When I sat in my computer class learning Basic at Plainfield High School (NJ) during my junior year (1984-1985), I kept wondering why this was a good idea. I can actually say it was positive peer pressure that “encouraged” me to take this course with two math teachers who wanted no part of “computer science.” Actually they did not say this to the class; their actions and teaching methods throughout the course communicated this message to me. I was one of those students who needed you to explain math more than once and, hopefully, a different way than you did the first time. I also needed to understand why specific math concepts were necessary. Unfortunately, throughout high school I had math teachers who believed in the “one explanation, maybe two” teaching method. Now, imagine those same teachers trying to teach Basic. Their effort encouraged me to be a frustrated student and made me realize the class was a complete waste of time. I got the message loud and clear that Computer Science was not an area I should consider in college.
Almost twenty and some years later, my love affair with computers, gadgets, and coding has grown and has continued to thrive. I spent a wonderful Saturday (November 8, 2014) with enthusiastic educators from New York State/NYC Metropolitan area at the Thoughtworks offices on Madison Avenue. Two young ladies, Keledy Kenkel and Alana Aaron lead over 60 teachers as we explored the new curriculum from Code.org. Imagine, an entire computer coding curriculum for students K-5! The goal of Code.org and the Hour of Code is to change how students think about computer coding. This curriculum also encourages critical thinking in a new way. All of us were there to learn how we could be the innovators in presenting this curriculum to our K-5 students.
Last year I participated in the Hour of Code with third and fourth grade students. This year I hope to introduce aspects of this curriculum to the entire school, especially my first and second graders. In the past, primary grade students have been pushed to the side in favor of providing technical resources to upper elementary students. So my goal, my challenge, is to get my entire school involved during the week of December 8th in the Hour of Code experience.
How will that happen? Well, during our discussion yesterday one point that was repeated quite often was how we need to change the attitudes of educators, administrators, and parents about coding. I teach in an affluent community, and based on my experience this will not be a difficult task. These students have access to the latest technology and adults in their lives who are aware of the importance of technology beyond social media. Even with young girls considered an under-represented group in computer science, I was very pleased to see many girls participate in last year’s Hour of Code at my school. Their excitement was contagious. I hope to encourage more young girls this year to participate. The same cannot be said for school districts that do not have access to new technology or the money to obtain resources to encourage coding.
Many Black, Latino, and Asian students and students in less affluent districts are under-represented in computer science. There are some educators who believe it is the family/home life of under-represented students (ex., Black, Latino, girls, etc.) that does not encourage children to pursue careers in computer science. In fact I had a very enlightening discussion with one educator about this topic yesterday. After her 30+ years of experience, she was very convinced that it was the attitude of the family that was the barrier to children succeeding in certain disciplines. The problem is more complicated.
In addition to access to current technology in the home and in some of our country’s schools, there is also the attitude of educators and administrators about the importance of coding and computer science. My experience in high school was not unique. In fact what is even more troubling to me now is that I was a young Black girl open to the possibilities of what I could do in college. My two White male teachers did not see the need to help me succeed in the course, therefore did not encourage me in my journey of exploring possibilities. I should also add that I attended a predominately Black high school. As an educator I have always tried to be aware of the verbal and nonverbal cues I give to my students about their abilities and their possibilities. We may not realize that sometimes our actions can do more to communicate what our students can achieve than the words we say to them on a daily basis.
So the journey continues for me as I explore coding (still working on my HTML/CSS course on Codeacademy.org) and teaching coding to my elementary students. You can start your journey with this year’s Hour of Code. There are many great online and offline activities that you can do with your students. In fact, you can incorporate these activities into your math and science curriculum. Visit Code.org’s Educator Resources page to learn about the curriculum and free professional development.
First Published November 9, 2014