MSU Students teach third-graders coding lessons

The Bozeman School District has set aside one classroom as the Hyalite-MSU Collaborative Classroom for Teacher Education. The classroom is part of a new program at Hyalite Elementary School that focuses on technology education via lessons delivered in part by MSU students. Last week, 13 MSU seniors, all elementary education majors taking a class on education technology, taught a coding lesson to third graders at Hyalite Elementary School. According to Nick Lux, the MSU education assistant professor who started the technology education class last year as a pilot project, the third-graders demonstrated significant engagement in the coding lesson as well as great team work in solving the coding problem that the lesson addressed. The educational program is promising for both MSU students and Hyalite Elementary students alike.

What makes the program different than other technology-centric elementary classes is the inclusion of MSU students in the actual teaching of the class. Educational programs that put such great responsibility into the hands of college students are hard to find. However, such programs are quickly being realized as a potentially critical aspect of the future educational system. Working with real elementary students in a real school gives MSU elementary education majors a chance to gain invaluable real-world experience. Anne Keith, teaching coach at Emily Dickinson School and a former Montana teacher of the year, was quoted in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle saying, “If every prospective teacher had this kind of experience, it would benefit the whole teaching profession.” And it most definitely would.

The current primary educational system in America does not shine favorably compared to other first world nations around the globe. The latest data from PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2012 and presented in December 2013, rank the United States as 36th in mathematics, 28th in science and 24th in reading. Clearly we are doing something wrong. However, the blame should not be placed so much on the teachers as on the way that teachers are trained in the U.S. and the way that our society rewards them. Teachers in the U.S. are notoriously under-praised, not to mention often underpaid. The education system puts more emphasis on standardized exams and curricula than it does on ensuring that teachers are highly qualified to teach the future generations of America.

Meanwhile, countries like Finland, who according to PISA are consistently among the top ranks in mathematics, science and reading, treat teachers with the same respect usually reserved for doctors and lawyers in the United States. Perhaps the most intriguing difference about Finland’s education system compared to America’s is the fact that in Finland teachers are selected from the top 10 percent of the graduating class and are required to have at least a master’s degree. In America, on average only about half of the teachers have master’s degrees or higher. In addition, teachers in Finland reserve two hours a week for “professional development.” It is clear that in Finland, teachers devote a significant amount of time to developing their skills, and the nation’s superior educational performance demonstrates the impact of their prowess.

The American educational system is not going to rise in the PISA ranks by enforcing more standardized testing or giving students more homework. In fact, in Finland students are only required to take one standardized exam, when they are 16, and often are not assigned homework until well into their teens. The American educational system is only going to rise by placing higher value on teachers: ensuring that teachers are the most qualified to teach and the most committed to continuously bettering themselves and their students. This is exactly what the new program at Hyalite Elementary is doing. It is giving college students, who plan on becoming teachers in the future, the chance to work with real elementary students in a real school, which is always going to be much more effective than reading another textbook. The program is giving them an education that surpasses the normal, one that will not only benefit them as teachers, but will benefit their future students as well.

Besides the benefits the new program offers for future teachers, the technology-centric program offers benefits for the elementary students currently enrolled in it. Technological literacy is the most critical part of modern education. It is not hard to see that our world is becoming increasingly technologized, and those who cannot keep up with the technology that we increasingly depend upon will find themselves lost in society. The Hyalite-MSU Collaborative Classroom for Teaching Education aims to teach its students valuable technological skills, such as coding, that are not traditionally taught in elementary education. And in a world that continues to reward those in science, technology, engineering, and mathematic fields, these students will find themselves superbly prepared to be a part of the next generation.