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Last time I discussed the potential overemphasis of foreign language in education. This time we will look at a potential under emphasis of programming or coding even in our curriculum. Many market and education analysts think that as our work becomes increasingly digital people will need to have a basic understanding of programming for more and more jobs. Not only do some people advocate for this, many are putting their money where their mouth is and have funded websites that are designed to teach programming in fun bite-sized pieces. Some of these resources have already been put to use in after-school enrichment classes in our district and others are starting to be used as a part of normal instruction.
The question is, though, is this all just hype or is this something that has real meaning and can impact our students’ lives? Well that data seems to point to some justification for the excitement. In 2011 when the recession was still quite strong the general unemployment rate was 9.1% and just 3.8% for people in the “techie” job market. I also know my own anecdotal experience tells a similar story. Almost all of my friends from college graduating with engineering or technical degrees got jobs immediately upon graduation frequently signing a contract prior to even receiving their diploma. This was not the case for people graduating with other degrees. This is not to bad mouth other degrees but when we are facing increasing income and employment disparities in the United States these things are important to keep in mind when preparing our students for success. While our goal is to create lifelong learners and citizens prepared to be active participants in democracy, our first duty has to be preparing our students to survive in the world we and those before us have fashioned for them.
There are also inherently noble aspects to teaching programming as well. Learning to program can give you cognitive tools to solve problems in new or more efficient ways (think Spock). One of my favorite classes in college was a computer science class on logic. It was a required course for computer programming and related majors and was unique from all my other computer courses in that there were no computers or computer work in the class. All we did was look at problems and break them into conditionals (if this, then that) which is what most programming is. We also looked at the validity of logical arguments (I have included my favorite at the end of this article). For example, “All dogs have four legs; my cat has four legs. Therefore, my cat is a dog.” This is a simple and clearly false example but logically identical fallacies are made all of the time and are far less clear when the topics are abstract. In job terms this way of thinking is not just useful for programmers but is useful for most everyone when it comes to planning for retirement, doing outcome analysis for a job, and really any task where you have unknowns and you want to plan for various outcomes or analyze an issue step by step logically. In terms of having a well functioning democracy training in this critical logic can help inoculate our students from harmful fallacies in real life (think prejudices) people make these fallacies all the time and it causes program issues and societal woes. This logic training can help protect our students and society from perpetuating harmful beliefs and stereotypes.
We are just beginning to talk seriously about including this as a part of the core curriculum in the United States and I think this is another area where the BUSD teachers are showing a lot of leadership in focusing on developing the skills our students will need to be successful in the world they will graduate into. I am excited to see how this develops and what our students are able to do. If you want to jump in with your students, a quick Google search will reveal a plethora of resources- but the ones I am familiar with and would recommend are code.org and scratch.mit.edu, these are also the two that I know of being used in the district currently.
Logic Puzzle This is one of if not my favorite logic puzzle
Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, "Do you want to pick door No. 2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?
I’ll include the answer next issue along with an explanation.
We video is an online video editing tool that is entirely web based and integrates with cloud storage platforms, including Google Drive. It also has scaffolding that allows you to vary the complexity and power of the editor to match the skill levels of your students. The other great part of is that its free version is very usable.
This last week I had a lot of fun playing around with Google Charts. For those of you familiar with charts in Excel, these work pretty much the same way but Google Docs will give you the prewritten HTML to post onto your website. I use this to make a spreadsheet that I load data from the state into to give daily SBAC progress updates, but it allows you to visually update your website as you update data stored in a spreadsheet about anything you track.