Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to Justin Reich, executive director of the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Systems Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He spoke to a group of teachers about the changing landscape of the workplace and the need for more technology education.

Reich made an observation that has stuck with me to today regarding the overwhelming role technology plays in our world. He showed us a picture of an airline ticket counter from the 1970s, with 20 ticket agents working behind a counter assisting travelers.

He then showed a modern-day version of that picture where the ticket agents had been replaced with a series of kiosk stations that allow passengers to check themselves into the airport. Seated at the far right was one lonely ticket agent.

As Reich explained, today's computer systems are really, really good at completing repetitive and routine tasks, but they are still not great at thinking through unexpected or unpredictable problems.

The single ticket agent was there to handle these unanticipated situations, which include things like the passenger who purchased her tickets from two different travel websites but wasn’t able to print her boarding passes, or the passenger who needs to check luggage that has special handling instructions, such as a fragile musical instrument.

Reich's airline ticket counter example shows how much our society and the workplace have come to rely on technology. This evolution is having a stark impact on the types of jobs that are available to the American worker, and that in turn is greatly impacting the role of schools in helping students become college and career ready.

Now, more than ever, our children need to become not just technology literate but technology experts. This starts at a young age, and one of the best ways to spark this interest and develop this skill is to introduce kids to coding.

Coding, sometimes referred to as programming, is the understanding of the language and the behind-the-scenes systems that make computer software, mobile apps, web pages, social media and other forms of technology programs function. According to John Porter of the eLearning Industry, there are four benefits of learning programming at a young age.

"Computer coding is the universal language of the planet," Porter writes. "People who know how to code will be able to communicate across countries and cultures, be innovative, and solve problems more efficiently, with no barriers to impede their success. Learning programming at a young age helps your children solve everyday problems and get set up for a lifetime of opportunities."

Porter goes on to identify the benefits as follows:

  • Education benefits: Helping children understand how computers and computer systems work.
  • Computational thinking: Helping children learn to communicate their thoughts with structure and logic.
  • Creativity, thinking fluidity: Teaching children to use their creative side and "think outside the box" to solve problems.
  • Job opportunities: Helping children prepare to be successful in a technology-driven workplace, such as the airline ticket counter.

Teachers and parents who are looking for a good place to start with coding may want to consider reading this article from iMore entitled "How to Learn to Code When You Have No Idea Where to Start." Another good resource is recent article by Edutopia's Matt Davis: "Teach Your Kids to Code: 6 Beginner's Resources for Parents." There, readers can be introduced to websites such as the Made with Code Google site or the computer programming classes available for free through Khan Academy.

Coding can start at any age — from preschool through adult. It teaches problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and it fosters creativity.