It is no secret that there is a serious lack of computer programming courses in American schools. However, one school in Massachusetts is looking to change that.
For the first time in the U.S., Beaver Country Day School, in Brookline, Massachussetts, is incorporating computer coding into every single course offered at the school. And according to both teachers and students, the program is a huge success.
"We're seeing creative ideas from students that teachers hadn't anticipated, and those ideas are leading to projects in areas ranging from engineering to entrepreneurship," says math department head Rob McDonald. "Teachers are taking risks, collaborating with one another and identifying new opportunities for interdisciplinary work."
Motivated by a growing need for computer programmers in the modern technology-driven world, McDonald, along with Beaver's head Peter Hutton, decided to do something about that and re-worked the school's curriculum so that every subject teaches coding on some level.
For example, calculus students at Beaver use Python, a computer programming language, to solve their equations. Students in English classes digitally act out scenes from Shakespeare's plays. In art classes, students draw with pencil code.
Code.org statistics show that by the year, 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs in computer programming. However, looking at current trends, there will only be 400,000 students studying those related fields.
Beaver has over 450 students currently learning code in every aspect. Perhaps more importantly, 215 of those students are girls. Considering that universities are only giving 12 percent of all computer science degrees to women, this curriculum could make a difference. Beaver, however, hopes to get all their students, both male and female, interested in programming.
So how does this "Coding Curriculum" work? Teachers also have a learning curve, but they work with their students to get over it. An upper school history teacher, Melissa Alkire, pointed out that at first, she had to grow comfortable with coding. Then the rest fell into place in passing that along to students.
"We use maps constantly to understand how geography impacts a nation and its people. We use them to track border shifts, immigration, natural resources, wars, etc.," says Alkire. "Often, the exact type of map we are looking for doesn't exist and coding has allowed students to make very specific interactive maps that reflect the learning in the classroom."
Of course, a good learning environment also depends on the teachers getting the students interested in a new way of doing things. According to middle school math teacher Tim O'Brien, he encouraged students to find solutions to math problems with different strategies by asking them to rely less on their calculators and more on coding.
"They'd have to do some work on the front-end (write the code) but it would make the process much more efficient," says O'Brien. "Even here I phrased this idea in a way that made them feel like they were winning the battle against the teacher who wanted them to use pencil and paper all the time."
However, the program is working not just for teachers, but also for students. Of course, some students were already drawn to coding.
"I personally think that the activities we did relating to programming (sometimes calculating formulas in math class) did not feel particularly weird to me," says upper school student Josh Roy. "This may be due to the fact that I'm quite interested in computer science outside of school, however, I think that programming can be a really effective tool in specific cases when the user already knows the syntax/usage/how to program."
For other students, the integration of coding into the curriculum was more difficult.
"At first, adapting to using coding was definitely difficult," says upper school student Grace Bucking. "As I used it more often, however, I became increasingly comfortable with how it works and how to use it to my advantage. It has become more natural for me to use it in class, and now when a teacher announces that we will be coding, I get excited about the challenge rather than nervous about not knowing what to do."
This new curriculum has inspired some students to continue their computer science studies into college. For those planning on pursuing other goals, though, their courses have taught them valuable lessons they can carry with them into the future.
"I feel as though coding has helped emphasize the ability to understand certain topics taught in class," says upper school student Jasmin Breakstone. "Also, coding is not commonly taught in a standard high school environment and it has definitely broadened my understand of computers and the way things are made and developed."