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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Educators applaud new guidelines, funds expected for more computer science education in schools

Jan 29, 2020 12:41PM ● By Julie Slama

Viewmont fourth grade students get an introduction to coding with hands-on coding blocks. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

At Viewmont Elementary in Murray, fourth grader Addy Boyer and her class took hands-on coding blocks and arranged them in a way to command their peers to speak or do something.

It was a simple introduction to coding, but one that got the message across to these 9- and 10-year-olds.

“Coding is fun because we can make others do interesting things, like push-ups and sit-ups, clapping hands and giving high-fives,” Addy said. “And if I don’t do it right, I can look at it again, then try again to create things. It’s fun.”

Her classmate Bailey Terry agrees.

“Learning how to code is another way to communicate,” she said. “I code a little at home to wish someone happy birthday and can write for them to smoosh cake in their face or I could write a message to my mom that I’m sorry for whatever made her mad and say ‘if you forgive me, I will do chores and say I’m sorry’ or something like that.”

While these girls had the chance to practice their coding skills in December, Gov. Gary Herbert recognized that same month that not every school in Utah has the same opportunities to have computer science education. 

Thus, he included $10.2 million in his budget yet to be approved by the Utah Legislatureto boost computer science public education statewide, which coincides with the Utah State Board of Education recently approving new computer science standards for sixth through 12th grades and upgrading guidelines for kindergartners through fifth grade.

The goal is to bring students up to date on coding changes of the 21st century and provide every student with computer science education by 2022, said Herbert, who declared it Computer Science Education Week.

Canyons Technical Education Center Computer Science and Programming Teacher Cody Henrichsen supports the need for improved computer science standards.

“Computer sciences is problem-solving and analysis and that applies to every part of education and life,” he said. “In the 21st century, about everything we do will center around technology. We will need to know how and why things work, be able to use data and use information. We need computer science at every school in the state.”

At Bella Vista Elementary in Cottonwood Heights, STEM instructor Honor Steele introduces computer science and coding to about 275 students through hands-on activities.

Students learn how to be empowered learners and digital citizens, discover online resources, use Google Earth, create using film skills, learn engineering skills with FIRST Lego robotics and use coding, Spheros and Hour of Code for computational thinking.

“We end the year with a month dedicated to coding; kids ask and look forward to it,” Steele said. “It’s more than just games; it’s an introduction to get them to problem-solving. They learn the essentials of how coding works. We want every kid to have these opportunities. Some kids will love it, take off and have it be something they will pursue — and while not every student will latch on and run with it, they have gained a greater understanding of where we are with current technology. We’re sowing the seeds in elementary school that needs to be carried on.”

At nearby Ridgecrest Elementary, teacher Linda Leavitt encourages students to use Chromebooks for several assignments.

“I try to incorporate technology as much as I can — in math assignments, writing and research,” she said. “I make it more real life and when there’s free time, students are using Chromebooks for learning games in math and reading or practicing their typing.”

Students in Leavitt’s classroom also log on for Hour of Code.

“When it comes down to it, it’s critical thinking skills and the tools we use every day are coding. I fully recognize as a fifth grade teacher that these students will have to be able to think for themselves, problem-solve and understand how things work. So, when you look at it, if we had to choose between cursive or coding, coding has way more applications and usage.”

Leavitt also supports further computer science education, supporting coding electives as a way to develop students’ understanding.

“Coding is in our phones, our cars, locks on our doors. Next year, our new science curriculum will include more engineering and technology. We need to stay up with technology,” she said. 

At Park Lane Elementary, a parent asked for more student coding opportunities, thus leading to the introduction in late January of the Coding Kids after-school program.

Technology teacher Mercedes Roberts said that through coding, students will develop the ability to problem-solve in their lives and in jobs, and also give them other skill sets, such as teamwork and creativity.

“I hope they learn coding is fun and not just for nerds,” she said. “It’s important that they’re learning now how to work with others, how teamwork can contribute to ideas and how to express themselves creatively.”

Principal Justin Jeffery said coding also plays into Canyons’ mantra of being college and career ready.

“Coding is our future; many jobs will require these skills, and schools need to respond and offer more computer science opportunities,” Jeffery said. “Introducing them now may spark someone’s passion.”