Programming, or coding, or writing code, is an important and well-paid skill today. There is a shortage of good programmers. But most students approach computers or mobile devices as consumers. They use computers or devices to play games, or as social media platforms. And they also use computers to search for information, as part of the learning process, which is all to the good. In some cases they are users of interactive games that promote learning.
But all of these use cases are students being consumers of code, and not creators of, producers of, code. Producing is harder than consuming – coding is more difficult than using an app. Yet our modern economy is increasingly reliant on coding and computer science technology more generally.
This blog on the topic at the New York Times is actually entitled “When Kids Would Rather Play Computer Games Than Code Them”. Here’s another article from the New York Times on the topic of learning to code.
These articles note that coding instruction is trending. In the U.S. there are over 20,000 teachers involved in teaching how to code, according to code.org. The organization states: “Every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science.” And they believe all kids can learn to code. Code.org helps train high school teachers to instruct coding. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) have contributed $10 million to Code.org in support of their mission.
Public school systems in Chicago and New York City are building the capability to offer more coding instruction to their student populations. Chicago is looking to make the ability to code a graduation requirement within the next 5 years.
The challenge is getting students over the initial learning hump and frustration around creating code that doesn’t work the first time it’s used. Coding requires persistence, and the ability to think logically. One must eliminate every mistake found in the first version of the code, through testing, modification and iteration. Persistence and logical thinking are great skills and attitudes for students to learn and are important life skills more broadly than just around coding.
Scratch is a simple programming language freely available from M.I.T. The site provides small code blocks that can be tied together to help create stories, games and animation. It is designed for children from age 8 and up, and is used in more than 150 different countries.
And here’s a unit on Curriki for game design in a science classroom, using the Scratch language. Check it out!