Where are the iPads? There are no computers in our primary classes. There are no pedagogical online games, and we are still not worried that our children will be behind in computer literacy!
You will notice that we teach writing, in print and cursive, not typing. There is a reason for that – it is easy for children to relate to a two-dimensional surface (how long did it take your child to learn how to use your iPhone?). It is much more complex to relate to a three-dimensional, tactile, and moving environment, and that is what the brain needs conditioning for. That is why we focus on the physical world in the first years at school.
During these years, the children build the skills they will need for a meaningful interaction with, and use of, computers. Rather than being passive consumers of other people’s inventions, our children are being prepared for creating and for actively adapting technology to their needs.
As the children start Elementary, they are acquiring skills such as logic, alternative number systems, planning, and computation. They learn the abacus before they use calculators, and they are exposed to binary numbers as well as the numbers of ancient civilizations. Before they start using computers, they will have been exposed to the history of computation. There is a reason for this:
We do not only want our children to only use the computers of today, we want them to build the computers of tomorrow. We do not want them just to use the software of today, we want them to design what software is tomorrow. We want our children to have the ability to create technology that reflects their vision of the world, not only receive and use the vision of others.
That is why our Elementary students build their own computers. Once they have built the computers, they code art and games, and type reports. They practice computer literacy, from touch typing skills to object-based coding. Having studied mathematics with the abacus, they understand the calculations that happen in a computer. Rather than become dependent on iPads as crutches, our children already know how to discover information in encyclopedias and through science experiments. Having spent several years learning math, logic, and play in the real, tactile word, their understanding of what a computer is becomes much deeper: a computer is a tool that does what humans tell it to do, and it is a tool that enables us to achieve our visions.
For example, this is how we approach learning about folder systems. In the beginning, our children print out the research they do on the computer. They file the research in file folders and sub folders. This enables them to visualize how a folder system works on a computer, and later, they do away with the paper.
After learning the basics of computer operation and the logic of code, the children will program and build robots, and they will be introduced to mathematical programming – at their level. But, by being exposed to the tools they will revisit in high school and college, the barriers to using computers will have been removed already in Elementary school. For a child that has used a mathematical programming language to solve a basic equation, taking the step to using the same programming language for mathematical modeling in high school or college, becomes much easier.
Coding is, after all a language. Like a language, it has a purpose. Mathematics is the language of precise logic. French is our foreign language that helps better understand English and access scientific and literary vocabularies. Our view of computers ties into the concepts of language, mathematics, social science, and history that we teach: we provide the children with tools to succeed when they find themselves in college. We want to give the children a foreign language that helps them in the future with scientific and literary concepts, we want to engrain in them the logic and scientific methodology that will help them become thinkers. We develop the intellectual independence and group skills that will help them become the leaders of the future. To us, computer skills, like the rest of our curriculum, are about letting the children achieve their own visions.