The Manhasset school district said last Wednesday that it aims to provide a laptop computer for every student in grades 5 to 12 by 2020.
Sean Adcroft, the district’s director of instructional technology and libraries, discussed the goal in a presentation to the Board of Education about the expansion of the district’s computer coding program.
“Computing jobs are the number one source of new wages in the United States,” Adcroft said. “And they’re relatively well-paying jobs.”
“It’s not just about jobs,” he added. “[Coding] fosters soft skills like persistence. You have to run code script many, many times, and have to fix bugs in the code. When failing you learn from what went wrong and pick up from that point.”
If included in the final 2017-18 budget, the laptop initiative will begin with a $200,000 purchase of personal computers next year for every student in fifth and ninth grade, Adcroft said. Each subsequent year laptops would be purchased for rising fifth and ninth graders until 2020, when the district would have a laptop for every student in those grades.
Computer programming is currently taught to district students in grades 2, 3, 4 and 7 and is made available to high school students of any grade.
The district offers three computer programming classes in the high school: introduction to computer programming one and two as well as AP computer science.
The district is currently participating in Hour of Code, an international effort that aims to get as many students as possible to code for at least one hour over the week of Dec. 5 to 11, though Manhasset schools have expanded the initiative to include the entire month of December. Adcroft said he expects 1,500 district students to complete the task by the end of the month, among them students as young as kindergarten age.
Teaching students how to code at a young age helps counter the stereotype of computer programmers as nerdy boys, Adcroft said.
“The strategy has been if you can get students to do it in elementary school, it gets rid of the stereotype,” he said. “They don’t have a fixed idea in their head.”
Currently as many as 80 percent of the district’s high school students in computer programming courses are male, Adcroft said.
Charles Leone, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the district faces difficult choices about how to accommodate class time for coding among the other computer-related instruction it offers.
“We’re prioritizing internally as district what’s most important to teach students using the expertise of our computer teachers,” he said.
“It’s a process.”
Adcroft said one of the reasons coding has garnered a positive response from elementary school students is that the instructions are presented as computer games.
“They’re not slugging through 50 lines of code to say ‘hello world,’” he said. “They’re watching an animation go on because they put in three blocks of code.”