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Tiger Woods started playing golf at 2. Yo-Yo Ma started playing cello at 4. But Bill Gates? He didn’t start coding until he was 13. Imagine the possibilities if Gates, like elite athletes and musicians, had the opportunity to learn computer science earlier in life.
Luckily, today, students can be introduced to computer science as soon as kindergarten. These early exposures will certainly help learners as they enter high school and beyond.
To get more specific, we spoke with industry experts and asked them, “Why do you think students should learn computer science before entering high school?” Using their thoughts, we came up with the top 3 reasons and laid them out for you in this post.
Artificial Intelligence. Game Development. Animation. Web Design. App Development. Computer Programming. Music Production. These are the names of some intriguing-sounding high school CS courses! In fact, more than 3 out of 5 students in grades 5-12 are interested in computer science courses like these. However, less than half of these students have ever taken any computer science class at their school. We wanted to highlight the top 3 reasons students need CS education before high school, not only because it is backed by industry experts but also because it meets the desires of students. Students are asking for access to computer science education, and we want all students to feel like they can take the courses they are interested in with success.
“Should you give a child a book to read before teaching them to read? Should you put a child on a bike before teaching to ride? So why give them a cell phone or computer before teaching them Computer Science?”’
-Anita F. Debarlaben, High School Science Teacher and VP of Chicago Suburban CSTA
Let’s face it: Students today are being exposed to technology that we couldn’t even dream of as children. Students today have access to experiences that range from virtual reality video games to cell phones and social media to classrooms full of tablets or laptops. We must ensure that students can navigate these technologies with care and responsibility. As Anita said, students should learn the power that these devices hold and how to use them appropriately before having access to cellphones and computers. So, what can we do to help equip students with the knowledge and skills that they need to utilize technology? We can teach them digital citizenship, a branch of computer science that refers to the responsible use of technology, computers, and the Internet when engaging or interacting with society. To better understand this aspect of computer science education, read this insight from Dr. LeeAnn Lindsey:
Digital citizenship is the “humanizing” aspect of computer science that pivots the focus from the computer itself to the people using the computer and the decisions they make in doing so. Navigating the digital landscape safely, ethically, and healthily requires students (and adults) to understand how technology systems work so they can determine how to consume digital media and create new apps and technologies that benefit society. It is vital that computer science starts early on and includes a strong digital citizenship component so that our youth gain the knowledge and skills to thrive in today’s ever-evolving digital world, as well as positively contribute to a global society in ways that increase opportunity and promote equity for all individuals.”
-Dr. LeeAnn Lindsey, Managing Partner and Lead Consultant at Edvolve
Many states and school districts look to ISTE for guidance on teaching digital citizenship in the classroom. ISTE defines 5 competencies of digital citizenship:
- Inclusive: I am open to hearing and respectfully recognizing multiple viewpoints, and I engage with others online with respect and empathy.
- Informed: I evaluate the accuracy, perspective, and validity of digital media and social posts.
- Engaged: I use technology and digital channels for civic engagement, to solve problems and be a force for good in both physical and virtual communities.
- Balanced: I make informed decisions about how to prioritize my time and activities online and off.
- Alert: I am aware of my online actions, and know how to be safe and create safe spaces for others online.
To help you teach digital citizenship, download this free lesson that explores cybersecurity and being safe online.
2. EARLY EXPOSURE TO COMPUTER SCIENCE PROVIDES OPPORTUNITIES TO PRACTICE AND DEVELOP CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS.
“Waiting until high school to learn CS is like waiting until high school to learn how to dribble a basketball. My dad built our first computer in grade school, piece by piece. Given the true nature of tech being hands on and self guided, those practices of exploration and critical thinking must start as early as physically possible. That is, if we plan to close the technological divide we find ourselves in.”
-Samuel Campbell, President at Code Black Indy, Inc
As Samuel Campbell says above, it only makes sense to provide students with computer science education as early as possible. Some will say that Lebron James is the greatest basketball player of all time – but would he be the “GOAT” if he first started playing basketball in high school? Similarly, let’s look at an academic example. One study found that “Young children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids who were never read to” (Logan, 2019). Just like practicing basketball at an early age provides an advantage to future athletes, reading at an early age assists in language development.
So, why is computer science any different? Imagine how equipped our nation’s youth would be if they began learning the fundamentals of computer science starting in kindergarten. If we want our students to have an advantage in life, and if we want our society to continue to advance, we must ensure we are providing computer science education for all students in K-12 schools. In a 21st-century world, it’s essential that students develop 21st-century skills.
