Computer code is the “brains” behind the buttons, the lines and lines of formulas that go into algorithms that drive the apps on a smartphone or help drive a modern automobile. Early coding instruction can look a lot like game playing – helping an avatar navigate a maze, for instance – but by the time middle schoolers become high schoolers, they are writing code and designing apps.
None of this seems foreign to youngsters, partly because of their enthusiasm for and seeming natural affinity with technology but mainly because occasional coding instruction and events like the International Hour of Code and Digital Learning Day have involved LCPS elementary students for at least the past five years. Those intermittent activities have now blossomed into a full-blown instructional sequence for the district’s youngest students to its oldest that – with the help of two state grants in the past three years – have made LCPS a regional leader in this area of instruction.
“Students are going to have such an opportunity to learn and grow as students when they don’t even realize they’re learning. It’s going to be a very natural feel for them,” Lynch said of the new elementary initiative. “I think one of the most important pieces we’ll see is that there’s going to be value to that computational thinking that kids are going to build. So that effort and failure and effort and failure eventually leads to success. The ability to persevere and try and work through problems – that can be applied to every content too.”
Willis decided to apply for the Coding Cohort for the obvious reason. “I thought it would be really good for my students,” she said of her AIG (Academically or Intellectually Gifted) class. “Sometimes they don’t understand what it means to fail, or to not be successful at something. With coding, a lot of time students have a tendency to get frustrated with it because it doesn’t always work the first time. For them to understand that success isn’t always going to be instantaneous, that they’re going to have to think through the process, I think that’s going to be really great for the students.”
Coding Cohort teachers will be thinking through the process, too, determining which lessons are most effectively integrated into various content areas and sharing those insights with their colleagues in monthly meetings of the Cohort and the schools’ digital learning specialists. With that experience, they’ll become mentors for the second wave of teachers expected to join the Cohort next school year.
“We want everyone coding in elementary by 2021,” Lynch said.