Computer Coding for Kids

Like most Americans, my family and I are consumers of technology.  We use a variety of devices that help us learn, work, play and communicate.  It’s hard to imagine a time before the internet and cell phones, but those of us who are over certain age occasionally feel it necessary to impress upon younger generations about What It Was Like In The Olden Days.  Did you know that way back in, say, the 80’s we had to use a manual typewriter and correcting ribbon to produce essays, photograph and develop slides and put them in a carousel to give a presentation, and stand in the kitchen to talk on the phone because it was attached to the wall?  My daughter wonders aloud if I also had walk miles in the snow to school (uphill both directions).

But one experience I did have in those early days of personal computers was the opportunity to play a little bit with coding.  We had a Texas Instruments computer attached to an old black and white television that served as a monitor.  My dad taught me a few rudimentary elements of BASIC, and I was able to create a “choose your own adventure” story for my little sister.  It was fun – and empowering – to see the computer do what I told it to do.

Since then, there have been a few other times when I worked with computer codes.  In graduate school I had to run statistical analyses on SAS.  Later I helped customize new medical records software for a paperless veterinary practice.  These days I help manage content for a variety of social media pages, but it is rare that I ever have to move beyond the What You See Is What You Get screen and delve into HTML.  Even though I don’t comprehend most coding languages, I can appreciate the patterns and sometimes troubleshoot and fix small things.  I also respect the power of coding, recognizing that the omission of a single character could mess up an entire program!

My kids are growing up in a different world than I did.  They are technologically-savvy and take many of their computer tools for granted.  But… they don’t write code, they poke at icons.  They, like most of us, are computer consumers, not computer programmers.  It was to their generation that President Obama was speaking when he urged “Don’t just play on your phone, program it” last December.

So it was with great interest that I read Tasneem Raja’s cover story in this month’s Mother Jones magazine:  Is Coding the New Literacy?  She begins the piece with an impressive story about how young coders from Code for America solved a problem Boston was having with fire hydrants buried under snow.  However, while there is clearly a need for workers with computer coding skills, the number of students are graduating with degrees in computer science does not meet the need in this high-paying industry.  She goes on to explore a variety of reasons for this, but Raja writes:


What if learning to code weren’t actually the most important thing? It turns out that rather than increasing the number of kids who can crank out thousands of lines of JavaScript, we first need to boost the number who understand what code can do.


And then she ties computer literacy to the concept of computational thinking:


Researchers have been experimenting with new ways of teaching computer science, with intriguing results. For one thing, they’ve seen that leading with computational thinking instead of code itself, and helping students imagine how being computer savvy could help them in any career, boosts the number of girls and kids of color taking—and sticking with—computer science. Upending our notions of what it means to interface with computers could help democratize the biggest engine of wealth since the Industrial Revolution.


Computational thinking — that’s the key.  Examples of computational thinking can be found in everyday and meaningful tasks that we can all relate to, and the article uses cooking a meal as a type of “light CT”.

After reading the article, I thought about my kids and the way they interact with technology.  I have a 12 year old who has long been interested in engineering, electronics and generally How Stuff Works.  His most recent experience with programming has been to program robots to complete missions as part of a FIRST Lego League Robotics team.  This has been a great project-based learning experience for him, but even the FIRST robotics program uses software that teaches programming through a graphic interface rather than basic command line programming.  So last night my son and I explored, which is a site that provides free computer science and coding curriculum for K-12 students, and is listed on the Oregon Coast Regional STEM Hub’s Resources page.  We managed to program our way through a series of mazes during our first Hour of Code.  It was fun, painless and engaging for both of us.  After writing each secret messages to each other in binary code, I showed him the HTML view of a few websites.  The view looks messy, but he could appreciate and decipher some of the commands.  He appears to be eager to continue exploring the world of coding, and I admit I’m now curious to learn more as well.


Science in elementary improves literacy rates

Media release from the Education Commission of the States:

Report:  Want to improve your third-grade literacy rate?  Teach science

DENVER, June 17, 2014 – Recent research suggests early math, science and social studies knowledge may boost achievement for the nation’s youngest students and provides a better chance at future reading success – more so even than early reading skills.


The Progress of Education Reform: Science in the Early Years, published today by the Education Commission of the States, looks at the benefits associated with science education in early learning and includes recommendations for state policymakers. One key finding: Teachers report being uncomfortable teaching science.


The report outlines the case for including strong science curriculum and instructional supports in the early years by outlining the basic skills and knowledge that young children possess, describing ways that science supports learning in other subject areas and presenting evidence that supporting science instruction in the early years leads to future success in the classroom.


“Math, literacy, social studies and art can all be linked to science,” said Bruce Atchison, director of the Early Learning Institute at ECS and a former preschool teacher and administrator. “It is time to make the paradigm shift so that teachers are given the instructional opportunities to be comfortable with teaching science and how children learn science.”


Among the findings:

  • Children entering kindergarten are ready to engage in science exploration, but most early learning programs do not do enough to build on those abilities.
  • Science learning experiences provide rich contexts for language and literacy development.
  • While all children benefit from science lessons, the most at-risk students need science the most.


The report’s author is Kimberly Brenneman, an assistant research professor at the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, where she directs the Early Childhood STEM Lab. Among her recommendations are improved teacher preparation and professional development, since she notes teacher preparation programs do not typically emphasize science content.


Recommendations for research, policy and practice:

  • Research-based curriculum and instruction. Policymakers should support rich, connected, evidence-based science learning experiences.
  • Stronger professional preparation. Requirements in teacher preparation programs should be changed to include strong coursework that strengthens knowledge of science content.
  • Better professional development. Engaging teachers with strategies for creating specific science curriculum has the potential to support more effective education in the preschool classroom.


This is the second report ECS has released on research describing the impact math and science instruction can have on young children. The report Math in the Early Years was issued in October.


The Education Commission of the States  was created by states, for states, in 1965. We track policy, translate research, provide unbiased advice and create opportunities for state policymakers to learn from one another.

Cheer on our Oregon MATE ROV teams

Watch it LIVE June 26-28 at

Watch it LIVE June 26-28 at

Tune in to the MATE ROV International Competition at the end of this month and cheer on the three competing teams  representing Oregon:

  • Explorer Class ROV team from Clatsop Community College
  • Explorer Class ROV team from Linn-Benton Community College, and
  • Ranger Class ROV team Typhoon Industries from Azalea, Oregon

This year’s contest focuses on shipwrecks, science and conservation in our National Marine Sanctuaries.  Students will pilot their ROVs to explore and document an unknown shipwreck, collect scientific samples, inventory invasive species, and remove trash and debris, among other tasks – all staged in the 80-foot diameter, 600,000 gallon tank at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary facility in Alpena, Michigan.

Watch the competition LIVE on June 26-28 at  Go get ’em, Oregon teams!


Teacher PD survey deadline extended

Great news… there’s still time for teachers to fill out the STEM Professional Development survey!

The survey deadline has been extended to June 13th in an attempt to gain more participation.

So far, 259 coastal teachers have taken the survey.  However, 68% of these responses have come from teachers in only four school districts, and there are fewer or no responses from the other 10 districts on the coast.  It is imperative that teachers from every region fill out the survey so that all needs can be identified and programs can be developed next year that meet each district’s needs.

Thanks to everyone who can help promote this important survey to all teachers at this busy time of the year!