Expert Speak: Role Of Coding In Revitalising STEM Education In Childhood
A 2019 survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), UK, revealed that interest in science has fallen 10 per cent among 9 to 12-year-olds in the past four years, interest in design and technology fell by 12 per cent and interest in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and computing fell by 14 per cent.
Why would this have happened? Perhaps the manner in which subjects and concepts are introduced to children, as difficult or easy, boring or interesting, play a major part in the acceptance, liking, and new thinking on that subject. The world, in fact, will continue to need innovative thinking for a long time. From how food is grown and healthcare is delivered, to transportation, communication and even how we consume and evaluate information, STEM-based innovation (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) will continue to transform our everyday lives and will have a healthy demand for keen professionals.
Most of the current work in STEM education focuses on older children. Developmentally-appropriate, fun-based STEM learning remains a missing link in most children’s early educational experiences. Early childhood experts know that the first six years are years for brain development, and it is during this time that the brain learns about patterns, sequences, and problem solving and thinking skills, all off which are essential for coding and scientific approach.
This is why a coding curriculum for early years, based completely on play is developed and because it is a foundation for understanding coding. Pre-schoolers and kindergarteners often have active imaginations, and they enjoy using their curiosity to explore their feelings and their world. Curiosity helps children be more observant and to think about things and try to figure them out. This has other benefits too, when children explore their curiosity, they expand their vocabulary as they use language to describe what they’re thinking, seeing, hearing, or experiencing. You can help your child’s growth by supporting her curiosity.
Coding activities lie in all areas of play — be it dramatic play, cooking area, art area, playground, water play, sand play, music and movement, etc. The foundation of coding for early years should also encourage higher order thinking (HOT) skills. You can begin learning these simple things:
– Decompose or break it down: How to break down a problem into smaller parts to solve the problem.
– Game: pick up all the blocks from around the classroom, then pick up all the blocks from around the classroom before the sand timer stops, and then pick up all the blocks from around the classroom, before the sand timer stops. A maximum of three children can play this activity.
– Algorithm: A list of steps needed to follow or complete a task, play games of missing instructions, say for instance, teach the doll the steps of brushing teeth.
– Debugging is when you go looking for mistakes or bugs in your programme worksheets for finding the mistake, find what is missing.
– Sequence is the order the programme has to follow to put the story in the right sequence.
– Pattern is what you see when something is the same over and over — what comes after, what comes before.
– Loop: A special bit of code that repeats over and over again, during singing and musical play time.
These tasks may sound simple, but they create the foundation of ‘HOW to learn’ as opposed to ‘WHAT to learn’. There is a growing recognition that STEM educational experiences — particularly, when designed to foster creativity, collaboration, and persistence— lead to greater problem-solving skills. They better equip young people for the dynamic world they will face after. This recognition is precipitating big shifts in education.
It is important for our early years programmes to adapt to a more creative approach, what the world is calling, ‘a new literacy’ — coding. If you do not allow some time for unstructured play, you may be inhibiting your child’s imagination.
The most important role of early years’ educators and parents in fostering learning of coding is to provide the stimulation and encouragement to help children develop and practice their own thinking, to learn by DOING, to make mistakes, to learn from them. When we support children in this, we help children take big steps towards attributes such as curiosity and inquiry, questioning and scepticism, assessment and analysis—as well as a strong learning mind-set and confidence when encountering new information or challenges. This will go a long way in revitalising STEM education.