Reading, Writing … and Coding?
Coding, the practice of writing languages that computers understand, is being taught to students of all ages in schools around the nation. Why? Technology-related work that involves coding, or programming, is expected to continue as one of the fastest growing fields of work through 2022, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 Best Jobs report.
“The way we think about the world is evolving,” says Jo Anne Honeycutt, career and technical education director for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. “I think so much of what will happen in technical careers will require some understanding of programming.”
Coding in the Classroom
Fluency in coding can lead to lucrative jobs in information technology, whether they involve programming computers or designing video games. But there are educational benefits that extend into other areas of study as well. Coding helps children as young as 4 years old develop valuable problem-solving and critical-thinking skills through its emphasis on breaking large problems down into a sequence of smaller problems.
Teachers are learning that they don’t have to be experts to teach coding. Margaret Rudisill, a middle school science teacher at Trinity Episcopal School in Charlotte, incorporates basic coding into her science classes. Her students have created programs that show how hurricanes move and that illustrate the parts of cells. Last year, she began a technology club that attracted 23 of the school’s 50 sixth-graders. She says it benefits her students because they learn how to create projects together using coding, and they build off each other’s creativity and ideas to write more complex programs.
A Path to IT Jobs
NCDPI has undertaken initiatives to increase interest in coding as well, including increasing awareness of what coding is in middle schools and streamlining licensure requirements for teachers who want to teach it.
During the 2013-14 school year, about 2,000 students statewide took a level one programming course offered online and in high schools. Enrollment in programming courses increased after the introduction of a game development course, and teachers received more resources to teach coding.
“We made it a course that kids really want to be in, where they learn a skill and think it’s fun,” Honeycutt says.
Across the state, instructors are impressing upon students how learning to program can positively affect their future job prospects. At Apex High School’s Academy of Information Technology in Wake County, 360 students are chosen through a lottery system from among over 1,000 applicants to study computer programming and applications in addition to their normal high school curriculum. AOIT students are taught business and technical skills, and are required to complete a 135-hour internship during high school. Many students work with technology companies in the Research Triangle Park such as IBM and SAS.
“We want to make sure our students are an asset to these companies,” says John Evans, the school’s AOIT director and Career and Technical Education department chair. Many students stay in touch with the companies they intern with and are sometimes hired full-time after graduating from college.
Hour of Code: code.org
Daisy the Dinosaur: daisythedinosaur.com
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer based in Charlotte. She has two children in elementary school.