Why Do We Need to Teach Computer Science?
Educators everywhere are feeling the impact of the push toward science, technology, engineering, arts and math, (STEAM). This has led to an increased emphasis on learning new skills such as computer programming. Events like Hour of Code which have world-wide participation also highlight this emphasis on computer science skills being an important part of the classroom. I discovered, however, that little research has been done regarding the benefits of students learning a specific computer science coding language. My research was an examination of how coding language impacts student's overall critical thinking.
Background and Need, Rationale, etc.
Like many schools, our school has felt the impact of the push to develop strong STEAM skills. As a result, we have two classrooms dedicated to this endeavor: The Technology Design Lab and the Design Lab, which is dedicated to arts and engineering. This classrooms are led by instructors who have the responsibility of ensuring that every student at our K-5 school develop arts, engineering and technology skills.
The job of leading the student population's technology development is no small thing, particularly when few schools have the time or the space for this. It is rare to meet another teacher in a position similar to mine, and many schools ask classroom teachers to direct instruction regarding technology. The current Common Core Standards for California do not provide detailed technology standards - yet. This lack of structure on which to base my instruction pushes me to dig deeper into research to ensure that my students are benefiting from my instruction.
I have spent the last three years introducing basic coding language to my elementary students. They enjoying being able to create, but I wanted to look deeper to the benefits of such instruction. Does learning to code improve student's ability to solve other problems? Does learning to code benefit their critical thinking skills? These questions led my research.
As with any journey in this process, I did not travel in a direct, straight line. After my initial research I began to dive deeper into the digital world, and become interested in the larger impact of using gamification in the classroom. As I endeavored to build my students digital skills, including true computer science and coding, I also wanted to increase my ability to engage and interest all students. This led to my creation of a class game, Blast Off, in which students earn XP (experience points) and level up while completing assignments. After a few weeks of this new system, I asked my students to complete a survey expressing their observations of a gamified classroom.