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It’s never too early to teach kids about coding

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A student scans blocks to program a small robot to perform two-step directions during a computer science class designed for prekindergarten students at Bessie Carmichael Elementary School in San Francisco on Dec. 8, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Last week, some of our 4-year-old students did something really fascinating: They programmed a robot using code.

That’s right, preschoolers at Bessie Carmichael Elementary were given a set of instructions, and with a little time and a lot of puzzling things through, they made a small robot dance.

Soon, all of our preschoolers will be playing and learning much the same way.

In fact, all of our students, prekindergarten through 12th grade, will be learning computer science — along with math, language arts and other core subjects — as part of their regular curriculum.

Why computer science?

Last spring, the San Francisco Unified School District’s Board of Education made a commitment to phase in high-quality computer science education to all our students, beginning in the earliest grades. The school district is beginning to provide universal access to a course of study that is becoming much more important in the new economy.

Here in our city and across the country, female, Latino, African-American and Pacific Islander students have been sparsely enrolled in these kinds of classes when they are offered as electives. Now, everyone will get a chance to learn the basics, so they can make an informed decision about pursuing computer science after high school.

Computer Science Education

Bessie Carmichael preschoolers weren’t the only group of kids who were exposed to coding last week. Over at Thurgood Marshall Academic High School, students in the Game Design Academy have been learning JavaScript and also focusing this year on “Games for Good,” which are projects aimed at making the world a better place.

The games take on challenging topics like bullying, racism, nutrition, self-esteem and cultural identity. The goal is to help harness the power of virtual communities to solve problems they struggle with everyday in real life.

“Video games give players the power and inspiration to save entire worlds and incentives to learn the habits of heroes,” said teacher Angie Hoffman. “Gamers are expert problem-solvers and collaborators because they have to cooperate with other players to overcome daunting virtual challenges.”

Though the national week focusing on computer science education has passed, the activities will continue throughout our schools. Just this week, students at Visitacion Valley Middle School will learn coding in math classes from Salesforce employees. They will also host a Maker/Coding Fair during lunch, complete with a visit from Salesforce co-founder Parker Harris.

Graduating students

We recognize that computer science is an everyday part of our students’ lives in the 21st century. So here at the SFUSD, we have taken it upon ourselves to start giving them the chance to learn it early and often.

Myong Leigh is interim superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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