Now kids are computing in kindergarten Computer science teacher Sheena York, center, helps fifth grade students work on programming during their weekly computer science lesson at Marshall Elementary School in Marysville, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Now kids are computing in kindergarten
Lexile

Moving her finger over the laptop trackpad, 6-year-old Lauren Meek drags and drops a block of code to build a set of instructions. She clicks the "run" button and watches as the character moves through a maze. She then pumps her fist in excitement.
 
"Yes! This is so easy," says Meek, a kindergartener at Marshall Elementary in Marysville, north of Seattle.
 
This fall, most elementary school students in the Marysville School District are getting 40-minute weekly computer science lessons as part of their core instruction - part of a growing effort nationwide to expose more public school children to computer science, even as early as kindergarten.
 
Backed by technology leaders, nonprofits and companies, schools in New York, San Francisco and other cities have committed to offering computer science to students in all grade levels. Chicago also says computer science will eventually become a high school requirement.
 
Supporters say it's not just about learning how to code, but learning how computers work. They say computer science teaches kids to think logically, be creative and it exposes them to the technology that will drive their future.
 
"In the 21st century, computer science is just as foundational as biology, chemistry," said Hadi Partovi, founder and CEO of Code.org, a Seattle-based national nonprofit that works to expand access to computer science and increase participation by women and minorities.
 
The group is also behind a campaign to get millions of students to participate in an "Hour of Code," which takes place the second week of December.
 
Bringing computer science into the schools ensures that everyone has an opportunity to become digitally literate, said Yasmin Kafai, a professor of learning sciences at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education.
 
"We're not talking about turning everybody into a computer programmer or computer scientist," said Kafai. "It's a basic literacy."
 
Learning computer science also opens the door to high-demand jobs. By 2020, 4.6 million of 9.2 million science, technology, engineering and math jobs will be in computing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
 
Jim Taylor, author of "Raising Generation Tech," says there's no evidence at this point that coding or computational learning works or is even needed. Kids don't need to learn how to use digital technology at such a young age either, he added.
 
"Technology is the solution du jour for all our education problems. The problem is that technology emerges so quickly and gains traction that we don't have time to examine its efficacy or ramifications," Taylor said.
 
Computer science doesn't enjoy the benefits of other disciplines, including agreed-upon standards or robust assessments to measure learning, said Jeanne Century, director of Outlier Research & Evaluation at the University of Chicago's Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education.
 
But it's the same argument for science and math, she said. There are practical issues, such as more jobs requiring computer science. "Just as important is the fact that computing is everywhere in our lives. It's pervasive all around us. We need to understand computing."
 
One of the challenges is finding enough well-prepared teachers. Among other efforts, an initiative of the National Science Foundation is seeking to have 10,000 well-trained computer science teachers in thousands of high schools.
 
Currently, computer science is taught in about one out of four high schools nationwide with fewer in lower middle and elementary school grades. And only 27 states allow a computer science course to be counted toward graduation requirements in math or science, according to Code.org.
 
But there's been a surge in interest in recent years. In 2015, nearly 49,000 students took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science, a 25 percent increase from the previous year.
 
"Colleges are saying, 'there's an incredible demand, we'd like to see more students become better prepared when they get here'," said Terry Redican, vice president of Advanced Placement program at The College Board.
 
A new AP computer science principles course debuts next fall. That exam is designed to be multidisciplinary, focused on real-world applications and aimed at increasing representation among women and underrepresented minorities.
 
At Marshall Elementary, where more than half the students are low-income, principal Kelly Sheward embraces computer science as an opportunity. "It's access that we didn't previously have," and ensures the kids will be as prepared as their peers for the digital future, she said.
 
During a recent lesson using Code.org curriculum, teacher Sheena York asks a class of fifth-graders to identify the pattern in the computer puzzle and solve it using the fewest steps. She urges them to try different strategies, test their work as they go along and ask each other for help.
 
"I'm figuring this out piece by piece to see if this works," said Isiah Gibbs, 10. "That doesn't work. So I'll try something else."
 
In the lower grades, students may learn about algorithms, or a set of instructions, such steps in a baking recipe. Older students may write programs that create a game or interactive story. Many lessons don't involve computers, and math and other concepts are integrated into the lesson, York said.
 
"It's almost as important as reading and math," said fifth-grade teacher Hank Palmer.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How can computing be made accessible to 6-year-olds?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (46)
  • holdeno-3-bar
    12/10/2015 - 12:24 p.m.

    Computing can be made accessible to 6-year-olds by exposing them to fun variants of it. When describing what kindergarteners do when coding, the author says, "she watches as the character moves through a maze [...] and pumps her fist in excitement" (par. 1) This 6-year-old is being exposed to coding in a way that makes it fun. Albeit the fact that this is not true coding in the sense, because the kids are not inputting actual lines of code, it is still taught in an interesting way. Since 6-year-olds have little patience and are very unlikely to learn actual coding, exposing them to simpler, more exciting computer programming will make it more accessible to them.
    I enjoyed this article because it dealt with coding, a subject in which I am well-versed.

  • TehyaWhite-Ste
    12/15/2015 - 12:05 p.m.

    I think that having such young kids on computers is detrimental. I know it prepares them for a technology based society but then I think that they lack the general and natural behaviors a child needs like going outside to play and have face to face conversations with friends.

  • peytond.-tay
    12/15/2015 - 12:31 p.m.

    This has good intentions but it seems a little excessive to show six year olds

  • kassadyw.-tay
    12/15/2015 - 12:38 p.m.

    Esaly kids are now picking up more important skills at younger ages which will really help them in the long run.

  • emmal.-tay
    12/16/2015 - 12:26 p.m.

    They can use the computers at their school and use the technological access that they have at home.

  • deaconp.-tay
    12/16/2015 - 12:31 p.m.

    I am definitely taking computer science in highschool through college and may major in it if I don't major in business.

  • dallinp.-tay
    12/16/2015 - 12:53 p.m.

    Computing can be taught to six year olds by teaching them almost every day

  • kailynh.-tay
    12/16/2015 - 12:54 p.m.

    I think exposing kids early to technology is an advantage for some children and not for some.

  • dawsonh.-tay
    12/16/2015 - 02:16 p.m.

    Computing can be made accessible for 6 year old by making the games interactive and fun and something that a six year old can and likes to do.

  • josephd.-tay
    12/16/2015 - 02:45 p.m.

    I think that its a bad idea to introduce computers at such a young age because that when youre that young you should let your imagination create he games and learning

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