Reasons to Start Teaching How to Code in Elementary School
In a previous article, we discussed the Importance of Learning to Code for middle and high school students. A big reason for learning to code at that age is in preparation for college or a career in coding, whether that be in web development, custom software or creating apps and games for mobile phones. Because technology and software has become so integrated with everything we do for school, work, social gatherings and more, the amount of jobs available in the programming industry are astounding.
But why teach elementary students about coding? They’re too young to really start considering their career, and coding can be very complex and difficult to grasp. Well, the biggest reason actually has nothing to do with learning the programming languages themselves. The main reason your school should have an elementary computer science program is to start developing their “21st century skills” so they can be prepared for the digital age by middle school.
What are 21st Century Skills?
As the name implies, these are skills that are necessary (and encouraged) to have in the 21st century. These skills will be crucial for any child growing up in this technologically evolving world. However, these skills, once developed, can impact every part of a student’s life, not just their schooling or career.
Although up for debate, the common consensus is that 21st Century Skills are things such as:
Digital Literacy: Knowing how to use computers, how to type efficiently, how to use common computer programs or applications such as Microsoft Word and email programs, and especially knowing how to properly conduct oneself online.
Problem Solving: The ability to look at a problem and come up with multiple ways it can be solved, as well as unique ways it can be solved. Involved in problem solving are additional important skills such as critical thinking and creativity.
Collaboration: Working with a team to create a final product is standard practice in most jobs, so learning to collaborate properly and communicate effectively are important skills to learn. Proper communication, both digitally and in-person will be imperative to good collaboration.
Soft Skills & Academic Skills
21st Century Skills are not the only skills developed when learning how to code. Other skills learned and developed while completing a programming course may include:
Organization: In order to create well-written code, you must be organized. Indents, spaces, punctuation and capitalization all matter when programming. File organization and code structure are important as well. Students will not be able to get very far in learning to code without staying organized. This sort of digital organization will serve them well in the digital age and it’s important to learn early on.
Resilience: Learning how to code will inevitably come with many mistakes and frustrations trying to debug errors. The smallest error can cause a whole program to break. This iterative process of having your code fail, reviewing it and fixing it builds up a resilience to projects that may be frustrating for students at the onset, but they learn that as they develop more skill, the projects get easier and debugging simply becomes part of the process.
Math: Basic math is used in all types of programming, from how many times to repeat a loop to calculating scores or probability in a game. Having to use these basic math skills while coding only makes them stronger. And on the flipside, the logical, computational thinking used in coding may help the students when it comes to learning math.
Writing & Typing: While students can use a coding software such as Codementum without knowing how to touch type (by using their block editor), typing is a must-have skill for any student learning to code. Assuming students are getting in typing practice elsewhere, the coding curriculum will be reinforcing those typing skills. In addition to typing, the planning involved in building a block of code, from the initial plan to the final product, can translate well to planning a creative story. Codementum’s story-based games enhance this even further by creating fun tasks for the character to complete, which the student’s need to do by coding the actions. The students are literally coding a story. Building a mindset like this can help when it comes to planning and writing fiction as well.
Logic, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
These three skills are so important to both programming and life in general that these should be the focus of any computer science curriculum. Creating a program is essentially one big problem you’re trying to solve. How can my program help someone complete this task? With that in mind, programmers go about solving that problem in the most efficient way possible. Sometimes that’s not easy though, and creative solutions need to be developed in order to succeed. Plus, all types of code are based on a set of rules that the computer can follow. It’s the job of the programmer to stay within these rules and create logical commands that the program can follow.
The best part is that these three skills immediately translate into everyday life. In almost any subject in school, and even outside of school, there will be problems that arise. Having the ability to think critically and creatively on how a problem can be solved is so important. These are skills employers are looking for now, and will continue looking for long into the future.
Learning to code isn’t just about teaching students how to communicate with a computer, it’s about teaching them how to think in a unique and creative way and how to work with and communicate with others. Learning a programming language builds confidence in students as they see their skills develop into creating a tangible program or game that they built themselves.