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October 16, 2018

Learn the CODE to Success during STEMtober

By Larry Plank, director for K-12 STEM Education at Hillsborough County Public Schools and Advisory Chair of the Tampa Bay STEM Network

We all remember the “three R’s” of school: reading, writing, and arithmetic… but the educational landscape has changed dramatically. The importance of digital literacy, computational thinking, programming, and coding are sharing the stage with traditional math, science and reading. To figure out why just look at the economy right here in Tampa Bay.

Why code in Tampa Bay?

The world is ever-changing and Tampa Bay is no exception. Our region’s technology and innovation sector is exploding, and the greater Tampa area has been identified by economists as the “next Austin” (the Texas capital is America’s newest tech powerhouse). Local investors including Jeff Vinik have bought into the idea and, through incubators such as Tampa Bay WaVE and the recently announced Embarc Collective, Tampa Bay is poised to be a hotbed of creative and technological advancement for years to come. That next generation of creators just entered kindergarten.

Florida’s commitment shows in recent legislation to ensure all students in middle and high schools have access to computer science courses. In middle grades, this opportunity takes many forms: business and technology courses, robotics and more. In high school, the College Board partnered with Code.org to create a new gateway course into the technology revolution: Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles. The national passing rate for this course—students earning college credit while in high school—is nearly 70 percent.

Locally, the Tampa Bay STEM Network, a collaborative of school districts, cultural institutions, businesses, and tech-centric trade organizations, partnered with Code.org to support the expansion of Computer Science and digital literacy throughout Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties.  The partnership sent 52 bay area teachers from STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) on a weeklong learning experience this summer, and has trained more than 30 school faculties, with 100 more elementary, middle and high schools coming in 2018 and 2019.

Can parents support Computer Science at home?

School isn’t the only place to learn to code. STEM-centric toys are everywhere—and whether it’s a coding mouse, caterpillar or more advanced robot—parents have tools to provide opportunities at home. Target has an entire aisle dedicated to toys that support this type of learning.

The earliest learners can experience the joy that comes from programming and making something “work.” Drag and drop coding is catching on, and research suggests this type of learning not only provides a pathway to more complex coding and programming languages but also spoken languages.

Preschoolers can join their older siblings too. LEGO recently announced Coding Express, a train aimed to teach 3 and 4-year-olds programming while building a world filled with fuel stops, pickups, and people.

The Code.org library is also available free online, plus “unplugged” activities that require no device and few materials. Looking for an easy way to get involved? Check out Code.org’s “Hour of Code” or fun community events like STEM Family Nights in Hillsborough County Public Schools. And now is the perfect time to start—in the month we celebrate as “STEMtober.”


Originally published in the October 2018 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.

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