It sounds like something out of a Sci-Fi movie, but it’s real life: Computer coding in high school. This is the case at Beaver County Day School where they don’t have lockers, but almost every student has a laptop.
The private school, for grades six through twelve, sits in a quiet nook of Chestnut Hill, Mass. — a suburb sandwiched a few miles between, and directly below, Cambridge and downtown Boston. It’s not far from where Mark Zuckerberg built a world-changing social network from his Harvard University dorm room just nine years ago.
Two weeks ago, Beaver became the first school in the United States to implement computer coding into each of its classes.
It’s a new, albeit eccentric experiment. It’s a new, albeit eccentric experiment. The school isn’t launching mandatory programming courses into the schedule, exactly, but is instead having its teachers introduce coding (ideally, in the most organic ways possible) into their respective subjects. Calculation-heavy courses such as math and science, as well as humanities such as English, Spanish and history — even theater and music — will all be getting a coded upgrade.
True, Beaver may be the first of its kind to experiment with coding in every class, but the idea that more high school students should take STEM-related courses — particularly in programming and coding — isn’t new.
The private sector has for years been pressing sixth through twelfth grade schools to prepare kids earlier on for the tech-heavy workforce lying ahead of them. Code.org reports more than 1.4 million computer jobs will be in demand by 2020, yet only 400,000 students will go on to study computer science in college.
Some high schools have begun to offer programming courses as electives, but that is largely still a rarity. Beaver’s staff believes it’s time to revamp the curriculum as a whole — if only to better, and realistically, prepare its kids for the 21st century economy.
Some are using the usual tools: graphing calculators, notebooks and pens. A handful of others, however, are using their laptops and a programming language called Python. Liam Brady, a senior, walks to the front of the room and plugs his computer into the monitor to test the script MacDonald’s asking about — a shortcut, essentially, that Brady has designed to perform the calculation for him.
The rest of the class, MacDonald included, watches as he inputs the equation and waits for the slope to show. It works. MacDonald, grinning reassuringly, moves on to the next question.
This is our seventh school day of the year. The content we’re covering now is content that, a few years ago, we wouldn’t even be touching until the third week or so. We’re literally twice as efficient,” MacDonald tells me.
“But we’re not sacrificing the traditional stuff, either. [My students] still know how to take derivatives and do calculus. Understanding how to use Python, or write code to solve problems, is just a way of having an additional tool to be creative with.”
MacDonald, who’s been teaching at Beaver for 16 years, is head of the math department. He also holds an MFA in poetry.