When I taught high school English, we devoted many conversations to helping students understand the value of learning how to read and write about Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, or a mind-expanding writer of a more recent generation. I hoped they would understand that analysis and evaluation of great works of literature would translate into the understanding of people and everyday life situations, both personally and professionally.
These conversations inevitably turned to what my students should or could be in the future. (Few English teachers among them to my chagrin — many of their parents were encouraging them to choose a career for financial, not altruistic, reasons.) I would always ask if any of them enjoyed working on their computers. Not surprisingly, almost all the boys, and some of the girls, enthusiastically raised their hands. However, when I asked if any had considered going into the field of computer coding — for instance, creating programs? — I would receive blank stares.
Their eyes would light up, though, when I’d tell them this story:
Upon graduating from college with a business degree, my friend, a self-taught computer programmer, spent six months at his mom’s dining room table developing his idea for an industry-specific financial program into a reality. (His mom accused him of playing computer games the entire time.) He sold the program to well-known computer giant for a joint venture with the Automobile Club of Southern California. Now, years later, he is the Director of Technology Evangelism for an international company. And while his title still sounds made up to his mom, she no longer thinks he was playing computer games.
My point? Not only has my friend’s career made him financially secure, but he loves what he does. And his coding skills, highly prized back when we graduated from college, are still in high demand today.
Yet when you read this article in techcrunch.com, you’ll see that many schools are still not taking seriously what my friend does for a living. Schools should. STEM high schools, those that focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, consistently rank in the top 50 in the United States, according to U.S. News and World Report, and their application lists grow every year. The job market is wide open to applicants qualified for positions like “scrum master,” (put as simply as possible, someone who runs iterative and incremental agile software), data scientist, and software engineer.
Additionally, students themselves are asking for more coding opportunities in schools today. In a recent study posted on eschoolnews.com, 59 percent of students who reported that they did not know how to code indicated that they wanted to learn. Of the 23 percent who reported that they knew how to code well, 54 percent learned in school while 30 percent taught themselves. Of all the students surveyed, 61 percent believed that having coding skills would help them in the job market.
Not just coding, but computing skills of all kinds are finding ways into our classrooms — and our assessments. As an assessment specialist, I know that my colleagues and I tend to worry about the impact our new technology enhanced items will have on students. It seems we may not have to worry so much. Not only do the students seem to enjoy technology, but they seem quite adept at using it. Done correctly, technology not only enhances our students’ testing experiences, it readies them for their future.
As parents, we worry about too much screen time — and rightly so. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.” But if we put the right information in front of our children, and give them the right tools to work with, we might be pleasantly surprised by what comes off that dining room table.