Computer codes are key to success

December 18, 2013 

This past week, students at Artondale Elementary learned about computer coding. Students gave the computer directions, to see if things would move how they programmed. The activity was part of the Hour of Code, a nation-wide effort that is part of Computer Science Education Week, Dec. 9-15.

“The kids loved it, they were totally engaged,” Nathan Sears, a fourth grade teacher at Artondale, said.

As of Monday, 16,659,764 people had signed up to learn coding for one hour at csedweek.org. Computer Science Education Week, or CSedWeek, is a program that teaches students K-12 about computer science. It occurs annually to mark the birthday of computer science pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, born Dec. 9, 1906. This year, Admiral Hopper was honored with a “Doodle” on the Google homepage.

With an emphasis on computer science education, there will be more Admiral Hoppers in the United States. Coding is the way of the future. Hopper -- nicknamed “Amazing Grace” -- joined the research team of Howard Aiken at Harvard University in 1943. When she walked in, according to her recollection, he asked where she’d been, pointed to a Mark I computing machine and then said “Here, compute the coefficients of the arc tangent series by next Thursday.”

You never know, one of those Artondale kids could walk into Harvard ready to go someday, just like Hopper did 70 years ago.

Hopper was prepared on day one. Coding is a complex process that takes dedication and practice, but once you get the hang of it, it’s also fun. Hour of Code tutorials feature cameos by Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and mobile gaming staple Angry Birds. It’s not about dry science, it’s about creating. Students can create holiday greeting cards and computer games. There are even coding activities to be done offline, on old-fashioned pencil and paper.

Giving hands-on experience to elementary age students could be the start of a successful post-college career. That’s what it was about for Artondale Elementary. Sears said the Hour of Code was suggested by Artondale’s principal, Jacque Crisman, who heard about it from the district’s technology department.

According to an infographic by Code.org, computer science is “America’s Untapped Opportunity.” The graphic estimates there will be 1 million more computing jobs than there will be students by 2020, at the rate computer education is going. Jobs will be ripe for the plucking.

But students aren’t pursuing the opportunity. Code.org said less than 2.4 percent of college students earn a computer science degree. The most recent data for that was available in 2009, from the National Science Foundation.

Although that number is a few years behind, why is it so low? It’s a pretty deep hole to climb out of in only four years. The answer is likely access -- only nine out of 10 schools offer programming classes. If there aren’t classes, there’s no exposure to what could be a lucrative career for students. The Hour of Code gives just a taste of what programming is about, but if students enjoy it, they’ll follow it on to college. Artondale gave students a taste.

Sears said several students printed off the certificate of completion that was offered at the end of the Hour of Code activity. It could be the start of many more accomplishments. Computer programming should be part of curriculum, just like reading and math. It incorporates all levels of intelligence. It’s creative and it’s structured.

Think of all the ways computers have revolutionized the world. Starting with Hopper and moving to Gates, Steve Jobs, Zuckerberg and more. While it seems like technology appears at our fingertips, it’s the product of careful work by men and women in an industry.

Schools should be training students in code, not just to earn them jobs. Programming runs phones, runs computers, and runs so many aspects of our world.

Artondale’s participation in the Hour of Code is a great start. Who knows, maybe the next “Amazing Grace” will start coding the new world as a graduate of Artondale.

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