At Ernie Pyle School 90, young students are learning the basics of computer coding to prepare them for career opportunities in the coming decades.
Jenina Sorenson, a computer science teacher for Grades K–2, is leading the charge across the school with block-based coding, an entry-level activity which allows learners to develop computational thinking.
It’s the first time such classes have been taught at Ernie Pyle School 90.
Sorenson, who is in her first year of teaching at the school, points out that coding is becoming a major part of most workplaces as part of society’s current digital transformation.
According to Sorenson, the number of jobs that require coding skills will grow exponentially because most services and products are being digitized.
“This is our future. By creating this opportunity now in the early years allows them to have opportunities that they — and we as adults — may not even realize yet.”
Sorenson starts the process slowly.
“In kindergarten, students began the year learning that computers can only do what you tell them to do,” she said. “We have spent time acting out being a computer and listening to step-by-step directions.”
Sorenson explains that in the first and second grade, students spend time working on directions to move a robotic dog through a maze. Just like kindergartners, the first and second graders are doing this unplugged. In the process, first graders are writing and animating a story while in the next grade, students are working their way up to creating an online game.
Sorenson said programming at Ernie Pyle assists students on several levels, including:
o Introducing teamwork: Sorenson’s system uses paired programming, which involves two students working together to code a program. One student is the driver, and the other student is the navigator. By working this way, the students learn problem-solving and working as a team, including how to communicate and express themselves and their ideas.
o Helping to develop resilience: By learning to code, students develop the ability to bounce back after failure. Programming isn’t black and white. It is a learning process and students can try and try again until they succeed and produce the result they are looking for.
o Developing cognitive abilities: Programming isn’t just about how to write lines of code. It is more about teaching the students to think logically. They need to see the larger problem and break it down into smaller pieces in order to solve it in an effective manner.
o Expanding creativity: Programming teaches students to experiment and gives them the confidence to be creative. Programming gives them a chance to design something that is entirely their own. It gives them internal recognition for a job well done when they’ve created.
Sorenson believes that students learning the basics of coding will develop skills that will impact the rest of their lives.
“The benefits range from improving math, critical thinking, and problem-solving — all skills that need to be developed and impact our entire lives,” she said. “Today, we cannot allow students to wait until college to learn coding as our society becomes more and more reliant on digitalization. We need to invest in these skills now because they are the newest generation of digital natives and are ready to embrace it.”