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by Elisa Villanueva Beard

Step aside, Silicon Valley. Coding is for kids, too.

The toddlers of today will be the leaders of tomorrow, and we need to prepare them for our increasingly wired world.
As the mother of four boys between one and seven years old, I’m determined to make sure that my children — and all children in this nation — have a chance to explore computer science. That doesn’t mean we pop infants in front of computer screens — it means we expose children to the logical foundations of coding; we give them blocks, we give them visuals, we give them the chance to see technology as a social good. I believe it’s both economically and educationally crucial to expose them to the world of coding early on.

And this week, in over 180 countries nationwide, students, teachers, families and organizations came together to do just that for “The Hour of Code.” Teach For America was proud to join in.

The “hour of code” looks different for everyone. Again — it’s not always about a screen and a mouse. For our youngest learners, it might mean making lines and patterns with blocks. For our early-elementary children, it can be giving a cartoon on a computer simple commands with their cursor and watching it respond. Older students can start translating those commands through javascript or “blocks” that represent specific lines of code — and even using that script to create apps or programs. (There are programs for every interest — I’ll be pitching Code.org’s Star Wars themed game to my 7 year old and 5 year old, who were Han Solo and Luke Skywalker for Halloween.)

According to Gallup, nine in ten parents want their child to study computer science — but just one in four schools teach programming, and those in low-income communities are even less likely to offer these courses. But by 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be over 1 million jobs in computing.  At Teach For America, we’re committed to helping make sure that our students are prepared to fill those jobs if they want to, no matter their race, their gender, or their income — factors that have long been barriers to preparation for the field. In 2015, there were nine states where not a single black student, and three states where not a single female student took the AP Computer science exam.

Our teachers are helping young people break the mold — Ben Bradshaw is a Teach For America corps member who teaches at STRIVE Preparatory SMART Academy in Denver and who’s bringing computer science into the classroom. His 12th grade Statistics students have been using data visualization tools to uncover the association between inequality and mortality within communities and exploring murder rates across states and across countries.
We have alumni leaders outside of the classroom, too, who are making waves. Elizabeth Davis ’06, for instance, launched a non-profit, ScriptEd,that brings professional programmers to serve as classroom mentors across New York City. And nationally, Teach For America was recently awarded $1M in funding from the National Science Foundation to support our teachers in computer science education.

The “Hour of Code” shows us that STEM education can come alive for our students. It shows us that play — crucial for all of our children — can help set the stage for complex tasks later on; making a robot dance with two clicks of a button makes our kindergarteners laugh, but it also exposes them to the cause and effect relationships of programming. And as they get older and experiment with apps and programs, we see our students get ready to take on the world’s biggest problems with the world’s newest tools. Computer Science week is coming to a close, but we must sustain this momentum for the power of code in our classrooms year-round.

 

This story was republished from Medium.

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Citizen Education promotes grassroots commentary by lifting up the work of citizen journalists.

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