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How do you teach younger students computer science?

Woman Using Digital Tablet In Computer Class.  Behind him, other students were looking at their computer screens while the teacher was teaching.

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To teach language to the youngest students, you first introduce them to the letters of the alphabet and the sounds the letters make. Next, you move on to combining letters into simple words, then sentences.

To teach math, you start with numbers, then counting, then basic addition and subtraction.

So, where do you start teaching kindergarten through middle school students the basics of computer science? ZDNet asked, and here’s what three education experts had to say.

Expert: Sometimes failure is part of learning computer science

Kim Wilkens, a white woman wearing glasses and an embroidered brown jacket, smiles in a professional headshot.

University of Virginia

Kim Wilkens said one of the first messages she shares with teachers learning about computer science is that problem solving through trial and error — and occasional failure — is OK.

Wilkens is a doctoral student at the University of Virginia. He studies K-8 computer science (CS) education. She is also the founder of Charlottesville Women in Tech and the nonprofit Tech-Girls.

Trial and error is a fundamental element of teaching, learning, and working in computer science, he explained.

So is the fact that “there are many ‘right’ answers to the problem,” Wilkens says.

This means that there is a culture of experimentation in CS education, where trying things out and creativity are encouraged.

Regarding the changes related to the pandemic, “a positive thing I heard, especially in teaching CS to elementary school students, because students have access and practice technology, more time can be spent on teaching CS concepts and not just how to use technology,” Wilkens said.

“A couple of challenges I heard were the difficulty of supporting students when they had problems with their code and screen fatigue during the pandemic.”

Jennie Chiu smiles in a professional outdoor photo.  He was leaning against a brick column and wearing a black shirt.

University of Virginia

Jennie Chiu, an associate professor of education at UVA’s School of Education and Human Development, echoed Wilkens’ view.

“I would add connecting CS concepts to students’ daily lives, cultures, and past experiences as another pedagogical strategy, especially for elementary students,” he said. “Many CS concepts relate to everyday experiences.”

For example, dancing involves loops. Or you can use a condition when deciding what to wear in the morning – if it’s cold, then I’ll wear a sweatshirt. Algorithms can be thought of as recipes.

“However, it is equally important after making these connections to help students understand and recognize the differences between everyday language and experiences and computer science language and programming,” Chiu said.

Keys to teaching computer science in the elementary school

“K-4 students explore CS concepts through unplugged activities, coding games, robotics, and block-based programming,” Wilkens said.

“At this age, students need opportunities to practice recognizing and using patterns, sequences, loops, conditions (if/then), event-driven programming and debugging to solve problems. problems. They also need to be exposed to CS vocabulary and how CS relates to the world around them.”

Chiu said unplugged learning experiences — away from computer screens — are important.

“Unplugged activities help students understand that computer science is more than just working with computers and instead is a way of thinking and solving problems that come across many other fields and domains,” said said Chiu.

“However, as Kim said, the joy and excitement that students get from working with different computing devices and knowing that they can make that piece of technology do what they want to do is is empowering and an important opportunity for all students.”

Computer science in middle school: Cultivating curiosity

Grades 5-8 can be a stressful time for students, teachers, and families.

Most children living in the US in these grades are 10 to 14 years old. The upper elementary and middle years are often a period of rapid change for tweens, teens, and their families.

When it comes to learning about technology and computer science, this time, the focus continues to be on improving programming skills. Children in this age group also begin to explore syntax through text-based coding platforms.

In addition, “they also gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between hardware, software, data and the impact of technology on their world,” Wilkens said.

“At this age, students need opportunities to do technology projects across disciplines. As their projects gain complexity, students also begin to make independent decisions about when and where include variables, boolean logic, and methods.”

Wilkens said that students in this older age group “need to be challenged to consider the utility of their designs and to iterate on their solutions.

Computer science curricula for K-8 students also need to have a foundation in cultivating students’ curiosity, says Kevin Good. He is an assistant professor of special education in the College of Education at the University of Mary Washington.

“I like to tell my teacher preparation students that computer science should be like a trip with Ms. Frizzle, one where we take chances and make mistakes,” Good said.

Other elements of the curriculum should include critical and abstract thinking skills, collaboration, and communication, Good said.

Finally, it’s probably no surprise that the pandemic is changing how computer science is taught to America’s young students. The changes include a push to get a device in the hands of every student for academic use.

But your access and experience — or the experience your student will have — depends on where you live in America.

High school students interested in computer science may also consider online or in-person bootcamps, such as Google’s Code Next program, which recently opened a Detroit location.

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