PHOENIX — One hour of coding instruction is not going to teach anyone to create the next generation of the “Minecraft” video game.
But Sen. John Kavanagh figures that if students are exposed to understanding what computer coding can do, it will encourage at least a handful to want to know more about what makes computers, cellphones and video games work.
So the Scottsdale Republican persuaded the House Education Committee to vote 7-4 on Monday to require students to be exposed to just one hour of coding sometime between the 4th and 12th grades. SB 1136, which already has cleared the Senate 17-13, now needs approval of the full House.
Kavanagh said he was inspired to push the legislation after a trip to Silicon Valley, where he and other lawmakers met with officials from some of the major tech companies there, including Google and Facebook.
“One of the things they kept driving into us legislators was that they have to import hundreds of students from outside the U.S.,” he said.
“There are not enough American students who have coding skills,” Kavanagh said. “They would really like to have American-grown talent doing this work here.”
So how much can a student learn in one hour?
“Not much,” Kavanagh conceded. But he said that’s not the point.
“We’re simply trying to show young students what coding is so they understand the concept,” he said, learning why when they press a certain key on their smartphones it does a specific thing. “More importantly, they realize it may be something they’re interested in and something that they’re capable of learning.”
And it’s not even necessary that the teacher have any knowledge of coding.
It’s built on a website operated by Hourofcode.com, a nonprofit with the stated goal of expanding access to computer science. There are a series of programs at various grade levels.
“So at the fourth- and fifth-grade (level), the students might not actually write the code,” Kavanagh explained.
“They may simply pick blocks of words and letters and insert them,” he continued, to see how each new provision affects the program. For example, it could be a race car program, where a specific line or group of lines causes a car to go faster or slower.
“When they get older they’ll actually do the typing of the code command,” Kavanagh said.
One of the issues of concern is adding a specific mandate for a very specific area of knowledge. But Kavanagh said it’s justified and that it doesn’t require a background in science to do coding.
Not everyone thinks this is a great idea.
“I’m not very supportive of us micromanaging what we’re teaching and for how long,” said Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa.
And Udall, who has a bachelor’s degree in computer science and has done programming, questioned whether what Kavanagh wants will do any good at all.
“One hour of coding in between the grades of 4th and 12th is going to give very little benefit,” she said. “An hour’s about enough to figure out how frustrating it can be — but not enough to really learn the skills to be successful at it.”