The true power of a literacy involves developing new ways of thinking about ourselves and our world. Thinking involves the ability to make sense, interpret, represent, model, predict, problem solve and invent our experiences in the world. Thinking is facilitated by language. Early childhood education understands this and focuses on providing children with one of the most powerful tools for thinking, language, so they can develop language skills and transition from oral language to written language. Reading and writing are tools for meaning making and, ultimately, tools of power because they support new ways of thinking. Today, we have the opportunity to not only teach children how to think by using natural languages, but also by learning artificial languages – programming languages. Those are the languages understood by the smart objects and the algorithms that surround us.
The Coding as Literacy project explores in which ways the process of teaching coding to young children ought to resemble the educational process used for teaching literacy and what are the overlapping associated cognitive mechanisms. The Coding as Literacy project involves several dimensions: 1) programming environments, such as KIBO and ScratchJr explicitly designed with a literacy approach, 2) curricular materials, such as CAL (Coding as Another Language) that teach programming, as a literacy, engaging new ways of thinking and new ways of communicating and expressing ideas. CAL understands the process of coding as a semiotic act, a meaning making activity, and not only a problem-solving challenge, even during its earliest, most basic levels of instruction, 3) a theoretical framework such as the one described in Coding as Playground that shapes the curriculum and strategies for teaching coding in developmentally appropriate ways, 4) a pedagogical approach with professional development strategies that explicitly highlight the connection between the activity of coding and the mastering of a language and its uses to convey meaning, 4) classrooms studies to understand the affordances of this approach compared to other approaches, 5) experimental studies in lab settings to characterize cognitive mechanisms using fMRI to explore if the language networks in the brain activate when programming.
The DevTech Research Group is partnering with the Norfolk Public School district (NPS) in Norfolk, VA on a research study funded by the Department of Defense Education Activity grant “Operation: Breaking the Code for College and Career Readiness”, which supports computer science education and socio-emotional learning opportunities for NPS students. Virginia is the first state in the US to formally mandate K-12 computer science education. Thus, this project aims to explore best practices for professional development and curricular resources for coding in early childhood. This project is currently being piloted in eight NPS elementary schools. The purpose of this research project is two-fold: 1) to understand how children engage with different programming environments and curricula for early childhood and how these technologies can support children’s learning of coding, computational thinking, and 2) to explore educators’ knowledge and attitudes surrounding computer science and computer science education for early elementary school.