From December 9 – 15 of this year, schools all over the country will celebrate Computer Science Education Week.
As a 2018 Teach For America corps member, I have the privilege of teaching computer science at Dr. Cash Elementary in San Benito C.I.S.D. Many people think that computer science is simply about learning how to use computers.
Yes, part of it is learning how to navigate the operating system, what hardware and software is, how to translate instructions to a programming language. But at the core, computer science is about using the power of computers to solve problems.
My professor at UT-Austin used to say that computers only compute, it is up to humans to do the thinking for them. That’s what I want to make sure that I instill in my students. That desire to look at a problem, break it down, and to be able to come up with strategies to tackle it. If they have that, they can apply it to any academic subject or situation and come out successful.
Dr. Cash Elementary School’s computer science program is relatively new – and this is the second academic school year that it has been in place. My scholars, from all of the grade levels in the school, learn how to translate their directions into a programming language called Blockly. They have programmed their own dance parties, drawn geometrical patterns, and are in the midst of creating their own games. If you were to walk in on one of my lessons you would be surprised to see children giggling, working in pairs to create algorithms to solve problems. Not quite the picture some think of when the topic of coding is raised.
My lessons emphasize the students practicing problem solving in action while I circulate and give feedback when needed. I try not to give them the answer but prompt them to question their own thinking to arrive there on their own. They practice collaborating with each other when they pair program and learn how to be in a team. To be sure, there are moments of frustration. But that’s all part of the learning process. Trial and error, and back to the drawing board. These scholars are dedicated, they work hard, and are excited when their efforts pay off.
Teaching computer science in elementary school allows scholars to be creative –my students learn early on that there are different ways that a problem can be solved. I’ve often walked around to see my scholars asking each other how they solved a problem only to realize that their peers were able to do it in less code In addition, the workforce of the future will require more students of computer science.
According to Code.org, “The majority of schools don’t teach computer science [yet] 67 percent of all news jobs in STEM are in computing.” I believe strongly it is important to at least expose students to a field that will be shaping the workforce they will enter in the next decade.
Teach For America is committed to ensuring that all students, regardless of socioeconomic background, have access to opportunities across sectors and fields, including computing. It’s amazing to observe the progress of students make, they have proven themselves more than capable of learning computer science. I am fortunate to be part of Dr. Cash Elementary School and San Benito Independent School District’s mission to give students the resources they need to be successful and I am glad to be a part of Teach For America’s STEM Initiative and to be able to help close the gap in computer science education.