There’s no question that the emphasis around coding, computer science, and digital literacy (to name just a few buzzwords) is growing in elementary schools! The need for qualified individuals with these skill sets is obviously apparent, but where to start and how to best solve for that need is cause for much debate. As schools and districts begin to weigh the benefits, feasibility, and logistics around incorporating an elementary computing curriculum, there are four key hurdles that must be addressed.
1. Not enough time in the schedule
With so much emphasis placed on building foundational skills in literacy and math, many elementary teachers are at a loss for time to integrate computing into an already-packed curriculum. Proponents, however, look at the course as much more than an isolated set of skills.
When executed correctly, computing is about five broad practices of computational thinking: creativity, collaboration, communication, persistence, and problem solving. As students think critically and apply logic to arrive at thoughtful solutions, they are moving far beyond coding principles to develop valuable skills that can be employed across all subjects.
According to a recent Gallup study commissioned by Google, a perceived disconnect in the desire for computing curriculum may also be affecting school policy. Among the findings: 90% of parents see computer science as a “good use of school resources,” while fewer than 8% of administrators believe parent demand is high.
2. Teachers don’t feel equipped
When it comes to finding appropriately trained educators who are passionate about teaching computing, schools are running into what is being called a “chicken-and-egg problem” by members of the Computer Science Teachers Association. Teacher-certificate programs won’t train teachers because there’s no state computer science certification, and the state won’t create a certification program because there’s no teacher training for it.
Still, schools are developing new district initiatives to teach computer science as part of the required curriculum. Just how are they doing it when teachers are ill-equipped to lead instruction? Some schools are turning to free, self-paced online programs, such as Khan Academy’s and those featured on Code.org, to fill in the gaps when teachers cannot. Edmentum’s EducationCity also provides a Computing module comprised of three fundamental elements of computing education—computer science, digital literacy, and information technology.
3. Lack of technology resources
When computer lab time is at a premium and laptops and tablets are in short supply, how can one possibly teach computing? To solve for this all-too-common problem, some computing curriculum options include both online and “unplugged lessons” to allow students to continue learning away from the computer. These offline activities still convey essential computing skills and serve as onramps to a world where students can become proactive learners and digital citizens.
For those times when computers are necessary, there are a variety of ways that teachers are employing technology. Interactive whiteboards can be used for whole-group computing instruction, a rotation model can help employ a small subset of devices appropriately and fairly, and clever scheduling with the technology specialist can lead to additional pockets of computer lab time.
4. Shortage of quality curriculum for elementary students
As the computing conversation continues to create buzz, a number of providers are jumping into the mix to offer elementary content options. Many focus specifically on coding education, offering a variety of instructional videos and a simplified coding platform. For this younger audience, however, educators often need supplemental materials in order to address digital literacy and information technology components of computing.
To help meet that growing need, Edmentum’s web-based program, EducationCity, has released a comprehensive computing subject that provides a friendly introduction to essential technology skills (including coding) using relatable, interactive content for your K–5 students. To learn more, watch this brief overview video and sample these free Computing activities for yourself.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020, roughly 1 million coding jobs will go unfilled. Before it’s too late, let’s change the conversation around the availability of homegrown tech talent. Want to learn more? Check out Google’s suggestions for six steps to start taking action on computer science education.
Follow Edmentum's PreK-6 Computing & Coding Pinterest board for even more resources.