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Coding is elementary at Loudoun County Public Schools

Three elementary schools in Loudoun County have become the only computer science immersion schools in the commonwealth.

Meadowland Elementary, Moorefield Station Elementary and Round Hill Elementary Schools will deliver 30 minutes of coding activities to students each day, according to Loudoun County Public Schools officials.

“This is really a whole school approach,” Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Ashley Ellis said. “Principals worked to create the culture where computer science would really become part of the life of the school.”

Coding will be embedded in regular course instruction, and the schools have received new equipment and staff training to introduce the program. The training, support and curriculum are all provided by Code to the Future, an independent organization that has partnered with LCPS.

LCPS has also included computer safety into the curriculum.

Ellis said all teachers learned how to code over the summer, and Code to the Future has also supplied a coach to assist teachers during the weeks.

“The coach on the first day of the training said that it’s going to be uncomfortable and there are a lot of things your students are going to know that you probably don’t know and there are going to be a lot of things you’re going to teach them, and then they’re going to be better than you in about five minutes,” Ellis said. “So it’s a shift in thinking for the teachers, and we are supporting them along they way with intense training as a whole staff and then the ongoing support throughout the year.”

Students experience coding with a variety of programs such as hands-on approaches with Legos and digital programming at the higher grade levels with Java. Students will also write code for Minecraft.

Of Loudoun’s 55 elementary schools, eight applied to become immersion schools, of which Meadowland, Moorefield Station and Round Hill were selected. In addition to including coding throughout regular instruction, the three schools will conduct “Epic Builds” to showcase the students’ coding skills, LCPS spokesman Wayde Byard said.

“I’m really impressed with the fact that eight applied. I think that speaks volumes of our teachers,” LCPS Superintendent Eric Williams said at the Sept. 6 joint School Board-Board of Supervisors meeting. “It is a big ask of teachers because we’re asking teachers without computer science backgrounds to commit to this. So I’m really impressed that there were eight schools willing to make this commitment.”

Williams said there are a lot of other schools and teachers within the school system including coding in regular instruction, though only the three elementary schools have computer programming as a daily part of curriculum schoolwide.

The Code to the Future schools are supported through a grant from the Loudoun Education Foundation. The grant was made possible by a $5,000 gift from Unanet and a $20,000 gift from the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia/Chin Family Charitable Fund.

School Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) asked if there was a possibility of expanding the program to other schools if more grant funding becomes available. Williams said regardless of whether the number of immersion schools in the county increases, LCPS will continue to expand computer science in schools.

“There’s a significant gap between the students prepared to have jobs in computer science and the growing number of jobs available and needed in computer science,” Ellis said. “We feel really strongly that we should be preparing our students for the jobs that they will have when they graduate and leave us.”

Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter @VeronikeCollazo.

Comments


amerigirl, I’m uncertain what you mean by coding being “so hard at the college level,” but if you’re thinking that learning coding is so hard that many drop out, I don’t think it’s that straight forward.

Most college programs focused on coding skills erroneously require higher level math courses as pre-requisites or companion courses. The problem there is that there is little correlation between the math learned in those classes and relevant skills supporting success in coding. Instead, what we see is CS students in college realizing that a degree is not necessary to success in the coding world and they drop out of school and go to work. Of course, many employers often adopt those same math courses as pre-reqs for jobs, but many—such as IBM—are dropping those “signalling” courses because they need to fill jobs and can’t afford to eliminate applicants over irrelevant “qualifications.”

The reality is that most coders rarely use anything beyond middle school math in their jobs, and what they leverage are critical thinking and puzzle solving skills that can be signaled by success in any number of callings. Humanities majors, for instance, are being recruited for the same reason that they show facility with language-based communications.

Also, women continue to be pushed out of CS jobs, not only in the work world, but at colleges due to “off-putting” male attitudes. For example, many females in school don’t find male dominated study groups very welcoming, leading to that 40 or 50 percent CS dropout rate.

Interestingly, Harvard just published a study about the growth of robotics and the jobs that are least at risk for automation obsolescence, raising questions about our schools’ obsession with STEM education. It turns out that STEM jobs are more likely to be done by AI processes than those drawing from a humanities education.

Are we really doing our kids a service with a mono-focus on STEM?


Curious what is meant by coding? Is it an actual programming language? What makes Software Engineers difficult it the many languages they change as technology changes. What’s used today probably won’t be used when they go to college. Hopefully they teach good fundamentals. I see too many software developers that put out poor products/code and don’t even test their own code(or know how to catch errors and handle properly). I wonder how they ever received a degree.


SGP you are so right. Real coding is so hard at the college level that many students drop out. Do they really think elementary students can do it without introductory computer knowledge?


Computer software at its very core is pure logic.  Nothing more.  Logical ability is often referred to by other names: “critical thinking skills”, “intelligence/IQ”, “aptitude”.

There are vocabularies we must teach students as they dive into computer coding and certainly techniques.  But the algorithms and set theory at the core of software are mathematical in nature.

Many folks confuse coding as a vocation.  Thus, they think you can take a bunch of general purpose teachers and show them how to “teach” coding.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  It’s a shame that LCPS didn’t hire mathematically talented new teachers to lead this effort.  “Code to the Future” is selling us a bunch of goods by saying any ol’ group of teachers can learn to teach coding.  Let’s hope the experiment works out. 

But overall it’s a good thing students are focusing on logic skills.  Who knows, maybe some of those logic skills will come in handy in the future: legal arguments, project planning, and even test-taking!  Has anyone told those who think they are “bad test-takers” that their crutch is about to be destroyed?

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