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Top 5 Ways that Programming in Education has Changed

Earnest boy in a suit places hands on keyboard; a translucent field of code fills the foreground
(Image credit: Thinkstock/alphaspirit)

The trend towards programming in education has gone through many changes over the past forty years. Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms (1980) was one of the first works to propose a link between computer programming concepts and computational thinking skills. The ideas and concepts have evolved along with the technology. Modern scholars have made the case for including programming in education to improve math skills and executive functioning, among other areas. Here are the top five ways in which programming in education has changed over the last 40 years:

1. AVAILABILITY.

Programming in education is now more readily available than ever. Web 2.0 applications and free resources enable almost anyone, regardless of their affiliation with a school, to access resources to learn programming. Students can now teach themselves programming and no longer need a book or a teacher with special qualifications.

2. ACCESSIBILITY.

Increased access to devices and more 1:1 initiatives have also increased access to programming resources. In addition, the proliferation of free programming resources has contributed significantly to accessibility. Websites like code.org and applications such as Scratch offer free resources that anyone can use to learn and practice programming skills. Resources like these enable educators to use programming across the curriculum. Both code.org and Scratch, for example, can be used to supplement and enrich lessons in any subject.

3. BARRIERS TO ENTRY.

Increased availability and accessibility do not necessarily mean there are lower barriers to entry for programming in education. Code.org offers many learning experiences in a game-based learning environment. Scratch also provides activities and tutorials that give even the youngest learners opportunities to learn programming. These resources are considered low-floor, high-ceiling resources. This means that the amount of time it takes to be able to use these resources successfully is minimal (low-floor), and the variety and level of complexity of what can be accomplished with these resources is high (high-ceiling). Code.org and Scratch are certainly not the only programming resources, but they are among the most widespread.

4. JOB OUTLOOK.

There are more and more jobs in technology, and projections are for significant growth in fields involving technology and programming. It’s more important than ever, therefore, that schools not only teach programming but also implement STEM-related programs to ensure that students are prepared for future work environments. Not that many years ago, basic computer skills were a bonus that an employee brought to a job, regardless of what job they were seeking. Now basic computer skills are expected in most fields, and advanced computing and programming skills are an advantage in every field.

5. HOUR OF CODE.

Hour of Code has changed programming in education in a huge way. With millions of students participating in the annual event held in December during Computer Science Week, the popularity of programming continues to grow. As a result, toys, games, and other learning tools with a focus on programming are widely available.

All of these changes and trends have meant that millions of students are learning computational thinking, computer science, and other associated technology skills.

Dr. Lahullier is the Coordinator of Technology Services for Midland School #1 with the Rochelle Park (NJ) School District.