May The Code Be With You

Itwould not be an understatement to say that coding is now the biggest force in STEM education.
Back in 1995, in aninterview for Channel 4, SteveJobs said that“Everybody in this country should learn to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think”.

Some 20 years later we are witnessing his visionbeingrealized with a lot of back-wind fromorganizations such as, Girls Who Codeand She Codes.Coding is not only flourishing in schools, but also in after-school and summer-time activities.

Tynker, anonline service for teaching coding to kids is a great example.Their modding Minecraft course has a great appeal for all those gamers out there who just can’t get enough of Minecraft, andthey arenot the only ones, or the first, for that matter. Learn To Modestarted their coding courses for Minecraft a couple of years ago and are alsooffering their courses to in-school and afterschool programs.

This flux in supply is a direct entrepreneurship response to the flux in demand, backed by theObamaadministration with its Computer Science for All initiative. It now seems that you can’t graduate without taking a coding course. Moreover, it also seems that without coding skills, your relevance to the workforce is insignificant. Now that’s a troubling message! Jordan Shapiro, a known blogger on global education and a Forbes contributor, raised some interesting points for thought,criticizing the “ComputerSciencefor All” initiative in his Forbes article.Whilehis pointsare definitely valid, they do not direct educators towards the ‘right thing to do’. When it comes to coding courses, the question of How and What should only come second to the Why.

teaching kids to code

So why teach coding?

Steve Jobs put it in a nutshell; It teaches you how tothink. But this argument raises an important question. Are we not alreadydoing that? Are we notteaching our kids to think? Then whaton earthare they doing in class some 1200 hours a year? That is a frightening thought. And if coding is the only answer, then the answer is even scarier than the question. If coding is not interesting forourchildren, willtheynot learn how to think? Willthosechildrennot have a place in the workforce?

To provide a better answer we need to go back a few steps, even before Steve made his quotable statement. Back in the early 80’s Prof. Gavriel Salomon investigated the role of computers in education. In his report he made an important distinction about computerized learning environments. His distinctionbetween learningaboutorwithcomputers is crucial. While learningaboutlimits to specific knowledge base and usually applicable for training goals, learningwithallows greater range of learning.

Learning with, rather than about, is appealing to a greater number of students, extends their ZPD and cansupportsinterdisciplinary approaches as is in STEM. That is why learning STEMwithrobots is much moreimportantthan learningaboutrobotics. But is this what President Obama meant? In his 2016 state of theunion he explicitly said“make them job-ready on day one”.Does that trigger learningwithorabout?What do you think?