Expanding STEM: Why Language Arts Has a Place in Computer Science Education

By Kris MacKay

The original mantra of Reading, Writing and Arithmetic has become too limiting. Students need to expand their knowledge of science and apply it to the world around them. By expanding student lessons using STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), basic facts about science and mathematics are reinforced with problem-based learning exercises, often in a team environment. Computer programming has been used to simulate planet orbits to illustrate Kepler’s law and create your own space program, for example.

However, coding projects that support teaching in fields of study are not limited to science and math. For example, a game from the 70’s, Oregon Trail, was designed by three people to teach school children about the realities of 19th century pioneer life on the Oregon Trail. The game combined computer programming and social science. In a similar fashion, history students can build components for different regions in time using computer applications such as web pages or MIT Scratch. Other projects might include A.P. World History students constructing lessons for chapters on the Persian Empires, the Silk Road trade routes or Sub-Saharan African societies. The hybrid solution of programming and social science adds “A” (Arts) into STEM to offer students STEAM as a method to reinforce learning.

This can also be used for English class to explore literary topics. Students have studied “Romeo and Juliet” by acting out scenes with original or altered endings. Rather than have students build projects and memorize lines, they can share their work and variations with others in digital formats. Imagine if Mercutio had avoided the fight in 'Romeo and Juliet.' What words would Mercutio have said instead of "Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch; marry, 'tis enough...No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but 'tis enough..A plague o' both your houses!"?

STEAM opens a world of possibilities - not only for students but also for technical and non-technical teachers to discover, explore and learn.

Check out:

  • Planetary Orbit Simulator http://astro.unl.edu/classaction/animations/renaissance/kepler.html
  • Kerbal Space Program https://kerbalspaceprogram.com/en/
  • Oregon Trail https://archive.org/details/msdos_Oregon_Trail_The_1990
  • Romeo and Juliet Scratch project https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/2657449/