A unique technology program at a local charter school is teaching coding and computer programming to students as young as Grade 4 to prepare them for the jobs of the future.
Students at Connect Charter School in Lakeview are designing games and building applications as they become proficient in a variety of coding languages, from Swift to Java, using iPads and MacBooks provided through an annual enrichment fee.
“It’s about moving our students from being consumers of technology to being creators — creators of their own content,” said Gail Stevenson, a teacher at Connect Charter, formerly the Calgary Science School in Lakeview.
“Coding requires collaboration, problem-solving and critical thinking in a less linear way. Even as you are debugging programs, you are thinking critically.
“Our kids are learning Java, HTML web-based applications and creating their own websites.”
As schools across Canada celebrate “Hour of Code” this month, a global movement encouraging students to try coding through a series of one-hour online tutorials, Connect Charter is clearly ahead of the game.
Joseph Song, a Grade 7 student at Connect Charter, has already been coding for three years, enjoying its unique problem-solving challenges and puzzles of going back to correct coding chains gone wrong.
“I really like coding, I use it to create games, programs, it’s a lot of fun,” Song said.
“But it also gives me the critical thinking skills I need to solve all different types of problems.”
Students in grades 4 to 6 are provided with lightweight iPads at the beginning of their school year, and are also invited to bring other personal devices to school. Once kids enter Grade 7, they graduate to the larger MacBooks, allowing them a broader range of creative options. They also carry the devices along on a variety of field trip events as part of the school’s unique EXPO program.
EXPO, principal Phil Butterfield explains, is Connect Charter’s experiential, outdoor learning program engaging students in a variety of projects in and outside of the school’s walls.
It engages students in technology, from building robots and writing the code that controls them to creating apps that guide students toward volunteerism.
But it also takes them on a number of unique field trips, from parks and mountains outside the city to homeless shelters downtown.
“Integrating technology into our programs at the school allows for meaningful individual learning,” said Butterfield.
“Through their iPads and laptops, students have a more efficient way of accessing knowledge and synthesizing information.
“And we’re preparing students for the future, to adapt to a changing environment and jobs that don’t even exist yet. We know that 10 years from now there could be a whole new set of skills and knowledge base.”
Connect Charter School is a publicly funded program with no tuition, but there are wait lists. iPads and MacBooks are provided to students in the grade 4 to 9 program through an annual enrichment fee of $575.
Principal Butterfield argues the cost is not excessive when compared to field trips and material fees in the public system, which can be as high as $250 in some high schools.
According to Elliot Chun, in public relations for Apple software, students using coding applications such as Swift Playgrounds are seeing improved academic results in many subject areas.
“Coding teaches creativity, collaboration, problem-solving and other skills critical to the success of students regardless of the career they pursue,” said Chun, adding that the “app economy” is a huge source of employment and contributor to economic growth, with an estimated 13,000 new jobs created from 2015-16.
By 2021, he added, there will be 210,000 jobs available in Information Communication Technology and, based on current numbers of computer science graduates.