When you press a letter on a keyboard, how does a letter appear on your screen? When you tap the camera app on your phone to take a quick selfie, how does your phone know how to translate that command? There is a conversation going on that most people do not think about. It is a language that is spoken by every computer, phone, and tablet, but few humans know the lingo. The language is Code. There are many different types, but the idea is the same. Someone has to communicate with computers for the rest of the everyday computer users. This presents the 21st century classroom with two challenges. The first is that almost all students do not know the language, and second, most do not even know the conversation is happening.
Charmaine Smith and Jennifer Owens are two Digital Learning Specialist for Clayton County Public Schools who are taking the first steps to exposing students to code. They have implemented a program named Uncover the Code at Suder Elementary School in Jonesboro, Georgia. This program breaks down coding to its simplest elements and wraps it in a fun, approachable format. Students may feel like they are at play, directing popular characters like Angry Birds, but they are learning the fundamentals of writing lines of code. Students are being exposed to the basic vocabulary of a computer programmer, throwing around terms like algorithm, sequence, and loop. They are also sharpening critical thinking skills by locating problems and debugging programs that will eventually go up to 30 lines of code, not to mention the basic computer skills that the students are acquiring–dragging and dropping, knowing what ctrl + C does, and being able to find the semicolon key. One critical benefit is that the necessary skills of computer programming incorporate the standards that students are already working to achieve. As they progress through the program, they are using mathematical practices such as making sense of problems and persevering in solving them. Students build a foundation in geometry by describing objects in the environment, using names of shapes, and describing the relative positions of objects.
Smith believes, “early exposure is key to helping direct a child’s career path and making them aware of the opportunities in their future.” Uncover the Code starts with the little ones, kindergarteners, so while they are learning the letters in the alphabet in the traditional classroom, they are learning how to write lines of code with Ms. Owens and Ms. Smith. The program includes over 100 students and goes up to the fifth grade. These students’ learning the basics of writing code is so impressive because some computer programmers do not write their first line of code until college. Owens says, “just like learning a language, it’s more effective the earlier students are exposed to it.” This class is realizing Clayton County Public School’s goal of providing ample opportunities for students to master 21st Century skills and knowledge.
President Obama said, “Don’t just play on your phone; program it.” Steve Jobs believed that everyone in America should know how to program a computer. Some of the students in Uncover the Code may move on to be computer programmers, but they will all leave with the knowledge of what code is. This is a skill that transcends padding a resume or finding a job. Just like learning any language, knowing about code enriches life and opens a new hidden world.