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Tag: coding

Learning to Code Should Not Be About Getting a Job

Since our new superintendent arrived last July, she’s been making some high-profile attempts to attract input from the larger community.* One example of that effort is a forum on a service called UserVoice which allows anyone who registers to post suggestions and then comment and vote on the ideas of others.

As of the date of this entry, the top vote getter suggests “Our students should learn to code”, with 989 votes and 24 comments. Slightly ahead of complaints about class size, teacher pay, and the ever-popular issue of later start times for high schools.

Unfortunately, the writer of the coding idea tied it to offering formal computer science classes and helping students better qualify for jobs in that field.

There are, of course, far better reasons that kids need to learn the basics of programming starting in elementary grades. Here’s a comment about the context of learning to code I added to the original suggestion.

Certainly every student should learn the concepts of programming but it has nothing to do with getting a computer science-related job. Everyone should have a good understanding of how the systems that control the world work. Too many people put their trust in technology without having a clue about what goes on behind the screen.

Learning about those processes should be a fundamental part of the school curriculum starting in the lower elementary grades. Some kids will be interested and want to continue in the field. For everyone else, they acquire invaluable knowledge for whatever vocation they follow as well as being a more informed member of society in general.

Do you suppose our superintendent will pay any attention to the idea of students learning to code (other than expanding high school programming classes)? The cynic in me doubts she will. Those concepts are not on the SOLs, and we all know that what gets tested is what gets taught.

* Her “listening tour” arrives in my neighborhood later this month. It may be worth a rant or two.

Coding for Lifelong Learning

At a recent TEDx event, Mitch Resnick, director of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, presents the case that learning to code is an essential skill all children need to learn.

In the first part of his talk, Resnick argues against the tired old belief (excuse?), held by so many teachers, that kids are far more tech savvy than they will ever be.

All of us have heard young people referred to as “digital natives”. But actually, I’m sorta skeptical of this term. I’m not so sure we should be thinking of young people as digital natives.

There’s no doubt that young people are very comfortable and familiar with browsing and chatting and texting and gaming. But that doesn’t make you fluent.

Young people today have lots of experience and lots of familiarity with interacting with new technologies but a lot less so with creating with new technologies, and expressing themselves with new technologies. It’s almost as if they can read but not write with new technologies.

He goes on to discuss how we expect kids to become fluent at reading and writing the written word and we should also be helping students learn how to effectively create with new technologies, not to improve their consuming skills.

However, just as we don’t teach reading and writing so kids will be come professional writers – very few will follow that path – we should also have other, higher goals in mind when teaching the process of coding.

Again the same thing with coding. Most people won’t grow up to be professional computer scientists or programmers. But those skills of thinking creatively, reasoning systematically, working collaboratively, skills you develop when you code in Scratch [the programming interface for young people developed by his group] are things people can use no matter what they’re doing in their work lives.

 Watch the whole thing for more of his ideas and a look at some new Scratch features coming soon.

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