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We teach our students to prepare them for their futures. Elementary educators know it goes beyond our classroom walls and what our students learn inside these walls. We see the path into middle school, high school and beyond our educational system into the world. There are so many things we do each day through direct teaching as well as indirectly to prepare our students for the world. But are we selling our children short?
Jobs of the future are moving into computer sciences. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics by the year 2020 (when this year’s class of sixth graders graduates high school) the number of jobs in computing will outnumber the college graduates in computing fields by almost 100,000. This means students who explore, use, understand and master computer programming have a path to an open career. Elementary educators have an important role in this path. We can introduce students, yes elementary students, to computer programming.
In today’s ever changing world it is our responsibility to introduce and teach programming to students just as we would teach reading, writing and mathematics. We must equip our students with the skills they need to understand and be prepared for THEIR future. Luckily, there are many programs available for free, a favorite word of educators, for students to use in exploring computer programming. In this article I will talk about a few of the resources I have used with fourth grade students. All of these resources would be appropriate for classroom individual use by students at a third grade level and up. In K-2 classrooms, Teachers can use them to expose students to programming and you may find students with high interest are able to use this in small groups or with assistance to program on their own. These programs are user-friendly, fun, and engaging for students.
Story Telling Alice is a free download that brings to your classroom a 3-D world that allows students to create their own story land world or video games. I have used this with students to design settings and place characters from novels. If students can use a mouse to drag and drop they can get started on Alice.
Scratch was released by MIT in 2009 as a free download. It has a drag and drop puzzle format that enables students to create code. There is also an online community for students and teachers to share their creations and ideas. If you find something you like, you can download the code and then make changes to it to fit your needs. I have used this with students as young as second grade and as old as sixth grade.
Game Star Mechanic allows students to create a video game through a game online. I introduced this to my fourth graders and they took off with little instruction. Students who enjoy the experience do have an option to purchase an advanced program.
Calico is my newest endeavor. It is a multi-langauge programming platform you can download for free. The thing I have found interesting about this program is it follows the scratch drag and drop puzzle format, but you can write in more than on code. It would be a great resource for students who need advanced experience after scratch or are in middle school and high school grades.
Computer programming is a blooming field nationally on the job market as well as with the education and kid market. Below are three other sites I found when researching, but I have not explored them.
The life and the future of our students is constantly changing and developing. Many of the jobs they will have do not even exist today. One thing you can do to prepare your students for success is introduce them to computer programming. Use the information in this article, go online, look at the sites, find something, play, explore and have fun. If you would like more information and a list of resources for both Windows and Mac you can check out Happy Nerds. After you have explored, bring computer programing into your classroom in some form and share it with your students. The resources available today do not limit this experience to upper grade levels. Today young students can explore and create and learn to write their own code. The things they will be able to do now will amaze you. So, what will your students be ready to do in the future?