Many high schools are teaching computer science, and middle and high schools often offer elective or after-school programs for coding and programming. Recently implemented requirements in Washington state will increase the number of offerings in this area for our older students. But did you know that Washington also has computer science standards for students grades K-8? Many school and district administrators are still wondering why they should care about computer science at the elementary or middle school level in the first place, let alone how they can structure their curriculum to cover these standards or prepare teachers to meet the challenge of teaching computer science and computational thinking.
Computer science education is often justified by the fact that it’s a solid career choice. This is one reason it’s often confined to middle and high school curricula, where the focus on career planning begins to intensify. But computer science isn’t just for future programmers or IT personnel. Computer science skills and concepts are everywhere in today’s jobs – and we can’t yet predict what tomorrow’s jobs will look like. Students who will never be computer programmers nonetheless benefit greatly from early exposure to computational thinking and computer science curriculum.
The pillars of computational thinking – decomposing the steps needed to solve a problem, identifying and describing patterns in data, understanding abstraction, and automating processes – are applicable to all areas, so all students will benefit from exposure. Earlier exposure to these concepts not only affects learning pathways for students in CS at later grades–including those engaging in career-connected learning around CS–it’s also critical to ensure equity. Evidence shows that students of color and girls are much more likely to engage in computer science learning later in school and in life if they are exposed to the concepts before 3rd grade.
Integrating the practices and pillars of computer science and computational thinking into elementary and middle school curriculum is easier than you might think, once you’ve adjusted your mindset about computer science. Those who aren’t programmers often have the idea that computer science is “too hard” for someone who’s not planning to become an expert – but that’s not the case. Many existing activities can be modified to link a computer science standard to the academic standard being taught, and many computer science concepts can be implemented even without any access to computers at all, via “unplugged” coding activities.
If you’re a school or district administrator, curriculum coordinator, instructional coach or other leader in determining curriculum, take a look at LMS Solutions’ free course Why Computer Science Matters in Elementary/Middle School. This course will help you get started with understanding the why and how of integrating computer science standards into your curriculum.