Fitting Coding Into an Already Stuffed Schedule

Image: Clive Darra via Flickr

Image: Clive Darra via Flickr

In the Steve Jobs lost interview, he states: “I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.” It’s the ideology that drives the maxim: teach a man to fish. Teach a kid to do addition, and she can do a page of problems. Teach a kid to think in numbers, and she can apply that concept across the landscape of mathematics, jumping from concept to concept.

I want my kids to learn how to think much more than I want them to master individual tasks in school. When I think about literacy, it goes beyond being able to read and process a book. Computer programming, numerical acuity, and foreign languages all go into that idea of thinking critically about the written word, especially in the global online world that exists without borders.

All of that brought me online, searching for resources to continue the computer programming my twins learned over the summer at computer camp. The problem, of course, was fitting in coding between the already existent after school and weekend activities.

We have baseball twice a week, art once a week, guitar once a week, Hebrew school twice a week, Girl Scouts every other week, and a writing club that meets weekly in the evening, plus two lunch time clubs. Even though I swore that I’d never let them become over-scheduled, it’s hard to cut back on the activities they do with their friends because it’s structured social time. Those activities tap into their creative side, teach them the importance of teamwork, and connect them to a larger community. Like pre-gremlin Mogwai, they seem to multiply… even without water. Each new year brings a new interest, and so we keep adding activities, congratulating the kids for sticking with their old interests and improving on them while adding in new interests to boot.

None of them seem drop-able.

It’s the same problem schools are facing. Everyone recognizes the need for computer classes in schools, but what do you drop in order to fit them in to an already packed school day? No subject seems expendable, and that includes the fine arts and physical education which often get the shaft when it comes to fitting in more subjects. Cut out recess? Then students lose valuable time to learn how to socialize with their peers.

One answer is to pair it with other subjects: students can read Lauren Ipsum in English and include coding as an activity to understand the book. Students can learn how to code games that will help lower grades understand simple concepts in math. Another answer is to tuck it into lunch time as a social club for students to code and eat at the same time. (Though… er… computers and Capri Sun don’t really mix).

Until it gets added into the school curriculum in a meaningful way, we’ve been supplementing their education at home. Code.org provides plenty of online resources for teaching code to kids (including separate paths through the site for teachers and students). Books such as Python for Kids provide simple instructions for older children. We’ll be tackling projects such as Raspberry Pi this year. And there is plenty of help out there for forming face-to-face groups within schools or communities including Coderdojo, Code Club, or Code Now (for high school age students).

How are you fitting computer programming into your child’s day?

Melissa Ford

About Melissa Ford

Melissa Ford writes women's fiction, but she does it while wearing a Superman shirt. A geek to the core, she is also the author of the award-winning site, Stirrup Queens which the Wall Street Journal named one of the top ten motherhood blogs. You can find her in all sorts of places around the web including Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, Google+, and Amazon. She completed her MFA at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her writer husband, Joshua, and their twins.

Melissa Ford

About Melissa Ford

Melissa Ford writes women's fiction, but she does it while wearing a Superman shirt. A geek to the core, she is also the author of the award-winning site, Stirrup Queens which the Wall Street Journal named one of the top ten motherhood blogs. You can find her in all sorts of places around the web including Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, Google+, and Amazon. She completed her MFA at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her writer husband, Joshua, and their twins.

15 thoughts on “Fitting Coding Into an Already Stuffed Schedule

  1. Great post, and definitely a big question that schools are going to need to address. The need for more programmers has been identified, and I understand that companies like Microsoft and Google are doing some good work in promoting the need to teach coding in lower and lower grades. Not sure what the answer is, but we need to find it!

    I can tell you from my experience in writing ‘Kodu for Kids” for Microsoft and Pearson that the tools for teaching programming have never been more interesting and fun and easy to use. Kids that get hooked on coding seem to never lose interest in learning more… I just wish schools could see this and address it. It does make me wonder if the concept of the 20-30 desk classroom needs to be retired in middle school and kids moved towards more of a college-type approach to selecting classes of interest — give them electives and let them choose.

    Jim

    • “I just wish schools could see this and address it.” It seems so simple, yet if it was, it would be fixed wouldn’t it? It is easy to sit outside and prescribe what should be done in or to education as if ALL kids were from the same mold, but you also admitted that you don’t know what the answer is. Make it available for kids to explore AT HOME.

      • I think most of us actually DO explore at home… but when kids are sitting in school for 6+ hours a day, that’s a sizable chunk of time that’s out of the control of parents.

        I didn’t say all kids were made from the same mold, and I did suggest that this kind of thing be treated as an elective so kids could pick and choose.

        • I agree that students should have a choice. Unfortunately, there choices are limited when it’s only available as an elective and cannot be used to meet core curriculum requirements.

      • I think the problem then crops up between the haves and the have nots. It means kids who have a computer at home and a parent willing to teach get this great skill that could help them later in life AND in the classroom since it truly is about teaching a child how to think. And those who don’t have the computer and parent at home miss out.

    • I think that’s definitely an interesting approach — electives even in elementary school. We had them in the middle school where I taught, and it was definitely a huge success. It was an hour in every kid’s day that they knew they were going to enjoy.

  2. I’ve been looking at Scratch and other kids’ programming tools trying to figure out which would be the best for my oldest son (age 10). He’s a wiz with computers (a little too good… I’ll need to be on my toes in the future). I think he’d take to programming extremely well. It’s just how to first introduce him to it.

    I’ll look at some of the links you provided and might use them with my son. Thanks.

    • I’m currently putting together a roundup of resources for parents who want to teach their kids at home, start a club with friends, or implement in a school. Stay tuned.

  3. I think the public secondary schools in out state would beef up the abysmal computer science curriculum if computer science courses were counted toward mathematics and science graduation requirements. Until then, they have little incentive to change.

    • I wasn’t aware that they didn’t count towards graduation requirements. That’s frustrating. And discourages kids from choosing it if they need to fill their schedule with other requirements.

  4. I don’t think there’s any way the Public Schools will get on this. I saw on Code.org that only 1 in 10 public schools have a computer course available.

    When money is coming in for technology, it’s looking like LAUSD handing out iPads with no actual computer science in that.

    • I wonder what that statistic will be in a few years. Will more and more schools be convinced of the need as it becomes easier and easier to teach kids programming?

  5. Our public school is well equipped with iPads, and there is dedicated time for library visits that is used 50/50 for books and technology, but what the iPads are actually used for is questionable. I intend to suggest the CargoBot game – great intro to programming for as young as 5-year-olds. I wish CargoBot had more training levels, it gets hard too fast, but it’s free! Looking for more suggestions like this.

    • As I said above, I’m currently putting together a roundup of resources for parents who want to teach their kids at home, start a club with friends, or implement in a school. Stay tuned.

  6. Hi guys,

    We at KidCoder definitely agree, so we’re developing a coding game for kids, age 5-12, which helps them learn how to program. We’re looking for parents who would be interested in something like this. Check out kidcoder.launchrock.com, and leave your email. We’ll get back to you as soon as we have more info!

    Cheers!

Leave a Reply