To Code or Not to Code

IBM SelectricOne of the most beautiful things in the world is the IBM Selectric typewriter. It looks like a work of Mondrian, sounds like a tango, smells like the future, and responds like a thoroughbred beneath one’s fingertips. (That covers four out of five senses. I’ve never tasted a Selectric.) When I was quite young, I often got to play on the Selectrics in my father’s company’s offices. I loved to type before I loved to write. I thought about this when I read recently that computer science is the highest-paid college degree; that computer programming jobs are growing at two times the national average; but that we’re producing so few computer science graduates.

While we see a push for more STEM learning and await the fate of Next Generation Science Standards, it’s puzzling that most states do not count computer programming toward either math or science requirements in high school. Furthermore, it would seem our elementary school computer labs are too often online library portals and not machines to be explored, understood, and fully harnessed. Raise your hand if you or your students know any basic computer coding.

In fact, much like the game of chess, coding is a great way for upper elementary learners to grasp logic and strategy, predict outcomes, pay attention to detail, and—even more importantly, but unlike chess—gain exposure to a key component of the modern world and understand how it works. I believe fourth graders should be messing about on PCs the way I messed around on Selectrics (with some professional guidance, of course).

What do you think, Mailbox teachers? Basic coding classes and tutorials are available for very young children online. Would you like to see them offered in your school? And should computer programming be a way for high school students to meet science or math requirements?

2 thoughts on “To Code or Not to Code

  1. I definitely like the idea of teaching students to code in high school. While it shouldn’t replace math courses, or science courses, I do believe many students would take up the courses as electives. I turn people to Code Academy, to learn basic coding.!/exercises/0 This site enables users to have an interactive experience with many different types of code.

  2. I agree completely that programming should be taught in school; however, I believe it should happen far sooner than high school or even junior high….

    I first learned to program when I was in 3rd Grade. We had an Apple IIc sitting in the corner and during free time we could either do homework (yawn) or you could do something on the room’s only computer, an Apple IIc. (see picture below)

    As almost “anything” was more interesting than staring at the same books day after day, I gladly took to the computer. As the picture above may clue you in, there wasn’t much you could really do on these computers, other than create programs in the basic programming interpreter that was installed.

    At first, I amazed my friends by programming formulas to prove our math assignment answers, but what really helped me keep interested was a series of books that were made at the time by Scholastic called Micro Adventure. It wrapped the programming into a story and made it ‘funcational’

    The real problem today about getting kids to learn ‘tough stuff’ such as programming, science, etc., isn’t really the need to get the equipment/technology in front of them. The challenge is that you have to compete with the plethora of distractions that exist today!

    One of the best ways to do this (now and in the past) is through gamification of the learning material. I would suggestion for anyone looking to help their kids learn programming early on to look at Sketch by MIT and the Super Scratch adventure series.
    (NOTE: I have no involvement in this project, it just is well worth the plug!)


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