Learn to Code This Fall!

For today’s educational idea, I want to talk about the concept of computer programming, and why I think it’s important that students of all levels take part in learning at least the basics of this essential skill.

Why Code?

Firstly, let’s talk about why you would want to learn to program in the first place. Like it or not, programming is an absolutely essential skill that, as we become more and more involved with the complexities of technology, is going to become almost as important as reading.

Coding literacy is a huge issue. While I personally don’t think that everyone needs to become a computer programming (yes, there are some extremists who believe that the entire world is a divide between coders and non-coders), I do think it’s important to at least understand the fundamentals of how computer programs work.

This doesn’t mean you need to become an expert, just grasp the basics.

In my view, programming should be taught at the high school level, as a mandatory course, just as math is a mandatory requirement, even if you’re not going to become a mathematician. The same logic applies: it’s a fundamental skill to be used in our society, and even if you don’t want to specialize in it, understanding the fundamentals, and in many cases, simply knowing what questions to ask, can go a long way.

There are a number of great beginning programming courses available online, for free or very inexpensive rates. One of my personal favorites is www.codecademy.com, which provides introductory courses (many call it “coding with training wheels”) that give a good introduction to anyone who doesn’t have a technical background.

You can walk through different types of exercises, completing small tasks one at a time that gradually build upon each other to teach you the fundamentals of the language. Organized into clear learning paths, you can select from a variety of different languages or projects to work on, and it’s a fun and interesting way to learn!

The Importance of Habits in Early Childhood Education

As educators, we are constantly in search of ways to improve our schools and better impact the lives of our students. We know that the foundations we establish with our children, whether at 3, 10, or 17, are going to stick with them for the better part of their lives, and shape their success for decades.

Usually, however, we think about our role in terms of the content and curricula we teach, not in the form of habits, so I thought I’d take a few moments today to write about the importance of instilling habits for success in our children as early as possible.

The Willpower Habit

In the book The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, the author reveals a number of studies that show that focusing on developing good habits at an early age can positively impact a child’s life for decades to come.

Drawing upon hundreds of scientific studies and observation, Duhigg concludes that as early as age 3-4, children can begin to show tendencies towards developing willpower, which in turn will impact how they study, how persistent they are to completing problems, and how likely they are to succeed.

A Practical Example

One great example of instilling good habits in early childhood development comes out of Chicago’s E.L.F. schools. ELF, short for Early Learning Foundations, is  the most prestigious multi-cultural preschool in Chicago, and provides a firm grounding in all areas of preschool education.

The teachers’ commitment to excellence is due not just to their focus on building a strong academic foundation, but on their ability to look at the larger picture of a child’s growth, and help them to develop in as many ways as possible.

In my opinion, we need schools across the country to commit to this style of learning. Many times, small changes (known as keystone habits in the scientific community) will ripple from one outcome to the next, creating positive change across all areas of a child’s education.

Established at the preschool level, this could lead to better academic performance in middle and high school, and even a better chance of entering into a successful profession, with more career options available.

Let’s Bring Back Music Education To Our Schools

It’s a tale as old as time: budget cuts force schools across the country to reduce their “extra” programs, which almost always included music and arts programs.

While that seems like a sensible choice to many school supervisors, how many of them have actually asked the question about what our society would look like if we didn’t bring up well rounded kids with a firm grounding in music and arts?

The Importance of Music and Arts in Schools

What would happen to our national culture? Our identity? Those are two of the easiest areas to look, but you can even go a step further and argue that music education forms a mental stimulant that propels students to great achievements.

It’s no secret that many of our nations leaders have been excellent musicians, including former President Bill Clinton (who played saxophone) and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who was a classically trained pianist). Take it a step further, and you’ll realize that college and universities often look to outstanding music and arts backgrounds as something that distinguishes students and sets them a cut above their peers.

This trend is most prevalent in our leading, and most prestigious schools, where increasingly high percentages of students have studied an art or musical instrument.

So why, then are we cutting back on school music programs?

El Sistema Inspired Music Programs

Maybe we should take inspiration from Venezuela. Despite huge internal struggles and social unrest, one of the few things that Venezuela has done right was to create the El Sistema program, which helps youths avoid violence and grow into model citizens through music education.

This philosophy has inspired several programs in the US, including Play On Philly, which works to keep underprivileged Philadelphia teenagers off the streets and in the classroom…playing music.

Is Music Education A Cost Issue?

Obviously there’s a cost to running music programs, but the question really is: what’s the cost of not running them?