MuseForJews

muse: n. a source of inspiration

The Programming Dilemma

Like everyone else, I’ve been reading all the back-and-forth about the need to teach programming. Like everyone else, I’m wondering when we’re supposed to find the time to do it. “How many languages can we teach in one day?” I ask…

An article in Mother Jones addresses this issue, stating that “computer literacy is the key to winning the 21st century.” I’m not exactly sure what winning the century means, but I found the article a fascinating read.

During this past school year, I had the opportunity to run two specials for 6th graders who were interested in coding. As it happened, one was a small group of boys, and the second a small group of girls. The differences were interesting. For example, the boys were mostly interested  in designing games via Gamestar Mechanic, and the girls were more interested in a methodical class in an actual programming language; working through Khan Academy’s JavaScript course. Differences aside, one thing that I did observe across the board, though, was that we needed a lot of time to go through the lessons.

Time? We just don’t have so much of it.

One way our school addressed this was to start an extra-curricular Code Club run by parents. Students sign up (and pay separately) and come to school on a Sunday evening to learn how to code. It was immensely popular…with the kids who were interested in coding. Obviously, since this was a self-selected group, it was, well, great for the kids who identified an interest.

But it occurs to me that “winning the 21st Century” needs to be about getting everybody on board, or at least more students than the ones who self-identify as wannabe programmers.

The article at Mother Jones brings up a different tactic, one that I’m interested in exploring; the principle of computational thinking. This intrigues me. It’s about teaching kids how to approach solving problems in a systematic, logical manner.

I recently worked with our 7th graders to design digital scavenger hunts using ARISgames. It’s a terrific platform, and requires no programming skills. But it does require some careful thinking about what needs to be in place in order to make things happen. It also requires careful attention to syntax (and what 7th grader cares about syntax? Slashes…we don’t need no stinkin’ slashes…).

Most of the kids loved it.

Maybe that’s the way to go…computational thinking, not programming. If they want to learn to code later, so be it. But maybe, for now, we’ll teach them how to create, how to use systematic thinking to solve their problems and get from here to there.

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June 18, 2014 - Posted by | Programming | , , ,

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