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Learning Library Blog Should we teach computer science in elementary school? No
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Should we teach computer science in elementary school? No

By Beth Schwartze
December 7, 2018
My school has computer science instruction in K-8, but it focuses on keyboarding practice, using programs to create products, research skills with proper citation and digital citizenship. Our school has a computer lab, which K-6 students visit once a week and seventh and eighth grades visit twice a week. Is that enough? Given the time allotted in our schedule and the skills the teachers say their students need for their classwork, these are the topics we feel warrant taking up a spot in our curriculum.

I agree that learning how to use many productivity, editing, collaborating, communicating and coding tools would be valuable across the curriculum. But early elementary students' primary needs are literacy and numeracy. For middle elementary, introduction to other skills — particularly coding and other engineering applications — is age appropriate, but anything above introductory instruction goes beyond the limits of the time we have. By middle school, both students and teachers are most focused on research, collaboration and writing skills that will allow them to complete core class homework.

Funding is another consideration. Some districts — particularly large ones — have the budget to implement 1:1 programs that would allow classroom teachers to integrate more computer skills into the core curriculum. But our single-building school faces definite funding limitations, as do many schools in small or rural districts, which also often deal with the added challenge of spotty internet connectivity. Finding both time in the school day and enough devices for all students continue to be major obstacles for us and for many other districts.

Finally, achieving universities' top-down demands to deliver students with writing, comprehension, communication and mathematics skills is already a tall order. Throwing yet another demand into the mix would be unrealistic for many schools, and for the students. Yes, I have read the articles about how unprepared students are to enter college and manage the demands of the digital age workplace. But I think it makes more sense to leave skills such as engineering, higher mathematics and global communication for high school and higher education. Elementary school is the place to master the basics, including literacy — in both language and technology — and numeracy.

I'm not saying that elementary students are not capable of using or even mastering code. But I believe that really teaching — not just introducing — coding is simply beyond the scope of what most K-5 schools and their students are able to do, and it's even asking a lot of middle schools when both lab time and class time are so limited. What's more, pushing students into the study of abstract concepts before they are developmentally ready will not make them any more prepared for the rest of the 21st century than they are now.

Computer science is a necessary part of the whole educational package. However, it is not the only part, nor is it the most important. All too often, there is a tendency to treat computers and other technology as the subject instead of the valuable and powerful tools they can be to teach the skills that are most appropriate at each grade level.

Beth Schwartze is the technology coordinator and computer science teacher for grades 5-8 at Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School in Columbia, Missouri.