Reading, coding, ‘rithmetic

“Schools need to do a better job helping U.S. students excel in technical fields if the country wants to continue to lead the world in technological innovation.”

This is a quote from President Obama in a recent interview on the importance of maintaining our country’s (debatable) technical edge, by ensuring that schools stress the importance of math and science, as well as teaching kids to code along with their ABCs and numbers. He, and many others, believe that coding needs to be a part of general literacy, even for those that don’t go on to have “software engineer” as their job title.

With the Hour of Code,, Khan Academy, the Robot Turtles programming board game, and a wealth of online and offline resources available, it turns out people have a lot to say about the importance of coding. But why start teaching code so early? After a bit of research, I’m starting to see the value.

We live in a world that is shaped by physics, chemistry, biology and history, and I’m sure we all believe that children should understand these things. But their world is now also shaped, and will become increasingly so, by technology, computing, and apps. If kids don’t have a deeper understanding of these as well, they are more likely to grow up as ‘passive consumers’ of closed devices and services, leading lives that are increasingly controlled by technologies created by those who are considered ‘the elites’ with high paying jobs.

Steve Jobs once talked about the importance of realizing that everything around you has “been made up by someone who is no smarter than you.” Learning to code could allow children the ability to not only change and influence things, but build things that other people can use.

Mitchel Resnick, Professor of Learning Research at the MIT Media Lab, states that ‘in the process of learning to code, people learn many other things. They are not just learning to code, they are coding to learn. In addition to learning mathematical and computational ideas (such as variables and conditionals), they are also learning strategies for solving problems, designing projects, and communicating ideas. These skills are useful not just for computer scientists but for everyone, regardless of age, background, interests, or occupation.’

And that makes sense, doesn’t it? Learning how to code can teach kids, well, code, but in the process, they pick up many other valuable skills that can be applied to pretty much any field they choose to pursue. So will schools start adding Coding 101 to the (already packed) Kindergarten curriculum? Time will tell. But with all the resources available online, why wait? We can get ourselves (and our kids) up to speed starting today, and gain a better understanding of this fast-paced digital world we live in.

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