Elementary school students should learn code, work with their hands

Elementary school students should learn code, work with their hands

             Elementary school is an extremely important time for the development of our children. The skills they develop in the classroom and on the playground lay the foundation for the rest of their lives. For this reason, it is crucial that we teach even our youngest learners the basics they will need to compete, survive, and thrive in the world we are leaving them. Of course, they learn about shapes, basic mathematics, science, music, and art. But there are technical skills that will be just as important to them. This is why we need to teach elementary school students how to code.

                Coding can be scary, and I’m sure you have your reservations even reading the sentence above. If many adults can’t code, how can we expect 10 year-olds to do it? It’s true, it can be difficult. But we don’t start our kids off learning calculus, so of course we won’t start them out coding a database or setting up a webpage. It will start simple. Coding at the most basic level is a way of thinking critically, algorithmically one could say. Teaching students how to think critically is the always the goal of any science-based course. There are many websites out there that provide kid-focused coding introduction. The underlying ideas, such as loops, Boolean logic, and functions, aren’t very complex. A few hours a week for a year or two would go a long way to laying that foundation.

                It is obvious that our world is rapidly becoming more and more connected. There is wifi everywhere, smartphones in every pocket, and an unimaginable wealth of information always at our fingertips. So it would be irresponsible to leave our children without the skills they need to create, control, and understand the electronics that make our world tick. Even if they only have this class for a year, it will give them an appreciation of the work that goes into making the latest app or the slickest program. And for those that have an interest, getting exposed earlier is only going to make things easier for them further down the line in college and beyond. Technological literacy is not a luxury anymore; it is a necessity.

                Other countries are already realizing the importance of STEM fields in early education. Countries like China and India are setting up their youths to succeed in the global market. While the US certainly commands plenty of respect for its technological prowess, this is no time to lag behind. From today’s standpoint, we need more American workers in STEM fields. And that isn’t even considering the next great paradigm shift that will occur in the coming decades or centuries. Education is a way to prepare and protect our country and our children. As President Obama said, “Everybody’s got to learn how to code early.” To do otherwise is short-sighted. This goes for everyone, but especially for women and minorities, which are chronically underrepresented in STEM fields. Perhaps teaching code at a young age will get girls interested before middle school comes along, and all the social and societal pressures that come along with it sway their opinions away from the fields.

Elementary school students should learn code, work with their hands

                It is paramount that we begin teaching code at an early age for many reasons, but one that is often overlooked is that fact that kids are great at picking up naturally on patterns and language. These are two fundamental characteristics of code, since every piece of code uses a special “language” to carry out tasks and record information. Children have great intuition. Much like learning a spoken language, exposure is the best way to get kids learning. Just like kids can learn an extremely complex language like English just by hearing, practicing, and learning some basic grammar lessons, kids can code a program to perform a basic task. It isn’t until we begin to study a language’s grammar and vocabulary that we become absolutely fluent, and there is an analogous learning curve when it comes to computers. But we don’t need to make every student an IT whiz, we just have to make them proficient.

                Perhaps the best way to appeal to kids is a hands-on implementation of the virtual code they write. Like the toys and Legos they play with, having something to touch and see can make coding that much more “real.” To this end, robots fill that role perfectly. Robotics requires some extra work, such as following instructions, using tools, and working as a team to build the machine itself, but some teachers may want to integrate these extra skills into the course. And once it is built, the real fun begins. By including some basic electronics like wires, a circuit board, and a power source, your robot can do some amazing things. Do you want it to wave at you? Wire up a servo. Do you want one that walks or rolls around? That can be done, especially with some assistance by the teacher. Robots are the best way to get your young child learning about code, which is too important to continue to ignore. Even if your school is behind the times, there are plenty of online resources to help your kid learn the basics. Our sons and daughters are the future leaders of this country and the world, and it is our duty to prepare them for the unique technological challenges and opportunities we have left them.