Should Kids Learn to Code in Grade School?

| September 26, 2012 | 49 Comments
  • Email Post

TB

By Sheena Vaidyanathan

Deep into the digital age, the need for everyone to understand and learn programming is becoming more and more apparent. Codecademy, Coursera and other education start-ups are stepping in to fill the much-needed gap to teach adults to code. For kids, non-profits like CodeNow are raising funds to run summer programming camps for minority high school students, while other organizations like Girls Who Code are working on getting middle and high school girls interested in computer science.

While these are all worthwhile endeavors, each is working to fix what’s broken – teaching an essential skill that’s not taught in most schools. Learning to program has been relegated to summer camps and through programs that exist because of fundraising. But there’s a case to be made about using school time, school computers, and school funding to teach programming to every student. And to start early: Programming is just writing in the language of computers, so why not teach kids to code like we teach them to write?

It’s already being done, and not surprisingly, in Silicon Valley. Last school year, two very different public schools introduced programming to elementary age students. In the high-performing affluent Los Altos School District, all sixth graders (approximately 500 students) learned to code in a required weekly class. Student feedback showed that girls were just as interested in

programming as boys. Turns out that special girls-only programs are unnecessary at this stage because the stereotypes may not have yet set in. (Check out the games built by students.)
In Sí Se Puede, a Rocketship charter school in a low-income community in San Jose, a free weekly after school club in the school computer lab gave fourth-graders an opportunity to learn programming. Within the student population, 92 percent qualify for free/reduced lunch program and many of the programming club members had limited access to a computer at home. But given the opportunity, they created these excellent games.
Though the income level, cultural backgrounds, and computer resources available to the students from these two school communities may be very different, the enthusiasm of students to learn and the ability to quickly grasp programming concepts was exactly the same high level.The student work speaks for itself. Girls or boys, minority or not, low-income or affluent – it does not matter. Everyone can learn to program just like everyone can learn to swim when they are young and unafraid.
Sheena Vaidyanathan teaches 3D design and computer programming to students in the Los Altos School District in California.
Related

Explore: ,

  • Email Post
  • Pingback: Tweetables: This Week’s Top News That’s Fit to Share |

  • geri caruso

    I think we are considering this only because coding seems like a mystery to us, the uninitiated. Wow… that must be intereting… not necessarily. All it takes is an attention to detail that is only possible if an evil spirit flew over you at birth and cursed you. Not to mention the ability to stare a screen looking through thousands of lines of type for the one time you used a back slash instead of a forward slash.. you don’t need to know how the city plumbing system works to brush your teeth. Learn the general principles and move on.

  • sonja

    How about focusing on trade skills that most students who graduate would need like plumbing, construction, electrical, etc. Most students will not need to know programming or have the math background, ability or passion to even pursue such a path. Basic reading skills, knowing how to get along with others and understanding one’s place in the community (being a good citizen, voting, etc) are what children need to learn – coding is NOT a necessity. I would probably flunk if forced to take such a class – I was terrible in math.

    Ask our legislators if they’d be willing to learn this. I’ll bet most would say “no thanks”…come to think of it – how many of them would pass the current crop of required high school “exit” exams they’ve foisted on our students?

  • sonja

    How about focusing on trade skills that most students who graduate would need like plumbing, construction, electrical, etc. Most students will not need to know programming or have the math background, ability or passion to even pursue such a path. Basic reading skills, knowing how to get along with others and understanding one’s place in the community (being a good citizen, voting, etc) are what children need to learn – coding is NOT a necessity. I would probably flunk if forced to take such a class – I was terrible in math.

    Ask our legislators if they’d be willing to learn this. I’ll bet most would say “no thanks”…come to think of it – how many of them would pass the current crop of required high school “exit” exams they’ve foisted on our students?

    • NameGoesHere

      I’m 13 and I’m really interested in coding…

    • Machi4velli

      You don’t need to know math to code.

      • Greg Araujo

        Depends on what you are trying to code. A conditional loop involves math, it may not be calculus but its still math.

  • Al

    It is this type of thinking that ranks the US low when it comes to Science and Technology. I am not a coder but manage coders who invent things that save lives and change our world. Next time you go get an Xray or CAT scan remember that a bright coder created the application that might just save your life.

  • http://twitter.com/Haddicus Sean Haddy

    What’s up with all the negative comments here? I am a software developer by trade, and see nothing wrong with introducing programming to kids. I have already done so with my kids (6, 4), in small ways…. You don’t have to go into complex augorithms to introduce programming… programming basics are logic 101, and can serve purposes in many areas of science, math and technology…. Get with it.

  • http://twitter.com/pragmaticmom PragmaticMom

    I like these ideas for middle grade kids and I have a post from guest author with coding for kids ideas and resources for younger kids as well.

    http://www.pragmaticmom.com/2012/08/programming-for-kids/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1302628459 Toby Foote

    Learning to code, for any computer language, is vitally important to kids. EVERY child that goes to college will need to know this BEFORE they go. Understanding how computers “think” is necessary in determining if a solution can be provided by a computer (or technology). Teaching this technology in a fun way to elementary and middle school children is the key to successfully delivering this education. Think about how important typing skills are today, and that’s what programming skills will be like in 15 years.

    • Rational

      It is NOT vitally important

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1302628459 Toby Foote

    We do this every summer for our tech camps in Ohio (Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati) — http://www.classroomantics.com.

  • Sarah P.

