t push for including it in school.
As of 2014, England became the first G20 nation to respond to the pleas from the tech industry, including the likes of Microsoft and Google, and made it compulsory for students beginning at age 5 to have computer science as part of their curriculum. Other nations, such as Israel, have overhauled their conception of students’ core courses to make room for teaching students about algorithms, troubleshooting, and Boolean logic. Yet despite the U.S.’s international draw for computer experts to its Silicon Valley, its public schools have yet to follow suit.
Overall, there is an overwhelming demand for people to learn to code, and American schools are not responding to that demand … yet.
Part of the joy of teaching is opening up students’ eyes to the beauty and possibility that exists in the world. I have the privilege of doing this through literature. Teachers of all subjects and ages certainly enjoy sharing the world through their own curriculums. But what if there were an easy way to help open up one more door for students? What if we could introduce students to coding in an easy, non-intrusive way?
Try the Hour of Code – a commitment to spend just one hour introducing your students to coding some time during the week of Dec. 7-13. This worldwide event is hosted by Code.org and backed by some of the biggest corporations and non-profits in the world. Code.org itself is a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to “expanding participation in computer science.”
The Hour of Code is simple to participate in. Code.org encourages people of all ages, from 4 to 104, to learn how to code. Coding doesn’t just have to be for exactly 60 minutes; you can split up the time during the week, or go for more than an hour if you like. And hey, if your schedule during the week of Dec. 7 doesn’t work out, you could set aside an hour of coding just about any time during the year that it does suit you.
If you’re hosting a coding event at your school, you can even register on Code.org’s website. When you register, you’ll have the option of getting sent promotional posters and joining the more than 120,000+ events already registered!
I know very little about coding (though I am learning), yet I have still enjoyed participating with my classes in an annual hour of code. How? Code.org makes it simple by providing coding-based games and tutorials that will make a mere hour of coding fly by and whet the appetites of your students. They also include links to teacher-developed lessons and materials. All you have to do is equip your students with tablets or computers, lead them to the tutorials, and let the students take it from there. You can, of course, supplement the time with any discussion, promotions, or instruction about coding you feel is appropriate for your class. And Code.org even tries to link teachers up with local expert volunteers who might visit or videoconference with your students.
As a teacher, you have say over what your students do or don’t do in your classroom. Of course, the majority of your time will be spent on your regular curriculum, fulfilling the mandates of your district and state. An hour might be a lot to spare amidst our busy schedules, but in the lifetime of your students it might be just the right amount of time to turn their attention towards an unfamiliar skill and spark their interest.
What you do with computer science and the Hour of Code is up to you. But this year I urge you to consider helping your students participate in this worldwide, life-changing opportunity. Malala Yousafzai, the world’s youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient, even took to YouTube to “encourage girls in every single country to learn one hour of code.” Girls in particular stand to benefit, as their presence in the computer science industry lags behind their male counterparts. But regardless of gender, age, nationality, or level of experience, you are certain not to regret taking one hour to introduce any of your students to the exciting world of computer science.
Will you participate in this year’s Hour of Code? Why or why not? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.