While it may be a bit premature for your children to be thinking about their future careers, its not too early for them to develop their thinking and build a skill-set that will support their future goals.
Even though the talk is more and more about robotics and future job losses, the reality today is more about the gap between job openings and hiring, and this gap points to a skills mismatch. What this usually means is that the demand for workers exceeded supply to the point where some experts are starting to describe this situation as a ticking time bomb for economic growth.
HIGHER ORDER THINKING SKILLS
While not the only skills in demand for underpinning a successful global economy, in the US the need for computing and mathematical skills currently exceeds supply by 17%, this is according to job data analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies. These skills are important for equipping children to become stakeholders in their own futures, this is because the methods we each apply to learning and testing concepts assist us in thinking beyond traditional learning measures – something we call "higher order thinking skills".
Many studies suggest that teachers do not fully understand how to test, analyse, or even assess higher-order learning concepts. A wide number of educators also define it differently which adds to the complexity of the topic.
AN ENCOUNTER WITH HIGHER ORDER THINKING SKILLS
In the spring of 2003, Colonel Joseph Myers, a professor from the Department of Mathematical Sciences, was presenting several mathematical findings in history to a forum of cadets. Many of the cadets attending had to prepare a review of the presentation for another class, so they were busily taking notes as he spoke. The note-taking stopped, however, at one point in the presentation when Professor Myers asked the question:
“Have any of you observed the fourth dimension?”
He was referring specifically to the fourth spatial dimension, in contrast to the temporal dimension (time). Rather than just draw the fourth dimension, he went about building it, just as one would have done before the dawn of the computer. In order to obtain the first spatial dimension, we connect two objects of dimension zero (points). Then, to obtain the second spatial dimension, we connect two one-dimensional objects.” He continued in this manner, with the cadets looking in disbelief, until the two cubes had been joined to form the fourth spatial dimension with the cadets looking in disbelief, until the two cubes had been joined to form the fourth spatial dimension.
Although the final picture on the dry erase board incorporated different colours so that the cadets could see the connections, it was clearly confusing in appearance – it didn’t seem to appear logical with overlapping lines. After a moment, one of the students commented that one of the cubes could be made smaller (forming what we know as the tesseract), thus removing the need to have overlapping lines.
It should never surprise educators to encounter students who are capable of rising above the ordinary and thinking on a higher plane, we just need to keep an open mind and encourage their input.
This hypercube represents in 3D how we would see the fourth spatial dimension.
At the very least a future technical workforce ought to contain people with agile minds capable of higher order thinking.
Like it or not, emerging technologies, otherwise referred to as nascent technologies, include a group of game-changing technologies that are soon going to alter the landscape of not just businesses but the private lives of billions of people. The inherently disruptive and fast-evolving nature of technologies such as the Blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), AI/machine language, Automation, and a range of digital solutions, means that some traditional colleges and universities are failing to adapt and keep up with the pace of change.
The pressure to find talent is forcing new models to emerge and ultimately solve the age-old issue of finding and hiring the best candidates. This presents a unique opportunity for alternate methods of education and recruitment for forward-thinking companies.
Based on the Hypercube, La Grande Arche de la Défense in France is an example of somebody's "What if" thinking.
SCHOOLS NOW ARE ALL ABOUT STEM
STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and encompasses a vast array of subjects that fall into each of those terms. While it is almost impossible to list every discipline, some common STEM areas include: aerospace engineering, astrophysics, astronomy, biochemistry, biomechanics, chemical engineering, chemistry, civil engineering, computer science, mathematical biology, nanotechnology, neurobiology, nuclear physics, physics, and robotics, among many, many others. As evidenced by the multitude of disciplines, it’s clear that STEM fields affect virtually every component of our everyday lives.
Students are extremely curious and impressionable, so instilling an interest at an early age could spark a lasting desire to pursue a career in any of these fields. By the time a student is ready to enter the workforce, they must have enough knowledge to make invaluable contributions to STEM industries.
MATHEMATICS AT SCHOOL
Students in the United States begin studying mathematics at around five or six years of age, continuing through secondary school and into higher education. In elementary school, children are introduced to basic mathematics, and the theories and methods covered in math classes become increasingly complex as students age. Many schools will offer different levels of classes as students may show a greater or lesser aptitude for complex math courses.
During elementary school, students are taught basic arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
These concepts are elaborated on in middle school, where students will study basic algebra and concepts of variable, integers and polynomials. Many students will have completed some form of pre-algebra or even algebra 1 by the time they enter high school, although geometry is occasionally taught in eighth grade as an honors course.
In high school, the general math curriculum includes algebra 1, algebra 2 and geometry in ninth and tenth grades. High school mathematics can continue with the study of algebra 3, otherwise known as trigonometry, around 11th grade. Students will complete their high school math courses senior year with either pre-calculus or calculus, although that is usually only offered at an honors level.
CODING AT SCHOOL
Getting more kids to code has been a cause célèbre for the technology industry for some time. Teaching programming skills to children is seen as a long-term solution to the “skills gap” between the numbers of technology jobs and the people qualified to fill them.
The UK has become the guinea pig for the most ambitious attempt yet to get kids coding, with changes to the national curriculum. ICT – Information and Communications Technology – is out, replaced by a new “computing” curriculum including coding lessons for children as young as five.
