Coding as One Subject or All Over the Place?

Teaching coding is going to be ever more important in education. We should prepare our children with enough programming skills and the logical thinking behind. It is needed in today’s and tomorrow’s (work)life.

But here’s a question: should coding be taught as a separate subject or embedded in other subjects? Lately we’ve seen examples of both. Estonia, as far as I understand, takes the former approach. In Estonia they start to teach programming as its own subject to seven year old first graders. Excellent!

Another model comes from Massachusetts. Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, MA, is including coding in virtually all of its subjects. Not only in the usual suspects like math and STEM, but even in theater and music.

Without going into pedagogical discussion of which of the above models actually delivers better learning results regarding programming skills, let me take another approach, related to professions. I think it is safe to assume that future work is going to be more multidisciplinary than it is today or was yesterday.

Multidisciplinarity is going to be realized both on team and individual levels. Heterogeneous teams are going to be formed to solve new kinds of problems. Team members have to understand and respect each other, and that calls for some degree of multi-talent also from each of its members.

What does this have to do with teaching programming? Well, it is difficult to find work today that has nothing to do with computers and software. Understanding how computer( program)s work, not being afraid of them, being even able to manipulate them is something that everyone should handle. To a certain degree, of course. Not everyone should be educated to be an engineer.

As long as we teach programming as a separate subject, it is more likely that we maintain the current categories of some people being “technical” and others not. The ones who get excited about programming go deeper and deeper while others just try to cope with it, even if it were a mandatory subject.

That is why I am currently more inclined to favor the Massachusetts model. Not isolating coding as something totally separate from other subjects makes it easier to approach. Students will have much more touch points with programming if it is embedded in their lessons throughout the day than if they take one hour of it once or twice a week.

That being said, there are also pros in the Estonian model. First of all, it starts at a more appropriate age (1st grade) than Beaver Country (6th grade). Secondly, it has more potential in teaching the logical foundations of programming, which I consider very important.

So as a conclusion, I want a hybrid model: start very young and include both pure and applied coding in your curriculum. Thank you very much.

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