Utah Considers Putting Stronger Focus on Coding, Programming

A recent national Computer Science Education Week "Hour of Code" event, a one-hour introduction to computer programming, was attended by more than a dozen Utah schools. Teaching kids about computers earlier and moving the currently required computer technology class to middle school is included in the initial recommendations to state leaders. Requiring Utah teens to take another, more advanced computer class to graduate is being pushed by at least one task force. About one-third of Utah high schools teach computer programming or computer science.

As Lisa Schencker of The Salt Lake Tribune reports, a new ninth-grade elective called Exploring Computer Science is taught by about 20 Utah schools and state leaders hope to see that number expand to 50 next school year. Advocates of requiring more advanced computer instruction in Utah schools, such as classes that could include coding, say those skills are becoming increasingly important.

"It's a scientific process. It's a mathematical process. It's [a] literacy process," said Sydnee Dickson, director of teaching and learning at the state office. "Every profession involves some type of coding."

Coding, which is essentially computer programming, is both creative and logical according to teacher Ed Mondragon.

"It forces them to think differently," said Mondragon, who's been teaching computers for more than two decades.

Other schools refused to be overshadowed as they also hosted similar programs. About 40 companies were invited by the Wasatch Institute of Technology charter school, slated to open in South Jordan next year, to the Adobe building in Lehi to teach kids about coding and computer science. Kids as young as age 5 were taught about coding at Freedom Elementary in Highland, by playing a game in which they used cards with directions to move adults around a classroom.

"We all use [computers] without knowing about coding, but the interesting thing about learning the basics of coding is it's the basics of thinking logically," said Canda Mortensen, Freedom assistant principal.

"Coding is kind of the vehicle," Mortensen said, "but what we really want them to think about is, ‘If you say this one thing, does it get you what you need?'"

By essentially playing a more advanced version of the game the Freedom kindergarteners played earlier in the week, junior Ruby Straaten practiced coding at a computer at Hillcrest High. She attempted to move an Angry Bird through a maze by giving it a series of directions, but could only use so many directions to do it.

"It's just like learning a new language," said Straaten, who hopes to go into the field.

Mary Evans, a freshman, also tried her hand at coding for the first time.

"It's really so much easier than I thought it was," Evans said. "It's kind of amazing more people don't know about this."

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