Every week, it seems like more and more articles are published about the importance of the STEM fields and STEM education for today's students. Educators, parents and policymakers worry that students are falling behind and are concerned that this may have dire consequences for tomorrow's workforce. Luckily, many are combatting this feeling by trying to engage students more directly with learning opportunities that will be of use to them in their future careers, even from a very young age.
Coding is one area in which some educators are trying to encourage more student involvement. Computer sciences will continue to be a major part of the expansion in the STEM fields for years to come, with over 1.4 million computer jobs expected to be in demand by 2020. Educating competent and passionate computer scientists and programmers can only strengthen the future job market; however, coding has traditionally been seen as an activity that is too complicated for younger students to master. After all, without visual displays and interactive graphics, many wonder if it is reasonable to expect younger children to feel compelled by this subject matter.
Many educators are finding that if there is a will, there is a way. Increasingly, there are a series of programming games targeted towards younger students. Resources, like Daisy the Dinosaur, Hopscotch, Scratch and Codeacademy, that use Web- and tablet-based resources can introduce students to programming fundamentals that can later be codified into more-extensive knowledge. A student's passion for these resources echoes something that educators have long known: if students can become passionate and creative in relation to a subject, they are more likely to directly engage with the subject matter on a long-term basis.
But, the accessibility of programming for children doesn't stop there. Whether children are passionate about storytelling, animation, games, robots, bugs or any other number of subjects, there are a plethora of programs and learning opportunities open to them. Coding allows students to unleash their creativity by having a direct hand in defining the world that they are inventing. In an educational environment that, in the past, has left students few opportunities to directly influence what they are learning and how they are learning, STEM-education opportunities that offer this flexibility have an opportunity to engage student learning patterns that have traditionally been left un-utilized.
Another principle indicator of children's early success with programming and coding comes in their ability to identify a mentor who can help them when they get stuck with a particularly difficult problem. Many teachers and parents have no experience with coding, so they would feel woefully inadequate in attempting to answer student questions that were raised in relation to this field; however, just because a child's teacher or parents don't have the answer, this doesn't mean that they have to abandon their search for assistance. Many organizations, like Black Girls Code and higher educational institutions are providing mentors for young coders. That way, their initial sparks of creativity can be fostered from elementary school forward. Additionally, it shows students that programming is a real-world skill that they can learn to love and use in a real way, once they enter their professional lives. Providing real-life examples of the usefulness of education has long been a major way of proving the usefulness of learning; mentoring provides this real-life worldview with the added benefit of additional education opportunities.
Most parents, teachers and policymakers are in no danger of forgetting that STEM education and STEM learning are important, serious subjects that will continue to define the American workforce for decades to come; however, that doesn't mean that it can't be fun as well. Children respond well when they are having fun and learning at the same time. Whether it's through coding opportunities that involve characters that they know and love, self-directed activities that let students express themselves or mentoring moments that strengthen generational ties through STEM learning, coding has a place in every child's education, and the sooner this practice starts in earnest, the better.