If we compare today’s classroom environments with what we had few years back, we will find the technological evolution has improved the content and delivery of the materials for easy collaboration, contribution, sharing and learning initiatives. However, modernization of the curriculum did not happen at the same level and as a result, we miss to get an impactful gain from the overhaul. It sounds quite ironic that we do not see any substantial roadmap to introduce 21st-century curriculum in technology and computer programming in the public schools. Even in the STEM-focused high schools, I have noticed the lack of participation from girls and minorities in such courses, often resulting in similar choices in the future career paths. We also hear that most of the IT companies are struggling to fill huge numbers of vacant positions, some of which do not require hard-core programming skills. Women and minorities are underrepresented in these companies and thus, our nation is missing an overall contribution to a knowledge economy. I could go on offering facts and statistics, but we all know this to be true. But why is it? Girls are just as likely to take higher level math, science, and technology courses, sometimes even more likely than boys. So what’s stopping them from converting the classes into careers?
There could be multiple ways to address this issue and I personally like the solution where our actions do all the talking. By using a bottom-up approach and introducing technology and computer programming courses during elementary and middle school years, we can encourage them to explore the content informally and enrich the learning experience. This will result in cultivating an interest and understanding of the field and career and before we know it, they would be ready to explore advanced classes and careers on their own! In short, this is the mission of FLAStem, an outreach program that I have started earlier this year. Our mission is to engage a diverse group of elementary & middle school students in technology and coding based workshops and encourage creativity and teamwork in applying their learning to some of the real-world applications. But, there is a catch – most of these workshops are conducted by high school students including girls and minorities with STEM backgrounds! This will help in breaking some of the stereotypes and barriers during the early learning years.
To any students reading this, there was a time when I was like you, sitting in the classroom and annotating articles like this. And you may have heard this many times throughout your life, but that is because it is a true statement. We all have the potential to learn something new and exciting but only when we give it a try. Learning by doing and learning with help from mentors are often used as realistic approaches in teaching coding and programming. Technology and coding have become an essential requirement in every research and study major. With workshops and do-it-yourself activities beyond the classroom, we aim to elevate young people’s engagement, develop their knowledge, strengthen their persistence and nurture their sense of identity and belonging in technology and computer programming disciplines. Our outreach initiative also promotes creativity, problem-solving, collaborative learning to build students’ competence and self-efficacy in technology and computers and deepens their understanding and potential to solve complex problems. With a vast pool of free resources and online tools, you can get started today and advance your knowledge as you progress. Even if you do not plan to pursue technology and programming as a career, the overall knowledge and learning experience will make you more resourceful. With the help from our volunteers and mentors, we hope every K-8 student would get introduced to these critical 21st-century skills and learn some of the traits in entrepreneurship as an added bonus!