How School Librarians Will Save the World by Josh Funk
Writing for children (and adults who like to read books written for children) is still a new thing for me. You see, for the last 20 years I’ve been studying computer science and working as a software engineer – and I still am today (in fact, as you’re reading this on a Tuesday, I’m at the office right now, preparing for a demo).
But that’s just it – I’ve only been coding for 20 years. I didn’t take my first coding course until I was a freshman in college. But today, some kids are learning to code as early as preschool. Maybe you already know that. Or maybe you didn’t.
When I was writing HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE, I did a lot of research about the best ways to teach coding to kids. And I learned a couple important things:
- The ‘experts’ were still working on what the standard way to teach Coding & Computer Science to children should be. In 2016, President Obama brought up the ‘Computer Science for All’ Initiative in his State of the Union Address (expanded upon in White House archives here) and shortly thereafter began working with the National Science Foundation, whose opening lines on their curriculum page were quite telling: “Currently, no officially adopted national, state, or local standards exist for CS [Computer Science]. Few school systems have begun teaching CS from Pre-K to 12th grade, and the academic research in CS education is quite limited.”
- Everyone needs to learn to code. Now. From the same White House archive article: “[In 2015], there were more than 600,000 high-paying tech jobs across the United States that were unfilled, and by 2018, 51 percent of all STEM jobs are projected to be in computer science-related fields. Computer science and data science are not only important for the tech sector, but for so many industries, including transportation, healthcare, education, and financial services.”
But who’s gonna teach coding?
Who has the knowledge, background, interest, and equipment to teach coding?
Which teachers are going to have their curriculum changed to make coding a (fun!) requirement?
At this point, you might be wondering what this has to do with the Nerdy Book Club. Don’t worry, I’m getting to it. Here at the Nerdy Book Club, we’re a community of readers. We love books, especially those written for children. We hold the school library in high esteem, in a special place in our hearts.
The school library is evolving as is the role of librarians. The school library holds more than just books (and microfilm and microfiche). Librarians are teaching a wider breadth of topics than ever before.
And it’s most often the librarians that are teaching coding. While budgets are always tight, it’s fallen to the librarians to carve out time for Hour of Code. School library bookshelves are being rearranged to make room for makerspaces. School libraries have the iPad(s) and computer(s) that student(s) can use to write code in Scratch or Tynker.
I’ve virtually visited (usually via Skype) over 200 schools (see the map here) over the last 3 years. During nearly every visit, I mention that I’m a software engineer, that I write code – which I follow up by asking if any of the students have done any coding.
While it’s just an anecdotal estimation, I’d say about half of the schools answer with raised hands. That’s half of the schools with tech-savvy educators and the capabilities and resources to set up a Skype visit. And the half that are raising their hands? It’s usually because they code for an hour during a week in December (for Hour of Code).
So let me summarize: Most of the schools with good to great tech departments, STILL only spend a single hour per school year teaching kids to code. That’s it. Now consider the schools who don’t have funding and access to technology education.1
My point is that we are A LONG WAY from giving all children the opportunity to learn how to code.
How do we remedy this?
We embrace the evolution of the school library. We support the school librarians as they broaden what they teach. And we give school librarians more and more tools to teach coding to all students.
Of course we need to support the children who still need access to all kinds of books – fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, picture books, mirrors, windows, sliding doors.
But it’s also more important than ever to encourage, support, and give access to ALL the children who want to learn how to code, need to learn how to code, and will love learning how to code.
There’s almost nothing better than being transported to another world by an amazing book.
But writing a few sequences, loops, and conditionals in a language full of strange words, numbers, and symbols, clicking RUN, and seeing code YOU created make something awesome happen – that is an incredible experience that I believe all children should have.
1 Maybe your school does more than Hour of Code. Maybe your school teaches code throughout the year. Maybe your school has a dedicated technology specialist. If that’s true, you’re very very very fortunate.
Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as books – such as How to Code a Sandcastle (in conjunction with Girls Who Code) and Albie Newton, Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series (including The Case of the Stinky Stench and the upcoming Mission Defrostable), Dear Dragon, It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, Pirasaurs!, and the forthcoming Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude (in conjunction with the New York Public Library), It’s Not Hansel and Gretel, How to Code a Rollercoaster, and more coming soon! Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and was the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences. Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes manuscripts. For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.