Reading, writing, arithmetic and … programming? New York City thinks that every kid should learn to code to keep up in today's world, and it's started a program to make it happen.
The city has announced a computer science pilot program that will teach 1,000 middle and high school students how to code, a skill that has been widely neglected in America's public schools.
Beginning in September, students at 20 participating schools will take core classes in computer programming, Web designing, robotics and mobile computing. The classes also include the less-than-household concepts of e-textiles (so-called smart fabrics that can do things like automatically adjust to the temperature) 3D printing and computer animation.
That's certainly not your average school curriculum. According to Code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to computer science in schools, nine out of 10 schools in the U.S. don't offer computer science classes. And among the ones that do, 41 out of 50 high school coding classes don't count toward math or science graduation requirements, which makes preparing kids for a technology-driven world even more difficult.
"It will get you just as close to graduation as it will if you take woodworking," Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel and Code.org supporter, said at a Brookings Institution summit on the state of computer science education. "I love wood, but it is not the future of our economy."
And it's never too early — or too late — to start. Educators who support Code.org's initiative say kindergarteners can be introduced to coding concepts. Like with learning a foreign language, learning the language of code comes easier to youngsters when they haven't yet had the chance to be intimidated by math.
“I know firsthand from studying [antique programming language] FORTRAN that many of us get intimidated by it and we shouldn't be," Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers, said on Code.org in support of its initiative. "Computer programming has become far more accessible to teach and learn, and our country needs more students to learn it."
It also needs more instructors to teach it. Only one in six teachers teach computer science full-time, Code.org said. The students graduating with a college degree in computer science are not entering the teaching field.
"College graduates with computer science degrees are a hot commodity in the job market, and tech companies are quick to snap them up," Smith said. "And there is no question that the starting salaries in private industry far exceed teachers’ salaries."
Resources are available for teachers who want to include computer science in their classrooms. For instance, Google offers CS4HS, a project to teach computer science and computational thinking in kindergarten through 12th grade. In lessons designed for early grades, children build "tests" for verbs by completing a simple program using Python, a common programming language.
And for teachers, students, parents and anyone who'd like to learn to code, there's the NYC-based Codecademy , which offers free online programming courses. [http://www.technewsdaily.com/3678-cracking-code-programming-classes-masses.html]. Kids can also get a taste for programming with Kodu, another free online resource where kids can create games for Xbox and the PC.
“The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future," Gabe Newell, founder of video game studio Valve and Code.org supporter, said. "You're going to look like you have magic powers compared to everybody else."