    I learned to code as a first grader at home, not in school, because my family got a TRS-80 home computer (yes, I’m old). At the time, you bought books of BASIC source code print outs and typed them in if you wanted game software – then you saved them to a cassette tape to keep them :) Typing in all that code, and learning simple BASIC programming side-by-side with my father as he taught himself, was an easy and interesting introduction to programming for me. I later learned logo, and then Pascal, in my public elementary school. I went on to be a programmer in silicon valley, and love and am involved with computers to this day. I strongly support teaching children programming in elementary school.

  • BrettSF

    I learned to code at grade school age. By myself on my dad’s TI-99 4A computer by buying magazines with BASIC code samples for games and learning as I went. Fast forward years later, I graduated with honors at a university and was accepted into the Computer Science PhD program. I now am very successful in my tech career.

    Yes, kids should learn to code in grade school.

  • Pingback: Coding, Making, and the Arts: Essential Tools for Students — Outside of School | MindShift

  • Pingback: Where The Coding Craze Is Going Overboard | Tech Blog

  • Pingback: Where The Coding Craze Is Going Overboard | Review & Bonus

  • Pingback: IT Blog » Post Topic » Where The Coding Craze Is Going Overboard

  • Pingback: Where The Coding Craze Is Going Overboard | TechBoom

  • Pingback: Where The Coding Craze Is Going Overboard « DevelopersArena.com

  • Pingback: Where The Coding Craze Is Going Overboard «

  • Pingback: iPhoneNation.com: Apple News and Technology Insiders – Where The Coding Craze Is Going Overboard

  • Pingback: Where The Coding Craze Is Going Overboard |

  • Pingback: Where The Coding Craze Is Going Overboard | CB Smithwick

  • Pingback: My Internet Press » Where The Coding Craze Is Going Overboard

  • http://MaximizingMarriage.com/ Sebs | MaximizingMarriage.com

    Am also thinking of teaching younger ones to code here in the Philippines.

  • Pingback: Where The Coding Craze Is Going Overboard | Crowdfunding News

  • Pingback: How to Grab and Keep Girls’ Interest in Computer Coding | MindShift

  • Pingback: 编程热已经热过头:编程技能并非包治百病的良方 | 23Seed

  • Pingback: Estonian President Explains His Country’s Tech Boom And Why America Is Falling Behind | This Is Jah Smith DOT com

  • Pingback: Estonian President Explains His Country’s Tech Boom And Why America Is Falling Behind | Lord of the Net

  • Pingback: Estonian Pimp daddie Explainz Dude Country’z Tech Boom An' Why America Be Falln' Behind | Oklahoma Sentinal

  • Pingback: Estonian President Explains His Country's Tech Boom And Why America Is Falling Behind - Times Of Mumbai

  • Pingback: Estonian President Explains His Country’s Tech Boom And Why America Is Falling Behind « INTLFACES

  • Pingback: Estonian President Explains His Country's Tech Boom And Why America Is Falling Behind | Khoo Forex News

  • Pingback: cumulusreport.com / nimbusreport.com » Estonian President Explains His Country’s Tech Boom And Why America Is Falling Behind

  • Samuel Young

    Nice article. I’m working on a game that teaches kids programming concepts and analytical thinking. We have done workshops with Black Girls CODE and are in the midst of forming a partnership with a very large organization – very exciting! Check it out here, betathegame.com.

  • Pingback: The future of IT: How to get children to think like computer programmers | Market Street Talent

  • Pingback: K-12 Core Curriculum

  • Pingback: Comment on Should Kids Learn to Code in Grade School? by K-12 Core Curriculum

  • SophiePA

    Funny title, as the article doesn’t address if kids should learn to code.

  • mach

    Coding to some extent is likely to be helpful in college for most STEM areas (I knew nothing next to about coding starting my degree program in math and it was tough at first to keep up being expected to already know how to code). If we are trying to push STEM, it might help.

    And programming can at the very least open avenues for students to understand a bit more about how things work and could quite possibly spark an interest in engineering or math or certain sciences, or build a background. If all we’re talking about is one (I assume hour-long?) class per week, I can’t imagine it not being a worthwhile investment when we’re investing 5 hours per week in gym class…

  • Pingback: Should Kids Learn to Code in Grade School?

  • milford woodard

    programming is the way of the future. could programming be replacing math for learning logic??
    I agree with teaching programming to all who can benefit from it and I think they all can learn the usefulness of it..

  • Swood

    Totally off the mark . . . Wrong!
    There are basics we should introduce early on like the Elements and other relevant science fundamentals, however learning to code is not fundamental necessity for deep personal wellness.
    Learning to research, discriminate between fact and fiction, have ample opportunities to interact collaboratively with a variety of people, learn multiple languages, be outdoors in nature’s wonders, and to gain a deep sense of joy and excitement for the real world, the marvels and diversity, now those are the essentials!!

  • SteveB

    so sad….you want to educate your (young) children for a specific job (like programming)? or do you want to educate your children to be good citizens, broad thinkers, creative problem solvers? i hope we choose the latter, there is plenty of time (in high school years) for children to jump into programming. kids should be dancing, doing art, playing outside, communing w/ nature, music..things they can feel appropriate to their age and cognitive stage. kids need to move, not be anti-social all night and weekends in coding. around high school years, upon this solid base of a love of learning and community (and social skills!) they can choose their passion and pursue deeper (might be programming, might not).

  • Lisbeth

    Teaching them early can only be a good thing. One skill set that they become “fluent” in. Aside from the tech skills they learn and are exposed to technology, they also learn a different way to think things out. It’s a great learning tool.

  • Greg Araujo

    given the right language kids can learn to code. I would skip object oriented programing in favor of old languages such as logo and BASIC.