We teach all children to write, but we don’t expect them all to necessarily become writers. In a world in which computing is ubiquitous and drives innovation in nearly every industry, it is important that we teach our children from an early age how to harness what Jeannette Wing, Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon and VP of Microsoft Research, called “computational thinking.” Computer Science is the broad area in which much of this would be taught to children, and Computer Science is now foundational to a strong education, right alongside reading, mathematics, science, and writing.
All kids will not end up as computer scientists, though we want many more to make that choice, as 71% of all new jobs in STEM are in computing and only 8% of STEM graduates are in Computer Science. However, most of our children will eventually find their jobs or their passions crossing over with computing. Whether they someday own a small business and recognize an app would accelerate revenue or they become a biologist that sees that the application of statistics, mathematics, and computer science holds the key to relations between several biological systems, computer science is key to being broadly educated and ensuring choice in future career pathways. This is sometimes referred to as the “double-deep” mandate, as the workforce will increasingly require sets of skills within technology and a secondary area, such as business, medicine, or sales.
Computer Science is not just about sitting at a computer and coding. One might think of the relationship between arithmetic and mathematics (there is so much more to mathematics than only arithmetic!) when understanding coding and Computer Science. When taught properly, Computer Science will challenge students and teach them to approach problems in new and rigorous ways. It will stretch their logical thinking skills, and help them develop mindsets such as being curious and flexible. The core concepts and big ideas of Computer Science are broadly transferable, as CS is a discipline just like History, Physics, or Mathematics. It has a body of knowledge and the thinking skills of the discipline will last students a lifetime. And there is ample evidence that the discipline of Computer Science is accessible to children in elementary school onwards.
What does it look like for young children to engage in a Computer Science class? Yesterday at Long-View we watched a third grader, with a little bit of extra time on her hands, decide to challenge herself to code something she’d learned in math that day. She set forth to figure out how she’d write a program that allowed the user to consider two sets of numbers and then find the intersection of the two sets.
The third grader’s first thought was, “I don’t really know how to do that. The only thing I know for sure is that I can start with a print statement.” Using her knowledge of Python, she coded a few lines that would print both sets of numbers onto the screen, with six elements in each set. She then iterated her code by adding a line asking the user to consider both sets and then enter the value that represented the intersection of the two sets. After a peer tried out the fledgling program, the hard-working young computer scientist realized she had a problem to solve. What if the user inputted in the wrong answer? How could she add to her program so the computer would respond by telling the user the answer was incorrect, and then allow for a new answer to be inputted?
The logical thinking and problem solving terrain that this young eight-year-old traversed, while also having to leverage her beginning knowledge of Python, is nothing short of remarkable. First and foremost, she was a curious learner who sought intellectual challenge. She found a starting point and had the stamina to continue breaking apart her problem. She was able to simultaneously think about the user’s experiences, the set theory she learned about in mathematics, and the coding language to which she’d been newly introduced. What a thinker! What a great example of the Long-View way.