FRENCHTOWN – If your kids suddenly start organizing your vacation schedule this summer, or coming up with amazingly efficient ways to pack the car for a trip, chances are it’s because of what they’ve been learning in school this past year.
That’s because more and more schools are teaching coding, even to the littlest learners. And it’s not just about computers.
When you think of coding in schools, you might think of kids pecking away at a keyboard. And while computer literacy is certainly important for the future, that’s not all of it as I found during a visit to Frenchtown Elementary.
At this level, teaching discipline is a constant theme. Coding fits right in.
“We’re trying to find exciting ways for it to mean something to kids," said Frenchtown Elementary 3rd grade teacher Christi Hoskinson. "And so coding and following directions and having something happen at the end of your direction and seeing what comes about after following directions sometimes encourages kids to follow directions a little bit better.”
On this day, Hoskinson’s students are doing a coding treasure hunt. Using specific directions, the students must navigate through the school, seeing if their “program” works.
For some teams wandering “off program”, the hunt was harder. But those who followed the specifics found the prize.
“And making those connections is not just saying ‘hey, you’ll use this in everyday life.’ It’s more of saying ‘when do you think you’ll use this in life’ and ’when do you think this will be important," Hoskinson said.
But it’s not just the 3rd graders. Even here in kindergarten the students are learning that important principle, that an algorithm is just a series of steps.
The new approach is right there on the classroom door.
“First off, the binary. We just simplify it to the letters. And so they can see ‘oh, those 8 little bits make the first letter of my name,’" said kindergarten teacher Whitney Peters.
As with the 3rd graders, it’s about following the program, and then adapting.
“Looking at your situation and going back and trying again," Peters said. "That’s a life skill whether you’re going to be using the computer or not.”
Come to think of it, isn’t problem solving a critical skill for adults? Sign me up for a class!
“Sometimes that happens right? ‘I need to do something different that I’ve never done before! Can I handle that situation? Sure! I can definitely handle it.’”
So while coding can open the door for the current trend of “STEM” or “STEAM” skills later, it’s really all about getting your gray matter on track for life and working with others at the same time.
“Teamwork isn’t something that just happens in school," Hoskinson said. "There’s different ways ways that we use to build teamwork skills and this is one of them. And they find the negatives of not working together as a team and what they change and re-think with that growth mindset of how they can change and how they can do it.”
“Like we we’re saying, an algorithm is something you use all the time," Peters said. "You know, get ready for recess. What’s the algorithm for that? Go to bed. What do you do every day? Those same steps you take everyday.”
Hoskinson says she’s really excited about the skills the kindergarteners will have by the time they reach 3rd grade in a few years.