“Whether a student decides to pursue computer science or any technology role in the future, the foundation in how to think and how to build is invaluable.”
-Robin Fleming, Co-Founder at Anvl.com
Students who know how to think and build will have the upper hand when pursuing their desired career path, and studying CS can improve these critical thinking and problem-solving skills. One study found a positive relationship between learning computer programming and the skills of creative thinking, metacognition, and reasoning (Scherer, Siddiq, & Viveros, 2019). The students who learned computer programming were able to show a transfer of learning to other domains outside of computer science. These are skills that are essential to many walks of life and careers.
3. STUDENTS WILL BE MORE PREPARED FOR SUCCESS IN THE WORLD OF WORK.
“We ensure students learn cursive, but not CS. Only one of those 2 skills can land a job making $200k per year.”
-Wes Winham Winler, Founder and CEO at Woven
When students experience a K-12 computer science education, it’s possible that they may take an interest in a computer science career. On a professional level, companies are recruiting for computer science jobs in cloud computing, app development, and statistical analysis. Beyond the obvious concentration in computer science, there are many related areas of study like computer information systems, information technology, computer software and applications, and computer systems networking. Equipping students in K-12 schools with CS education opens the doors for them to pursue computer science career paths. I spoke with Dr. Amanda J. Bayless, whose photo shows her with a part that is now flying on a spacecraft called Lucy. Dr. Bayless stresses the importance of getting an early start at learning computer science.
“Programming is a requirement for every STEM career [field]. However, in my case, and in many sciences, our programming knowledge is self-taught (and not always with best practices). Starting learning early, and when you have help and instruction, would give anyone an advantage later in life.”
-Dr. Amanda J. Bayless, Ph.D., Research Scientist at Aerospace Corporation
If students develop a passion for CS, they might be asking, “What should I know nefore going to college for computer science?” The benefits of taking computer science in high school include being prepared for higher education with CS. It’s true that you don’t have to know everything about computer science before college. After all, university instructors and professors are there to teach students all about computer science! However, taking CS courses in high school will undoubtedly give students a solid foundation as they begin their undergraduate classes. Furthermore, imagine the skills and knowledge students will be equipped with if they begin their computer science journey in grades K-8! As Samuel Campbell said in his quote above, the earlier you begin learning computer science, the more practice and exposure you will have at being an expert in the subject.
You may be wondering how to prepare for computer science in high school. The earlier students discover computer science, the more skills they will be able to apply in the future. The basic building blocks of coding taught in elementary school, such as loops, functions, and conditionals, can be applied to more complex languages. Download this free computer science lesson for grades K-2 that gives students the opportunity to practice block coding. As students progress to more advanced projects, such as developing websites, programs, and games, they are motivated to connect with their world and empowered to expand their skills. In this free lesson for grades 6-8, students learn how webpages are built using HTML.
“It is important for students to learn computer science before high school because they will learn valuable problem-solving skills that they can use in high school. In addition, if students are introduced to CS in elementary and middle school, this will result in an increased number of students taking high school CS because they will already have some sort of CS background. When students enter high school with a CS background, this allows high school CS teachers to be able to provide more higher level instruction with CS instead of having to teach prerequisite skills first.”
-Carla Neely, 5th and 6th grade STEM teacher at Warner Girls’ Leadership Academy
It is essential to build on coding skills throughout elementary and middle school; however, standards for grades K-8 also introduce students to digital citizenship, STEM careers, and other computer science concepts that will lead to future success. In a society where children are interacting with technology daily, it is important to foster responsible and creative learning around computer science before high school. That’s why our computer science curriculum includes more than just coding. Our lessons include a variety of computer science activities for elementary students. For example, in this free digital citizenship lesson, students learn about safe internet use, cybersecurity, and leaving a good digital footprint. Additionally, we offer a student-friendly My STEM Career podcast, in which we interview STEM professionals. For example, check out this interview with a doctor and this interview with an entrepreneur.
Should computer science be taught in elementary school and middle school? Here at Ellipsis Education, we understand the need for computer science courses in grades K-8. We offer full-year courses for each grade level K-8, as well as 4 courses for high schoolers. Explore our offerings on our courses page. If any of these course options interest you, schedule a 30-minute call with one of our curriculum experts.
In Aviation, students will be introduced to the daily routines, skills, and responsibilities of airline pilots and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operators. Students will compare and contrast the two careers by completing a Venn diagram. This STEM Career lesson is built for grades 3-5. The computer science pdf includes links to the appropriate materials and resources, a detailed procedure, activity tips, and a bonus challenge activity.