Academic courses from literature and Spanish to pre-calculus and physics are some of the most critical parts of any American school curricula, but they’re far from the only focus. There’s a long history of students learning practical skills for later careers and hobbies at school as well.
Elective courses, such as wood shop and metal shop, have taught decades of students the skills needed for a lifelong craft or hobby. These longtime classes also teach important skills students can bring to other areas of career and life; about the value of physical labor, the importance of project management, and skills specific to the subject.
Just like these venerable subjects, teachers and schools are turning to a new hands-on course: computer building. By building computers from scratch, students are learning the intricacies of the most important devices of the modern world. Students gain the technology skills desirable on college applications and resumes while also developing an interest that can expand class. Computer building, as well as the coding classes that are becoming popular with students K-12, may lead to hobbies of Web development, video game design, or even some of the most in demand careers out there today.
Students today have grown up around computers of all shapes, sizes, and purposes. However, many teachers are showing their students that these boxes and screens are more than just machines to access the Web and play games. Students around the U.S. are learning technical skills by building, assembling, fixing, and rebuilding computers at school.
Education World pointed to the Youth Tech Entrepreneurs program in Malden, Massachusetts, as just one of the many examples of classes and clubs where high schoolers are learning to fix computers. Started in 1998 with help from the state, YTE students are taught how to maintain and fix computers during and after school as well as on the weekend.
The Malden students have put what they’ve learned into action in the school system. YTE members maintained, fixed, and assembled computers for the school system, saving the administration thousands of dollars in IT work. Education World noted that the program was being adopted by numerous schools throughout Massachusetts.
YTE and similar programs at schools around the U.S. teach students exactly what component parts make up a computer, how each works, and the relevant assembly techniques involved. Common errors, repairs, replacements, component innovation, and tech tools are just a few of the learning areas covered by computer building. Students can use this information as a gateway to electrical, mechanical, or computer engineering as well as a number of information technology jobs.
Many schools turn to donated or used parts for low cost computer building, but some companies provide low-cost, simple kits to teach students how a computer works and allow them to innovate as they learn more.
In addition to building computers, many schools are teaching students to design software. Coding has become a popular educational tool not just for the real world and computer skills it develops, but also for the computational thinking that it leads to.
As NPR reported, many students are learning coding at very young age. By starting in preschool and elementary school, students are learning the basis from which they can code complex software more easily or break down a complex problem through systematic computational thinking.
“As soon as you can start learning [coding] you should, because the earlier you start learning something, the better you’ll be at it later in life,” Grechen Huebner, the co-founder of Kodable, told NPR.
Teachers can teach their students the basic aspects of coding in elementary school with websites that explain coding through fun games and puzzles. Similar sites can also be used for older students as they progress to more complex code. Sites such as Tynker and Code.org use popular games such as Mindcraft to teach coding.
The technology industry has grown past simple personal computers in recent years. Now it is an integral part of everything from automobiles and phones to refrigerators and houses.
Students who learn coding and computer building at the earliest ages will have the best chances to thrive in the new tech-filled world. Whether coding in elementary school starts a lifelong passion for computing, or learning to build a computer at school leads to a part-time repair job, the earlier children have a basis for tech, the quicker and easier students can rise in the technology field.
Teaching computer skills to all students at an early age may also help reduce the gender and racial barriers that many see in the tech industry today.