STS Blog

Coding: A Foundational Skill for All Students
Kimberly Mechan, Director of Information & Communication Technology

Over the past few years there has been a growing movement to make coding a core part of school curriculum alongside reading, writing and math. Organizations such as, a nonprofit founded in 2013 that is dedicated to expanding access to computer science, have been steadily gaining steam, and in January 2016 former President Obama announced an initiative to increase access to computer science classes in schools.

The buzz around incorporating computer science into K – 12 curriculum is well-deserved. Not only does it give students the skills needed to enter the growing field of computer science, but more importantly it teaches them foundational skills such as problem solving and analytical thinking that will serve them well in all aspects of their lives. At St. Thomas School (STS), we introduce coding in preschool and continue building students' foundational coding skills through eighth grade so they can develop essential thinking, processing and communication skills that will help them succeed.

The Early Learning Benefits of Coding

The benefits of coding extend far beyond creating software and websites. Before students start working with software, they learn computational thinking skills, which is the ability to approach a problem in a structured and logical way. Applying computational thinking can help students reach solutions that they may not have seen if they hadn't broken down the problem in a methodical manner.

The storytelling aspect of coding can also benefit students' written and oral communication skills. In coding, there is a logical beginning, progression and ending to the program, just like a story. These skills can benefit students' writing.

Additionally, since coding can be challenging at times, students learn to persevere through setbacks and failures. This resilience will help them succeed as they undertake increasingly challenging classes throughout their academic journey.

Coding at St. Thomas School

Coding is like learning a language: it's easier to become fluent at a young age. At STS we introduce simple coding in preschool to help students understand that at its core, coding is a set of instructions. Preschoolers work with a Kibo robot and its basic wooden programming blocks to code simple instructions such as forward, light on and stop. From there, students move on to visual educational programming languages such as Scratch, which involves putting pre-written code in the right order to create interactive stories and animations.

In middle school, students progress to text-based coding such as JavaScript in which they write their own code. At this stage, one tool we use is Bitsbox, a subscription service that provides monthly coding projects for 6 – 14 year-olds. Students love it because it comes with the code to quickly create their own apps. Then it stretches their thinking by giving them challenges to change or enhance the app by modifying and expanding the code on their own.

We also recently partnered with Microsoft to introduce Micro:bit mini computers to our elementary and middle schoolers. The little devices are open development boards that allow students to run code on them to create everything from robots to musical instruments. Micro:bit computers give students the ability to get creative with coding – students use them to create micro insects, guitars and bracelets that are programmed to play games such as "Rock, Paper, Scissors."

Students with an affinity for coding can take a deeper dive into the concepts they learn in class by participating in after-school coding clubs. In coding club, students choose their projects so they can explore the concepts that are most interesting to them with mentorship and guidance from teachers and other students. For example, a third grader coded STS's humanoid NAO robot to ask his classmates multiplication problems and tell them whether their answer is right or wrong.

Teaching children to code at a young age helps them develop fundamental skills that will benefit them in whatever career they choose to pursue. We plan on continuing to integrate coding activities into the curriculum at STS in fun new ways, and we're excited to see the creativity and learning that will take place as a result.