Why is Coding Important for School Students to Learn?

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know. 

This blog post has been beautifully illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Accompanying podcast episode:

As a teacher or a parent, you’ll likely have an interest in the subjects that children are learning in school, especially newer subjects like computer literacy, robotics, coding, or even game development. And while some parents and teachers might be worried that children already spend too much time on tablets, mobile phones or laptop computers as it is, the good news is that all of these subjects are likely to enhance the learning of more traditional curriculum areas, such as mathematics and English.

Coding, in particular, is quickly becoming a key skill that school students must achieve basic competency in before they graduate. In August last year, for example, former President Uhuru Kenyatta presided over the nationwide rollout of Kenya’s first ever coding curriculum in primary and secondary schools. This made Kenya the first African nation to create an official coding syllabus to be delivered in schools.

Today, I’ve invited Kat Sarmiento (content writer at Katreena’s Content Studio) to share her thoughts on why coding is such an important subject for students to learn.

Kat Sarmiento

In this digital age, when technological advancement continues to transform our lives, learning coding is crucial, especially for school students. Because if you think about it, the apps and websites children use all run on code. Thus, it’s vital for them to learn and understand the basics of coding to make the most out of the apps and websites they visit and utilize.

Image source: Pexels

As you may be aware, in the current curriculum, students in classes 11 and 12 are taught fundamental programming languages, such as C, C++, Foxpro, and more, while sixth-grade students and up learn computer basics. And as online education came to light, more and more students eagerly took online tuition coding classes to test various programming languages.

Given this situation, education professionals must also understand that teaching coding is as important as teaching sustainability at school. It offers numerous benefits for your students – from academic excellence to better career opportunities. To explain it further, we’ve listed down the reasons why coding is essential for students. Let’s get started.

#1: Coding improves critical thinking skills 

One of the many reasons why learning coding is important is that it can help students improve their critical thinking skills. A 2014 study actually demonstrates that the five brain areas associated with language processing, working memory, and attention are activated when people work with source code. Because besides memorizing various programming languages, students will also need to understand how to use them correctly. But to do that, it will require them to think differently. 

Dealing with codes requires you to break down problems into smaller and more manageable pieces to understand what happens next. This strategic problem-solving technique is called computational thinking. Coders must examine the data, assess the situation, and decide which course of action will help them achieve their objectives.

In light of this, students who learn how to code can improve their problem-solving/critical-thinking skills by figuring out the best solution to a problem at hand.

#2: Coding boosts creativity

Aside from honing problem-solving skills, coding also fosters the creativity of students. It gives them the opportunity to express themselves, experiment, and be creative. They can design websites, apps, or games in a fun and exciting way.

“But how does coding help with creativity?“, you may ask.

Well, while you learn various programming languages and techniques to create various programs, you always need to start building from scratch. For instance, when students are tasked to make an animated object, they have to think about what it should look like and how it can be presented on the screen. This is when they need to use their creativity and problem-solving skills to achieve what they picture.

#3: Coding teaches patience and persistence

Learning how to code is similar to how we learn a language. The only difference is we use programming languages to communicate with the computer. So, typically, we start by memorizing the alphabet, some words, and phrases before we begin creating sentences for use in conversations. And, of course, we will inevitably make mistakes along the way. It’s the same scenario in coding.

As you might already know, coding is complex and can be frustrating. But it teaches us patience and perseverance. Because to be successful, one must be able to experience failure and bounce back from it. It will take some testing and troubleshooting before the codes work effectively.

Students can use this process of trial and error to their advantage as they go through life, helping them to understand that perseverance is often necessary to find solutions to many difficulties.

#4: Coding improves communication and teamwork

Coding also teaches two of the best things students can use when they enter the real world: communication and teamwork. Most of the time, teachers assign students to work in groups when developing projects. That requires them to communicate with one another and make collaborative efforts for a successful program. But, even if they’re working on individual projects, they can still seek feedback from their classmates. Thus, by teaching coding to students, they’ll develop their communication skills and learn the importance of teamwork.

