Teaching Coding in U.S Public Schools

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For the last many months, I have been working on ways in which we can get coding / programming into our public schools. I gotta confess: the outlook is dire. I had no idea when I started my research just how dire.

We see all these catchy headlines about the need to get more girls interested in computer science and coding. Well, that is really just the tip of the iceberg! It turns out only 10% of US high schools even offer computer science (to boys or girls), and, in case you are not aware, coding is just a small chunk of computer science.

As a matter of fact, as I made my way through research and interviews I discovered that our first problem is not how little coding girls are getting, or even how little all our kids are getting. The problem is that most people in our society don’t even know what coding is! Worse, most people lump all technology into one bucket. To them, technology is just technology, and they want nothing to do with it for the most part.

Coding (also referred to as programming) is the set of instructions that someone has to write in order to make just about everything in the modern world work. Coding is not done in English. We have dozens and dozens of programming languages that are used to write the instructions for creating different things. Languages used to code / program web sites, mobile apps, your automobile’s various systems, your baby monitor, your home security system, the software you use on your computer, those electric signs on the freeway . . . .

Remember all the discussions we’ve had (for decades) about how girls are discouraged from math, messaged with the fact that girls are no good at math from the time they are born? Well, turns out we are doing the same thing with technology. And we are doing it for girls and boys. We give lip service to the fact that we are falling behind in the tech world, that we are not training enough tech workers, that not enough students are enrolling in tech. But, the fact is we have a societal aversion to tech, a wink and a nod attitude that tech is in the realm of a few geeky guys and the rest of us don’t need to bother with it, a lack of understanding about how many different kinds of tech there are, and a frightening lack of technology education of any kind in our K-12 school system.

Looking only at the coding / programming niche of technology: There is no curriculum requirement to teach coding to kids in our US K-12 schools. None.

And if that doesn’t startle you, how about this? In China kids all start learning to code / program at the age of 5. And by age 11, they are required to know at least 2 coding / programming languages.

I will be tackling this subject here in bite size pieces over the next months.

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