Inside a classroom adorned with models and cutouts of superheroes, 6- and 7-year-olds wear headphones, peer at a computer screen and learn rudimentary computer coding.
For 47 minutes each week, more than 100 second-graders at Mineola Primary School learn the elementary building blocks of computer technology. The kids are a long way off from understanding how to write complex computer programs, but they do grasp a fundamental understanding:
“They realize they’re actually making things happen,” says Kaye Morris, a primary school technology instructor. “They see the end results of the sequencing.”
Across America, schools are investing in technological training and education of children at a young age. Mineola, which prides itself for its technological innovation in the classroom, is no different. It sees learning the language of computers as a foundational skill for competing in the world of today and tomorrow.
“Right now, really a lot of education is leaning toward that,” Morris said of learning code. “If they can learn the pre-skills before they get to high school, we feel like they’ll be better (prepared) to go into college with coding skills. Most jobs now, if you go into computers, it has something to do with coding. So we’re trying to implement that with our technology throughout the district.”
These second-graders may not have a wealth of sophistication and experience, but they do possess inquisitive minds that adapt and learn rapidly.
“They’re quick, and they catch and grasp the concepts quickly,” says Morris. “Once they have that (foundation), they’re able to build on it. We’re trying to start early enough so that by the time they are in high school they’re already doing coding games. And it’s not just games; it’s apps and all kinds of things.”
Teaching coding at such a young age is largely a visual process.
“They’re learning through a program that makes it very visual for them,” explains Morris. The children do not see long chains of complex codes and algorithms. But they do experience the outcomes of their commands.
One of the ways they learn is through small toy robots made by a company called Sphero. They learn that through manipulating a computer tablet, they can make the robot go where they want it to.
“The biggest thing for them to realize is that what I’m doing on the computer is exactly what this thing is learning,” says Morris.
The MISD became serious about coding for youngsters about three years ago, according to Morris, who had attended a conference arranged by the Texas Computer Education Association. She learned about the array of tools available to bring computer technology into the classroom. She came to a realization.
“We can really do more here,” she says. “We can get them excited about technology.”
And because that technology is changing every year, the school attempts to keep students abreast of it as much as possible, Morris explains.
“The future’s unknown, so we’re just trying to give them whatever access we can and trying to give them those opportunities.”