#5: Coding creates career opportunities

Finally, learning to code opens up many career opportunities. Considering how technology continuously advances as time passes by, coding is an extremely useful skill to possess. Computer programmers, web developers, and other IT jobs are now in demand because of the increasing number of businesses relying on code. And it’s not just those in the technology sector, but also those in finance, retail, health, and other industries.

If people learn to code at a young age, they’ll have the advantage of having better career opportunities in the future. Not to mention that the salary can be at a high level for those qualified, talented, and experienced IT people. 

The bottom line

There are many reasons why coding is important for school students to learn. Besides learning how to build websites and apps, they also learn valuable skills and lessons they can use in the real world. Not to mention that you’re also bringing them numerous career opportunities in this ever-growing digital world. And if they grow interested in developing more advanced and amazing software, they also contribute to our future.

Kat Sarmiento

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Good Teachers Are Also Good Students

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Accompanying video:

I have always loved mathematics, but I’ve not always been ‘good’ at maths. I got a grade A for GCSE Mathematics when I was 16 years old (a grade I worked really, really hard for) but I struggled with mathematics at ‘AS’ and ‘A’ – Level (the UK’s pre-university qualifications). 

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“An AMAZING Book!”

It just so happened that mathematics wasn’t a subject I needed as a prerequisite for my university course anyway. So, in a sense, I committed the cardinal sin of thinking that it ‘didn’t matter’. I was planning to study molecular biology at university, and my admissions tutors were mainly interested in my biology and chemistry grades.

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I achieved my goal of going to uni and doing my PGCE in order to become a fully qualified Science teacher in 2006. I was happy for several years, but my failure to complete my mathematics education at school kept gnawing at me like an annoying itch. I needed to do something about it. 

I decided to complete the Certificate in Mathematics course with the Open University in 2009, after three years of being a full-time science teacher. This course covered everything in my ‘A’-Level syllabus with some extra, university-level topics thrown in. It was challenging and offered me just what I needed: closure. As a distance-learning course, it also offered me the chance to study and work as a teacher at the same time. 

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As I started studying the course and handing in assignments (which had to be snail mailed to the UK  – I was living in Thailand at the time), I began to realise how much I had become disconnected from the student experience as a teacher. It had been around three years since I had ever studied anything seriously, and this mathematics course was teaching me how difficult it was to:

  • Meet deadlines
  • Seek help when in doubt
  • Have the self-discipline needed to study at a regular time-slot each day

These skills were, of course, things I had to do whilst completing my degree course and schooling earlier in life, but it had been a few years since I had been immersed in serious study like this. I was slowly losing empathy for my students: that was until this course gave me a wake-up call. 

Another big thing I took from this experience was just how stressful it can be to prepare for a difficult exam (and to complete it). I had to fly to the UK to take the end of course mathematics exam (a three hour beast), and along with the intense revision that came in the few days running up to the exam I had the misfortune of not sleeping so well the night before the big day. And then, once sat down and actually completing the paper, three hours felt like it went by in an instant.

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I guess I’m trying to make a number of points in this trip down Memory Lane – namely that by immersing ourselves in the ‘student experience’ we can, as teachers:

  • Regain, or enhance, our true understanding of just how many hurdles await our students on their race to the exam finish-line.
  • Learn new skills and concepts that can be applied to our roles as classroom managers, leaders and ‘purveyors’ of specialist knowledge.
  • Build self-discipline, and pass on the lessons learned to our students in our roles as mentors, homeroom teachers, form tutors and coaches.

