Sand Point Elementary, a public school near the University of Washington, has started to incorporate programming classes into their curriculum. They are using the wildly popular Scratch language, which lets the students visually compose programs that animate small sprites on the screen. These sprites can be controlled by the user and can interact with each other.
“By exposing students at a young age to programming, we begin to build in them an idea of the potential for their futures. Instead of being consumers of technology, they are now creators of technology. It’s very empowering” says Julia Schumacher, school librarian and computer lab teacher.
With the help of UW CSE’s Allison Obourn and Magda Balazinska, the school ran a pilot set of 12 class sessions with 5th grade students this past year. The team plans to expand the offering next year. “Our goal is to teach some programming to the kids before they begin to think whether programming is fun or not or whether it is for them or not. Programming should simply be one of the many tools children learn in school” says Magda.
Students were enthusiastic: “Scratch is cool and I like to make the sprites move” and “I love to play the games on Scratch and it’s cool that we can make our own now.”
One of the most exciting outcomes of this pilot program is that, after this series of classes, students would choose to continue to write programs on their own whenever they had free time in the computer lab. “It is important to introduce students to computer science to increase access to the field” concludes Allison.
(Sand Point Elementary is a diverse school: over 60% free-and reduced lunch participants, 27% English language learners, 29% African American, 29% White, 26% Asian, 16% Hispanic, and 4% Native American.)