Computer Science Program Geared to Increase Student Interest in Coding

As an understanding of computers and programming is an increasingly important aspect of science literacy today, RESET initiated a program in 2017 designed to teach elementary school students computer science through a series of unplugged activities and hands-on coding. The goal is to introduce students to computational thinking—the fundamental principles on which computers and networks operate. Programs have been delivered to elementary school students and Girl Scout troops in Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland. Shaheen Khurana, a Program Specialist for RESET, explains: “Computer science is foundational to many fields, but not enough girls are choosing to study it. RESET’s computer science program is an innovative way to increase girls’ interest in coding. The program has been adapted to include additional unplugged activities from the Girl Scout ‘Think Like a Programmer’ badge.” RESET’s computer science program is a multilevel activity that includes training students in various aspects of computer science and SCRATCH, a programming language for school-age children, which allows them to program their own interactive stories, games, and animations. “Coding using SCRATCH is a fantastic way to introduce young students to the creative side of computer science and computational thinking,” says Shaheen. “They learn through play, and its drag and drop features make programming a lot more accessible and achievable. They absolutely love it!” The curriculum for this program was developed by Shaheen using resources available through nonprofits Code.org and CSunplugged.org, which are dedicated to spreading computer science education to students in grades K–12. Lessons align to all relevant computer science standards, as well as to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards. They also reinforce concepts and skills taught in other subject areas by integrating national math, English language arts and science standards. Computer science principles used in these lessons can be found in the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) Science and Engineering Practices, which include developing and using models and using mathematics and computational thinking. Early feedback from the program has been very positive. Christa Weber, a 5th-grade Advanced Academic Programs (AAP) teacher at Crestwood Elementary, wrote: “I just wanted to let you know that we had a great session today introducing algorithms. The students had a big aha moment when they made the connection that computer science can basically be applied to any field of interest, which then totally ignited their desire to learn more. We all look forward to the next and continuing sessions with Ms. Seekhao!” Volunteers for this new program have been recruited from sites such as Code.org and the DC STEM Network.