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Coding for the Future: The Importance of STEM in Schools

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Stem in schools, project lead the way-students-stem

Future generations will need STEM skills like computer programming. The time to teach them is right now.

Future generations will need to have robust skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) — and computer programming will be paramount. Coding-related jobs are expected to make up two-thirds of all STEM occupations in the near future, but the competition for seats in leading university computer science programs is already incredibly fierce.

That makes STEM education starting as early as pre-kindergarten a necessity. But the importance of teaching coding to kids goes beyond future employment prospects: it also teaches invaluable life skills.

“Teaching coding is a great way to promote problem-solving, creativity, and math-related learning for students,” said David Dimmett, Ed.D, president and chief executive officer of Project Lead The Way, a nonprofit organization developing STEM school curricula. “It promotes logical thinking and helps students better understand the technology and applications that are so prominent in our lives today.”

Coding for the future

“Students are using computer science in their daily lives, and they may not even realize it,” said Dimmett, noting the prevalence of artificial intelligence (AI) in products like Alexa or using apps for health and wellness. “Today, coding is an essential skill.”

While the ability to thoughtfully engage with the technology that’s increasingly fundamental to everyday life is important, the skills gained through early STEM education can be applied to almost any aspect of life. Learning to code also teaches problem-solving, critical thinking, and self-confidence.

“Helping students understand and use these concepts will increase the likelihood of success in school and life beyond the classroom,” Dimmett said.

Practical application

The key to STEM in classrooms lies in offering students a practical way to apply their learnings. For example, Project Lead The Way’s computer science curriculum is based on activities and projects that solve problems and let children engage in real-life challenges. The in-class environment begins with visual, block-based programming that communicates the fundamental concepts of coding in ways that are universally understandable.

Building on that foundation, the program transitions students to text-based programming using common languages like Python. Students use these skills to build real apps and websites, but also more creative projects, like creating animations from short stories or designing prosthetic devices.

“This practical application helps students retain what they’ve learned and apply it to other experiences,” Dimmett noted. “It starts with breaking down a problem into smaller, more manageable pieces, and then creating algorithms or a specific sequence of actions to solve each of these smaller problems — approaching the problem using methodical steps to produce a desired result. This could be solving a math problem, baking a dessert, planning an event with friends, sorting or searching in documents or a spreadsheet, using a specific algorithm to figure out how much to tip at a restaurant, or even thinking up a strong password.”

Professional development

Just as important as introducing students to coding and other STEM skills is empowering the educators that implement these programs. Project Lead The Way, for example, offers professional development for teachers that provides training, resources, and support. More than 80,000 teachers have utilized those resources to create collaborative spaces for interdisciplinary learning in their classrooms.

“With PLTW’s Core Training, educators receive a dynamic and best-in-class professional development experience,” Dimmett said. “We offer support and comprehensive classroom resources to help teachers focus their time and attention on engaging and inspiring students.”

Dimmett sums up coding and STEM’s importance succinctly. “These skills are essential for all students in the modern world,” he said. “Learning to apply computer science and STEM skills enriches students’ lives every day in class — and beyond — giving them immediate advantages in how to analyze data and optimize daily tasks, and puts students in position for the most in-demand careers in the future.”

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