One final point to stress is that, whilst we can study almost any subject we want via online platforms like EdX and Coursera these days, it’s also important that we take the time to thoroughly reflect on a regular basis. Keeping a journal of things we’ve done well, and things we messed up, can be a great way to have a written record to read over when we want to celebrate successes and remind ourselves of lessons we have learned on our journeys as educators. This video I made a few years ago goes into this in more detail:

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Smartphone Addiction is Destroying Children’s Lives

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Related article: Digital Disaster: Screen Time is Destroying Children’s Health

I’ve been given three Year 7 Computer Studies classes to teach this academic year. It’s been really exciting, and really interesting to discover what 11-year-olds are learning about in this important subject these days. When I was in Year 7, for instance, I learnt how to create folders, spreadsheets, word-processed documents and databases on an even-then outdated Acorn desktop computer:

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The Acorn Archimedes A3020 desktop computer: What I was using in IT class when I was in Year 7 (Image courtesy of Martin Wichery at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mwichary/2190336806/)

Today, however, students are using tablets, notebooks and smartphones to learn about:

  • E-safety
  • Digital footprints
  • Cybersecurity
  • Online docs, sheets, slides and forms using Google Suite
  • Gaming addiction

That last bullet point: gaming addiction, has been really interesting to teach as a significant minority of my students are regular gamers on Fortnite and other platforms. As part of their course, I was required to show them this video which tells the story of a young boy whose life was almost destroyed by gaming addiction (very highly recommended):

In the story, the boy is given a gaming console by his dad, and his life basically spirals downwards until he is left homeless. It highlights the fact that online gaming can be really expensive, really addictive and very time-consuming. The effects on the character’s body, his hobbies and his schoolwork are all very cleverly portrayed. 

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Is he working, or gaming?

Gaming addiction is only a small part of a much larger and more pervasive problem in society, however. That problem is smartphone addiction, which has really gripped younger generations quickly, and was certainly not a problem 10 years ago. 

This week, BBC News released a shocking report entitled Smartphone ‘addiction’: Young people ‘panicky’ when denied mobiles:

smartphone addiction

The report summarizes a large study conducted by researchers at King’s College London. The research analysed 41 studies involving a whopping 42,000 young people, and was published in the journal BMC Psychiatry. It arrived at a surprising and worrying conclusion:

  • 23% of participants exhibited behaviors consistent with addiction, such as feeling anxiety when the phone was taken away, not being able to control the time they spent on smartphones and spending so much time on mobiles it encroached on other activities.

So smartphone addiction is officially ‘real’, and that should act as an immediate call-to-action for school leaders. 

As a teacher who has embraced technology for learning purposes for quite some time, I was quite the advocate for the use of smartphones in teaching. They can be used as clickers for online games like Kahoot!, and can be good alternatives when kids don’t have access to tablets or laptop computers. This research however, along with the World Health Organisation’s recent classification of gaming addiction as a mental health disorder has led me to reevaluate my stance. 

Perhaps it’s now time for schools to ban smartphones and online gaming completely?

Here is a snippet of what the World Health Organisation has to say about this new condition, Gaming Disorder:

 

Gaming disorder is defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

This, I believe, should lead all teachers to a logical question to ask: What can we do about it?

Here are my suggestions:

  • Ban smartphones in schools completely, unless written permission is given from a parent. In the case where written permission has been given, the smartphones must be locked away in a central location during the day and only returned to the student at the end of the school day (e.g. for the purposes of phoning home).
  • Invest in ICT systems that are non-intrusive and non-addictive (e.g. ICT labs). Classrooms could be fitted with notebooks/laptops integrated into classroom desks, or students could be asked to bring their own laptop/tablet to school each day.
  • Schools should have bookable sets of laptops or tablets for students to use, and school libraries should have suitable numbers of laptop and desktop computers for students to use. 

The clear advantage of centralized ICT systems over studentowned devices in schools is control: school-owned devices can be set-up with gaming blockers, chat blockers and website filters. 

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I would suggest that the challenge of solving smartphone and gaming addiction (two separate, but related problems) is an urgent one, and will require:

  • Schools to work even more closely with parents, health professionals, ICT service providers and local governments.
  • Careful allocation of school budgets, with more money being funneled towards ICT systems that are usable, but safe. 

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