A recent survey of 1,020 parents of 5-18 year-olds in England found that 60% were unaware or unsure about the changes to the curriculum. Many parents, it seems, will be surprised when their children come home from school talking about algorithms, debugging and Boolean logic. If you’re one of those parents, below is a guide to what your children will be studying under the new computing curriculum; why there is more of an emphasis on programming skills; how teachers have been preparing for the changes; and how you can support your children and their schools.
WHAT YOUR CHILD WILL BE STUDYING
There are three distinct stages for the new computing curriculum:
Key Stage 1 (5-6 year-olds): Children will be learning what algorithms are, which will not always involve computers. When explained as “a set of instructions” teachers may illustrate the idea using recipes, or by breaking down the steps of children’s morning routines. But they will also be creating and debugging simple programs of their own, developing logical reasoning skills and taking their first steps in using devices to “create, organise, store, manipulate and retrieve digital content”.
Key Stage 2 (7-11 year-olds): Slightly older primary-school children will be creating and debugging more complicated programs with specific goals and getting to grips with concepts including variables and “sequence, selection, and repetition in programs”. They will still be developing their logical reasoning skills and learning to use websites and other internet services. And there will be more practice at using devices for collecting, analysing and presenting back data and information.
Key Stage 3 (11-14 year-olds): Once children enter senior school they will be using two or more programming languages – “at least one of which is textual” – to create their own programs. Schools and teachers will be free to choose the specific languages and coding tools. Pupils will be learning simple Boolean logic (the AND, OR and NOT operators, for example), working with binary numbers, and studying how computer hardware and software work together.
At these three levels, children will also be studying computer and internet safety, including how to report concerns about “content or contact” online. The full breakdown of the changes can be found here.
Key Stages 4 and 5 focuses on externally assessed programmes that will give students their credentials for carrying forward to higher education.
Key Stages 4 and 5 (14-18 year-olds):
- In the UK - this relates to programs such as GCSE and A Level
- In the USA - this relates to programs such as AP
- Internationally - this relates to programs such as IGCSE and IBDP
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
The shakeup of computer studies in schools has been trailed for a while, after criticism from ministers and technology companies of the existing ICT curriculum. The British education secretary (at the time) Michael Gove, outlined the political rationale for the changes in a speech this January:
“ICT used to focus purely on computer literacy – teaching pupils, over and over again, how to word-process, how to work a spreadsheet, how to use programs already creaking into obsolescence; about as much use as teaching children to send a telex or travel in a zeppelin.
Our new curriculum teaches children computer science, information technology and digital literacy: teaching them how to code,and how to create their own programs; not just how to work a computer, but how a computer works and how to make it work for you.”
This plays directly in to the complaints of technology companies that the UK has not been producing enough graduates qualified to fill vacancies. Microsoft and Google, along with BCS and its Computing at School working group, and the Royal Academy of Engineering were all involved in the new curriculum.
There is more to this than jobs, though. Campaigners argue that learning programming skills will benefit children in other ways whatever their ultimate career – almost akin to the reasoning for giving children the chance to learn a musical instrument or foreign language.
“We’re not just trying to encourage people to become developers. We’re trying to encourage children to become creative,” says Sophie Deen, head of Code Club Pro, which has been running training sessions for teachers this year.
“At primary level, it helps children to be articulate and think logically: when they start breaking down what’s happening, they can start predicting what’s going to happen. It’s about looking around you almost like an engineer at how things are constructed.”
“If you teach computing and do it right, you can help children develop their learning in literacy and numeracy,” says Bill Mitchell, director of education at BCS, citing children using the Scratch programming language to make animations for their creative writing, and suggesting that studying algorithms can help their understanding of sentence structure.
“To me, the basic idea of computing is you have to get a computer to solve a problem: you have to come up with an algorithm, a set of instructions. If you can do that, it’s a hugely valuable skill whenever you’re working as a team for any kind of project,” he says.
“Also, think about other subjects. When you learn physics, you think about physics. But when you learn computing, you are thinking about thinking. About how thinking works. You have to try to imagine how this computer is going to do something for you. There are lots of transferable skills.”
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO SUPPORT YOUR CHILD?
If you’ve got this far in the article, you’re no longer one of the 60%-plus of parents who do not know about the changes to England’s computing curriculum. Talking to experts about what else parents can do, a common theme emerged:
Simply be interested. Just as parents chat to children when they come home about what they have been reading, writing, drawing and discussing at school, so they can talk to them about what they’re doing with computing and coding.
There are ways to go further, including learn-to-code apps like Tynker, Hopscotch, ScratchJr and Hakitzu that can be downloaded and used at home; an online coding contest Shaun the Sheep’s Game Academy began earlier this year. The BBC is getting coding into some CBeebies and CBBC TV shows too.
The Scratch programming language, already used widely in schools, is freely accessible online at home too. Meanwhile, Codecademy, which runs online courses in programming and is working with a number of schools already, has plenty of courses suitable for secondary-school children.
The Kano build-it-yourself computer may be worth a look as it includes its own visual programming language designed for children. If you’re flush with cash, the upcoming Play-i robots may also appeal: two personal robots with companion apps that encourage children to code to control the devices.
And then there are after-school coding clubs: Code Club has a network of nearly 2,500 around the UK for 9-11 year-olds, CoderDojo has dozens in the UK too, and a growing number of schools are running their own, run by enthusiastic teachers and/or parents and developers from local companies.
This is not to imply that the best way to support your children is by buying products and signing them up for services and clubs. The most important support remains:
Show an interest in what your children are doing at school.
Even if programming as a subject daunts you, seeing it through the eyes of a child will hopefully make it much less intimidating.