Learning to Code: Focusing on SCRATCH at South Fayette

Though schools throughout the area teach computer programming, South Fayette School District’s efforts are truly exemplary. Director of Technology and Innovation Aileen Owens has created a continuum of learning, beginning with the youngest students, using Scratch as the foundation. Scratch is a block-based, simple programming language invented at MIT. From second grade on, students learn to program math and reading games, robots, and even E-Textiles, which are lightable T-shirts that respond to computer commands. Upper grades use more sophisticated code and design their own apps for mobile devices.

Q: Why focus on computer programming?
A: There is such a need for computer programmers today. The problem-solving process that computer science engages you in can make you successful in every field, along with deep thinking and taking large, abstract ideas and breaking them into manageable, solvable pieces.

Q: What is your strategy?
A: We are building a common language in computer programming for grades K-12. High school is too late to learn programming, so we begin in the very early ages where we start teaching computation practices and concepts and habits of mind. If we can interest students from a young age, when they can learn to create and make something, they’re more likely to stay with the syntax of the programming language.

Q: Tell us a success story…
A: A student software development team has created a product that is ready to go to market, and we’ll be using it in the school. It’s created for K-2 students, so we have high school students creating a program that will be used in the classroom.

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