Just like we use the principles of math or the words in world languages as building blocks for those studies, code is a form of communication.

Last month, England became the first country in the world to incorporate computer science into its national curriculum.

According to The New York Times article “Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Lately, Coding” (May 10, 2014) more than 20,000 teachers and 30 school districts in the United States have exposed their students to coding. Nine states are considering awarding graduation credits for computer science classes. But the College Board reports that just 1.4 percent of high school students take the AP computer science exam

In simplest terms, coding is computer language that tells the computer what to do, step by step. According to Clare Sutcliffe, founder of a nationwide network of free volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children who was quoted in a forbes.com article, “[Coding] improves problem-solving and thinking skills, and having digital skills will improve their chances of being employed in the future.”

Coding is making its way into New Jersey schools, as reported in “Coding in N.J. classrooms: 'Language' of computer science grows as life-skill, ” an article on nj.com in August. Fifth graders at Bradley Beach Elementary School received 45 minutes of coding lessons every day last year using their skills to design a maze collaboratively. Warren Detrick, president of the Computer Science Teachers Association of New Jersey has 180 students in his computer science class at Warren Hills Regional High School – up from 53 just a few years ago.

“Just like we use the principles of math or the words in world languages as building blocks for those studies, code is a form of communication,” says NJEA Vice President Marie Blistan, who was quoted in the article.

A Mashable article, “Coding the Curriculum: How High Schools Are Reprogramming Their Classes,” describes how a school in Chestnut Hill, Mass. has implemented coding into every class. Teachers were provided with tutorials on Python and TurtleBits (programming languages) and from Codeacademy.org.

Learning more

It’s easy to get started. Over 15 million people have tried an “Hour of Code” found on Code.org. This site offers a free, online K-8 computer science course for teachers. You’ll also find:

  • A tutorial for all ages to learn basic drop-and-drag programming
  • An introduction to JavaScript (from Khan Academy)
  • “My Robotic Friends,” a program to teach “unplugged” computer science (no device or internet needed)
  • Lightbot – super basic programming for ages four and older
  • A taste of Python programming – students can build a chatbot, model a disease outbreak, or create a simple game
  • Tips on how to make apps, including an iPhone game
  • Strategies for students to build their own games using the programming language Tynker.

The site provides tips for teachers to help you prep for the hour of code and what to do when students run into difficulties. It also offers ideas on where to go to for follow-up activities.

How to Teach Coding in Your Classroom, Even if You’re a Novice Yourself,” found on CommonSenseMedia.org acknowledges that it is hard to find time and space in a curriculum to include coding. This article points to several solutions including:

  • Raspberry Pi, an inexpensive, tiny computer that makes programming easy
  • Black Girls CODE, whose mission is to prove that girls of every color have the skills to program
  • Mozilla Popcorn Maker, a free tool for teaching video editing, remixing and fair use
  • Hackasaurus, a free tool for recoding.

Madewithcode.com is a Google website created to help girls learn about coding, which is projected to be one of the fastest-growing, highest-paying careers in the next decade.

This August, AT&T donated $1 million to Girls Who Code (girlswhocode.com), to expand its summer sessions and afterschool clubs. You can sign up online to host a club or apply for the free curriculum which includes:

  • Monthly, project based activities
  • Instructions for building apps, games and more
  • A final, student-chosen project of impact to the community.

Coding at the next level

If you and you students have mastered the basics of coding, here are a few articles and websites that will help you move to more advanced coding lessons.

Online Help for Future Coders, Parents, and Teachers” (madewithcode.com) teaches students how to animate their name, make a card for friends, a meme or a custom poster.  Intermediate projects include how to sew a light-up bookmark, craft jewelry, make a website, or make an app for a phone.

“Coding in the Classroom: Necessary Skills for 21st Century Learners” (about.tvo.org) describes Scratch, a programming language that lets kids create animated stories, video games, and interactive art.

“How to Teach Coding in the Classroom: Resources for Teachers” (jonathanwylie.com) links to the most popular programming sites for the classroom: Scratch, Tynker, Codeacademy, Code Avengers, Dash, CodeHS and TouchDevelop.

“Lifelong Kindergarten” (llk.media.mit.edu) is not just for kindergarten. Its mission is to help expand the ways that kindergarteners express creativity and use design strategies, in such activities as blocks and finger painting, into the early grades. The site features a “Learn to Code” webinar, and the project page has tutorials for everything from graphic drawing and manipulation to music making, a map tool, and a do-it-yourself cellphone.

“App Inventor from MIT: (appinventor.mit.edu) teaches users how to build three different mobile apps:

  • Talk ToMe, a text-to-speech app
  • BallBounce, a game app
  • DigitalDoodle, a drawing app that lets students doodle on their phone’s screen.

Patricia Bruder, president of Linchpin Solutions LLC, consults for the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) located at the South Jersey Tech Park at Rowan University, Mullica Hill. EIRC is a public agency specializing in education-related programs and services for teachers, parents, schools, communities, and non-profit organizations throughout New Jersey. Learn more about EIRC at www.eirc.org or call 856-582-7000. Contact Patricia Bruder at linchpinsolutions@gmail.com.

For more information

Get your Java on with these resources!

Beyond One Hour | Code.org

Coding in the Classroom: 10 Tools Students Can Use to Design Apps and Video Games | Teachthought.com

Scratch Overview | Vimeo.com

Scratch Curriculum Guide Draft | Harvard.edu

The Alice Project | Alice.org

15+ Ways of Teaching Every Student to Code | Edutopia