Talk about teaching America’s youth to code has been going on for a while. While I don’t disagree with supporters of this movement, I am not going to start preaching about the power of coding myself. I agree with Jeff Atwood and Jason Bradbury who both believe that there are things beyond just knowing how to code that young people need to become fluent in- problem solving and creativity. I don’t think that coding is the only way to get the brain to practice things like computational thinking, complex problem-solving, or general creativity.
As someone who has only had moderate coding education throughout undergrad, I don’t necessarily feel like I am at a deficit because I am not fluent in Java or Python. Rather, my comprehensive studies in things like differential equations and robotics have helped me foster critical thinking and problem-solving skills just fine. I am happy that the majority of my problem sets have required a pencil and not a keyboard. This is not to say that it wouldn’t be awesome to be able to whip up a website, or contribute to an open-source project. On the contrary, those skills would be very useful and are things that I may very well learn in the future, but other courses have supplied me with similar base skills for the future.
If computer science/coding were to be introduced in the K-12 system, I think it would have to be added in as an elective or as a part of what my K-8 school called “specials,” i.e., art, music, gym, etc. In fact, my Catholic elementary school had a special class for computers, during which we learned about proper typing techniques, how to use different Microsoft programs, internet research, and other similar skills. Children these days acquire a lot of those skills at home with their families or on their own, especially since many of the games that young children play involve computers or tablets. Perhaps instead of basic internet research lessons, basic coding skills could be introduced. This way, students would be equally exposed to coding. I definitely agree that it should be something that is introduced in schools because students without access to a lot of technology at home would never be able to try coding without the resources at school.
Another way for CS to be integrated into education is just to have a unit in every subject that regards to CS. This would be easier for the math and science subjects, but could also be creatively inserted into English or history. For example, in an English class, students could be asked to think about how the spell-check feature in Word works. In a history class, they could discuss how search engines use keywords to find specific events in time.
Unfortunately for all of the grand “teach America’s youth how to code” plans, a lot of the great coders are out working for start-ups or tech giants in Silicon Valley. Not many people who worked to get a CS degree are hanging their diplomas up behind their desks in elementary school classrooms, which is an issue in many STEM fields.
Dava Newman, ND Class of ’86 and current Deputy Administrator of NASA, came to campus a couple of weeks ago to discuss the journey to Mars and other exciting things that NASA is up to. She mentioned that she always likes to add an A and a D to the traditional STEM acronym, making it Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics, and Design, or STEAM’D. I bring this up because I would hate to see the arts become a casualty in this effort to bring computer science into the traditional K-12 curriculum. Though things like coding can foster similar creativity that art classes do, it would be a shame to put an end to something that lets kids be kids and express themselves without technology. Even though technology is, and will continue to be, a very integral part of our everyday lives, I would hate to see a school day in the future that revolves solely around a computer.