Learning to code

Fourth-grader Parker Thur learns the fundamentals of coding with a robot named Ozobot in the STEM room at Edgerton’s Community Elementary this month. The black line is a simple follow line, while the colors give the robot a specific instruction, such as make a U-turn, speed up or slow down.

Many educators have been quick to bring technological devices into their classrooms, rightly believing kids must have 21st-century tools to help them learn. But not every school is teaching kids how to code, which is somewhat surprising given code’s huge influence on society and the economy—everything from a doctor’s visit to online shopping.

Kids who code are speaking the language of technology. They’re going beyond using search engines and apps and delving into the how these programs and systems operate.

Community Elementary in Edgerton stands out as a school that makes coding part of its STEM curriculum, and we suspect it’s only a matter of time before schools across the region figure out coding isn’t just for computer geeks anymore.

It’s important, too, for girls to get involved because computer science remains a field dominated by men. Girls’ interest in math and science begins to wane in middle school, and this trend must end for women to achieve gender equality years from now.

Society cannot continue to push the limits of technological innovation while social norms remain stuck the 20th century. Girls must be empowered for the most influential, highest-paying tech jobs.

The good news is that, despite a dearth of women in computer science, pay discrepancies between women and men mostly disappear in technology fields. In the rest of the economy, women make 78 cents on the dollar compared to men in the same positions, according to the American Association of University Women.

And it’s no secret that technology companies are some of the best places to work for women, offering benefits packages and perks that are the envy of the U.S. workforce. They often have generous family-leave polices and on-site childcare. Some even feature special rooms for breastfeeding.

But to be clear, a student doesn’t need to someday enter the technology field to benefit from coding curriculum. Problem-solving skills learned from coding can help anyone regardless of career choice.

Coding is about recognizing patterns and understanding how those patterns affect a program’s outcome. For students, it’s an opportunity to make mistakes and not feel bad about them, as Sheila Fox, the Edgerton elementary STEM teacher, noted during a recent interview with The Gazette. She frames the issue around “Why didn’t it work?” and not “What did I do wrong?”

Learning to write code is about more than the code itself. It’s about growing more confident in one’s skills and about expanding the possibilities for school children.

Most educators agree technology should be part of every classroom, but equipping classrooms with laptops and iPads soon won’t be enough to prepare kids.

Schools should not stop at teaching kids how to use computers. They should show them how to become tomorrow’s masters of technology.

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