It may seem far down the line when we talk about career prospects for elementary school students — or even for middle schoolers — but many students decide on careers in STEM long before they graduate high school. Plus, STEM skills and digital literacy have a proven demand in a job market that is increasingly technology and data-driven, thus making these skills critical competencies students should be learning in school.
Research shows a startling gap between what business leaders expect of graduates and the reality in the classroom: by 2021, 67 percent of U.S. executives expect to choose job candidates with data skills over those without, but only 23 percent of educators believe their students will graduate with these essential technology and analytical skills.
Educators need tangible resources to build the skills students need to succeed in the current and future workforce. Active-learning activities provide students with practical, hands-on education and engagement key to building their STEM competencies. Whether these activities are done in the classroom or as an after-school program, students lead the learning and gain opportunities to hone their teamwork, delegation, problem-solving, and communication skills.
I tried something new this year: integrating coding with algebra. This was quite the challenge. With all the pressure for students to meet state standards, how would I introduce coding without sacrificing valuable algebra content?
I dedicated myself to search for that balance between algebra and coding, ensuring that one wasn’t prioritized over the other. I wanted coding and technology to be tools for enrichment that would help kids to understand algebra. This year was all about trial and error, succeeding and failing, experimenting and hypothesizing. It certainly took courage to try out something new, but taking that extra step toward the unknown was absolutely rewarding.
My students loved coding. I started the year with a “sandbox.” They were free to be creative and build whatever they wished. The creativity got them hooked. Once they built something, they were itching to build more. However, it only took a few days for them to realize that there were limitations. They didn’t understand enough coding to build more complex things, which of course stirred their curiosity. That’s where it all started, with the big essential question, “How can I bring my imagination to life?”
Why teach coding?
Simply put, coding can change and impact people’s lives.
The effect technology — as a result of computer code — has on this world is incredible. What used to be thought of as impossible is now made possible. What’s more amazing is that our technological accomplishments always open up new realms of possibilities. Cellphones, for instance, didn’t stop at phone calls — they led to streaming music and eBooks and brain teasing games and the ability to map the night sky.
This suggests that learning technology and its underlying language — coding — is extremely powerful.