The ability to read and write has long been revered as the fundamental skill necessary to succeed in the world. Reading and writing are applicable to all content areas, allowing students to develop a specialized focus from a broad set of skills. As a result, schools currently put great emphasis on developing the reading and writing skills of students from kindergarten to 12th grade. The ubiquity of the written word spawned new understandings of the importance of literacy education.  This educational philosophy promoted the development of literacy skills across content areas and not just in a designated language arts class.

Current society, however, is changing faster than anyone could have ever anticipated. The digitization of information is driving a demand for skilled workers that outstrips supply. As such, the skills of computer science, i.e., coding and programming, are becoming as valuable as reading and writing. That may seem like a bold claim, but the analogy comes into focus when one considers the way in which computers are changing the modern world. Writing is, at its base, a system of symbols that conveys information. Computers, also operate by conveying information through a system of symbols. The languages of programs are similar to the languages of the written word in so far as they are comprised of the full set of symbols that can be used to communicate.

With the growing importance of coding in today’s society, perhaps there is a way that the principles of content area literacy can be adapted to the integrated education of computer science. The ability to work with computers and, more importantly, get computers to work for you, is becoming a necessary skill for future generations. It is important that our students are prepared for this new digital world.

Coding in Kindergarten

The powerful computing tools that we have at our disposal today often makes technological devices seem like magic. The assumed complexity of the machines precludes us from attempting to understand them. However, the confusion one feels when looking at a computer is analogous to that of an illiterate individual who has just been presented with a book. Early exposure to the principles that compose a complex system (be it computers or written language) allows one to be more receptive of it. In light of this, many tech education companies are offering computer basics classes to students as early as kindergarten. Code.org is an example of a company that has created a K-5 curriculum that uses a blended learning approach of online and offline exercises to expose young children to the basics of computer science. The goal is early exposure, as the earlier a child is taught a skill, the more time they have to master it.

More Coding in More Classrooms

In the same way that content area literacy got people thinking about introducing reading and writing strategies into different classrooms, so too should we be looking to expand the reach of computer science. Computers and technology are found in almost every single industry. Accordingly, they should be utilized in as many classrooms as possible. Like literacy skills, computers are used differently in different professions. Students will benefit greatly from understanding the difference between how mathematicians use computers to model complex equations and how writers use them to self-publish their work on personal blogs and websites. Ultimately, the universal nature of reading and writing is analogous to that of computers in the 21st century. As such, there is a need for equal emphasis on computer science skills and literacy skills in the classroom.