All 34 public high schools in Broward County already offer extensive computer science courses. Now the district is emphasizing the early grades, starting the basics of coding in kindergarten, giving it the importance of reading and writing English.
"We are making it a fundamental, foundational skill and component, we believe there’s a dual literacy opportunity here for our students," explained Superintendent Robert Runcie. "We have to make sure our students are writing and reading and comprehending at a proficient level by third grade, but we also need to insure that there’s digital literacy."
NBC 6 observed a third-grade class at Indian Trace Elementary School in Weston. The kids were learning to write algorithms which they would then turn into symbols for the computer to understand.
"Teaching students to read and write code is just as important as teaching them to read and write stories, it’s the future," said principal Amy Winder. "It’s tricky at first but the students are really engaged and they’re interested and they’re determined to get it right."
This is part of Broward’s effort to integrate computer coding into all academic subject areas.
"And within the last three years we’ve really moved the needle, so to speak,"said Christine Semisch, one of the district’s architects of the policy. "We have close to 50,000 students this year that will be exploring computer science in their studies."
Semisch and one of her colleagues, Lisa Milenkovic, was invited to speak at the Summit on Computer Science For All at the White House, to share their strategy on coding for every grade level.
"We’re going to share that story, so how we’ve infused it in the curriculum from elementary school all the way up through high school, so it becomes part of the day, not an addition to the day," Milenkovic said.
As an example, we saw fifth graders combining history with coding. Their task was to program their computers to recreate the routes of famous explorers. The district is actually researching the extent to which learning coding skills helps in other subjects.
"The types of skills that our students need to utilize in dealing with computer science translates into their critical thinking abilities in other courses,” Runcie said.
The superintendent jumped on the coding train in 2013, making Broward Public Schools one of the first school districts in the nation to partner with Code.org to highlight the importance of coding. Why is this so important?
"There’s going to be a shortage of over a million computer jobs in the next few years and we’re either going to fill them with our kids that are here in the United States and prepare them to take those jobs, or they’re going overseas somewhere," Runcie said.