Is computer science ed possible in a low-tech environment?
- In an innovative effort, 23 elementary schools in Brooklyn are now enrolled in a special program within the city’s Computer Science for All initiative called the Software Engineering Program Junior (SEPjr).
- SEPjr focuses on teaching foundational computer science terminology and concepts to K-5th grade students using both computer-based and “unplugged” hands-on methods.
- Teachers apply terms like algorithm to everyday events and offer strategies such as cutting and pasting directional movements. Students learn to understand the foundations of computer programming without being distracted by the tools themselves.
Contemporary television is full of examples of computer professionals spouting off riffs of computer jargon that appear like a foreign language to those around them. While the technology divide may be a source of humor on the screen, the language of computer programming is one that students in schools today need to be familiar with if they are to understand the world they will live and work in as adults. In the foreseeable future, computer science will likely be treated as a required course, such as algebra, rather than an elective.
Teaching computer science terminology early can help demystify the computer programming process and make the career track seem more accessible to students. And using non-tech or low-tech strategies in the process can help students build a conceptual understanding as well. Teaching algorithms as a series of step-by-step instructions toward reaching a goal, for instance, not only teaches students about programming, but also teaches them something about logic, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
The other advantage of using low-tech and no-strategies is that the cost of implementation is lower, a boon for cash-strapped schools. And there are some exciting options for implementing these strategies. As part of the Hour of Code initiative going on this week, Code.org has assembled a wide range of instructional strategies that can be filtered down based on age group and access to technology. New products, such as Primo, are also on the market as a way to teach programming to young children though hands-on play. The future, it seems, has arrived and educators need to find ways to prepare students for it.