Teaching Computer Science in Elementary School
Type of Technology: Computer Science unplugged activities
SAMR Model Rating: Redefinition
Grade Level: Elementary
Subject: Computer Science
When you think of a computer scientist, what image comes to mind? Many of us possibly think of a hygienically challenged white male gamer who lacks social skills. Unfortunately, there is a pervasive, unspoken attitude that this field of study is only accessible to a select few who have been into computers as a hobby since 7th grade. This prevents students from exploring this field as a major. They just don’t feel invited, if you will, to participate. I applaud the efforts of the computing community in promoting the Hour of Code and the teachers who stepped out of their comfort zone to participate with their classes. It is recognized that there is a great need for diversity in this field and exposing young children to the pure joy of creating something from code will hopefully break down these “I can’t” barriers.
Coding is a start, but there is more to Computer Science than just coding. There are many underlying principles that children can be taught and one does not even need a computer to do it. In fact, if you are teaching problem solving, you’ve already dived in!
There is a fabulous resource available called, “CS unplugged” (csunplugged.org). I invite you to look through the materials and try a few of the activities. The activities are hands-on, free and reproducible (free and reproducible! that got your teacher senses tingling didn’t it?). The activities teach computational thinking, logic, binary numbers, data compression, spanning trees, searching and sorting techniques, and problem solving. Your students will think of most of these activities as games most likely. However, in the process of doing these you will be giving them a foundation to grasp computer science principles that much easier down the road. And then maybe when our children think of computer scientists they will think of a diverse group of men and women who are artists and creators. And they will want to follow that path and be wonderful contributors to society. And they will have lucrative incomes because that soccer thing was never gonna pan out….but I digress. Adele’s crescendo in the background got to me.
I believe that technology education needs to extend beyond just using technology and should include Computer Science. Well, I have some good news: there are many overlapping concepts with the Common Core Math Standards. There is an organization called Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and these fine people have developed k-12 Computer Science standards and have also mapped them against Common Core. I invite you to take a look and I hope you will actually get kind of excited about the possibilities here. Let’s begin making computer science part of our curriculum at the elementary level. Let’s do it for her future, our future, and for the sake of diversity.