If you had told my ten-year-0ld self that as an adult, I would send most of my career teaching people how to do things on computers, I would have laughed in your face. You see, at ten, I was a bookworm who would rather read than socialize and computers occupied entire floors of research universities and were only used by engineers and other nerdy types that I had never met. All this to say, that when we talk about preparing students for the jobs of the future, let’s face it, we are mostly blowing smoke. The only thing we really know is that most of the careers of the future do not yet exist .
So how do we prepare for something that we know nothing about? I suggest we do it by giving our students open-ended scenarios and let them problem solve. One of the easiest and simplest opportunities to do this is given to us each December by Hour of Code. As a teacher, you don’t really need to understand coding yourself to give your students this opportunity. Some of the best minds in the computer industry have put together a programming course that is accessible for everyone from pre-school through college. I have enjoyed Hour of Code with kindergarteners, adults and every age in between.
I believe the secret to this appeal consists of a few factors. First, everyone can experience success with the program at some level. I measure my students progress for grades by time on task, rather than the number of the level they reach in the sequence. I would rather all students engage at a level where they can make progress than force them to begin and end at a certain lesson. Engagement equals learning and learning breeds success.
The second factor is student choice. Once students understand how to drag and drop the blocks to make the program run, there are many different activities they can master. Many of my third-grade students have learned how to measure angles because they wanted Elsa from Frozen to make those pretty patterns. My teaching partner and I, both adults with graduate degrees, were asking each other questions as we worked through the problems set for the first time because of the geometry required, yet students who claimed to hate math and in any case wouldn’t study this in the regular math curriculum for a couple more years worked their way through it all.
The third factor is grit. It takes grit to take on something that is unknown to you and work step-by-step to master it. We as teachers also need to be careful that we ask all students to engage in struggle. I teach at a school where the stream of stuthe dents coming from refugee camps in the Middle East seems to have no end. It is easy for some people to underestimate these kids. In spite of what they have experienced, or maybe because of that, some of these students can really stick with a problem until it is done. in fact, so far this year, my best programmer is a student who has been in the U.S. only a few months, speaks little English and missed most of the previous school year because of war. One of the happiest memories I have in my teaching career is that newcomer trying to explain how to correct some code to a girl who did not speak his language at all. They made it work! I believe that anyone can achieve any goal if they are willing to work hard enough and long enough. That factor alone will guarantee future success, no matter what the jobs of the future look like.
If you are on the fence about Hour of Code this year, give it a try. The minimum is one class hour during Computer Science Education Week, December 5-11 this year. You could open a door to the future in a career that is not even dreamed of today.