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Credit: Jillian Lees, Daily Titan

Credit: Jillian Lees, Daily Titan

Computer coding could substitute for a foreign language for Florida high school students applying to state universities under a bill moving through the Legislature, reports the Sun Sentinel.

State Sen. Jeremy Ring, a former Yahoo executive, thinks students should study a foreign language in the early grades, then learn coding in high school. People without technology skills “will be left behind,” he believes.

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is campaigning against the bill. It would make as much sense to call music a language, Carvalho said.

Coding for Christmas

Third-grader Jaysean Erby solves a coding problem at an Apple Store in New York as Apple CEO Tim Cook looks on.

Coding toys for kids are aimed at children as young as six years old, reports AP.

Wonder Workshop sells Dash and Dot, programmable blue-and-orange robots. Children can start by drawing a path for Dash on a tablet screen. “They can then drag and drop actions onto its path that, for instance, might cause Dash to beep or flash its lights in different colors.”

More advanced players can “use Google’s kid-oriented Blockly language, or Wonder, the company’s own programming language, to create and play games with both robots.”

Some worry about kids spending too much time with their tablets.

Nader Hamda, founder of a handful of tech and toy startups, created Ozobot, a tiny programmable robot that kids can play with together.

Kids can program Ozobot, which is smaller than a golf ball, simply by drawing different colored lines and shapes with markers. Older kids can also program in Blockly and can even see what their finished code would look like in Javascript, a language widely used to program websites. Hamda says roughly 400 schools currently use Ozobot as a hands-on teaching tool.

Sphero’s SPRK, a clear plastic robot ball, is used in some elementary and middle schools to illustrate concepts.

“It introduces the methodical process, how to go back and fix things,” Sphero CEO Paul Berberian says. “There’s no computer programmer in the world that gets it right the first time.”

The company also makes BB-8, the robot in the new Star Wars movie. “This is the droid you’re looking for,” the slogan reads.

Libraries add ‘coder time’ to story time

Librarian Brooke Sheets uses colored cups to teach algorithms and debugging to girls at Los Angeles’ Central Library. Photo: Alex Schaffert-Callaghan, KPCC

To play a drawing game called Phenomenal Turtle, nine-year-old Perla Hernandez had to “break down big complex problems into small sequential steps,” writes Alex Schaffert-Callaghan on KPCC. She was one of a dozen children who came to a Los Angeles’ library for “coder time.”

 Children can program a turtle to create designs in Phenomenal Turtle

Children can program a turtle to create designs in Phenomenal Turtle

Librarian Joanna Fabicon “would love coding to be as ubiquitous in libraries as story time.” She works with an afterschool program to reach children at eight LAUSD elementary schools.

Girls feel comfortable coming to the library, said Brooke Sheets, a children’s librarian at the central branch. “More than half the kids in Hernandez’s class were girls, a ratio most computer science programs can only dream of,” writes Schaffert-Callaghan.

At the end of the lesson Hernandez showed her game to the group. “The kids watched as a small green turtle moved quickly across the screen, filling it with a rainbow of intricate pop-art patterns, earning a big round of applause.”

Within 10 years, all New York City schools will offer computer science, pledges Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Chicago plans to require a year of computer science for high school graduates by 2018, reports the New York Times. (Really! How many can add fractions?) “The San Francisco Board of Education voted in June to offer it from prekindergarten through high school, and to make it mandatory through eighth grade.”

‘Girly tech’ tries to make coding fashionable

A New York City-based startup hopes its programmable friendship bracelet will motivate girls to learn to code, reports Benjamin Herold in Education Week.  Jewelbots users will be able to “program their bracelets to light up when their friends come near, communicate in Morse-code like languages, integrate with their social media accounts, and more.”

CEO Sarah Chipps previously founded and led a national nonprofit aimed at teaching women to develop software.

Nancy Butler Songer, dean of Drexel’s education school, told Ed Week that Jewelbots are “very cool,” but don’t require real programming to get started. It’s easy to set up the bracelet to vibrate or light up when a friend is near.

However, motivated users “can download a free app that allows for more complex functionality (think: added colors, coordinating with groups of friends, etc.),” writes Herold. They can also use an arduino, or small microprocessor, “to write and upload their own code to program the bracelet in myriad ways—for example, to light up when your friend posts a photo of you on Instagram.”

Chipps, the company’s founder, compared Jewelbots to the uber-popular computer game Minecraft, in which users can either play in an existing online universe or write their own modifications, create their own worlds, and even set up their own servers.

“It’s a super-profitable game that has taught tens of thousands of kids how to code,” she said. ” We’re trying to do the same thing, just targeted towards girls.”

Some complain that “girly tech” perpetuates stereotypes.

Girls get engaged when they can use programming to solve real-world problems, said Lisa Abel Palmieri, who created a renowned coding- and computational thinking program at a girls’ private school in Pittsburgh.

“The best way to engage girls in coding and STEM is by making learning contextualized,” she said. “We should help them understand what the big picture is and how learning technical things can help improve the lives of others.”

SF plans computer science for all

Volunteer Aimee Menne helps teach computer science at San Francisco’s Mission High. Photo: Andra Cernavskis

San Francisco’s public schools plan to expose every child to computer science from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, writes Andra Cernavskis on the Hechinger Report. What does that mean? The district is trying to figure that out.

“We are not trying to produce an army of software engineers,” said Bryan Twarek, SFUSD’s computer science coordinator. “We want to open all doors to this industry, and right now those doors aren’t open to everyone.”

In fact, only 10 of San Francisco’s 18 high schools offer any kind of computer science class, with just 5 percent of all high school students enrolled in classes at any level, from introductory to Advanced Placement. Most of the students in that 5 percent are white or Asian males. Of the few hundred students who took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science in 2014, only 22 percent were female, and only 3 percent identified as African American, Latino, or Native American.

For the younger grades, educators want to design a program that isn’t just about bringing gadgets and technology into the classroom, writes Cernavskis. Computer programming is a form of problem solving, said Julie Flapan, the executive director of Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools (ACCESS).

Should everyone learn to code?

Should Schools Mandate Computer-Coding Classes? asks Fawn Johnson on National Journal.

Chicago Public Schools will offer introductory computer science at every high school by the end of next year. Soon, computer science will be a graduation requirement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at the Internet World of Things Forum.

Los Angeles also is expanding computer science classes in public high schools.

Both cities are following the lead of Code.org, a nonprofit bankrolled by tech giants such as Microsoft and Google, writes Johnson. In December, Code.org will launch a campaign to promote its “hour of code” tutorials.

She wonders if students will learn programming — or just keyboarding.

Second, what do the students think they are getting from these courses? Do they expect to go to Silicon Valley and find a job? Not everyone wants to grow up to be a computer programmer, which means that in Chicago, a sizable chunk of students who will be required to learn computer code may also need to understand why they should care. Do teachers have an answer?

Third, will students be able to get the full benefit of a computer-science course if they aren’t already up to speed on other core subjects like math and physics?

I’m very dubious about teaching coding to everyone, including the many students who’ve never mastered middle-school math.

U.S. teen teaches coding in Cambodia

Mozilla’s Open Standard debuts with a story on Teaching Kids to Code in Cambodia.

Ming Horn, a 16-year-old high school student in California, has founded KhodeUp, a four-week web design and programming course for children in impoverished countries.

She developed the idea last November during a visit to an orphanage in Cambodia where she met a young woman who wanted to study computer science in the U.S., but had no experience.

“She really wanted to come to the U.S. to study computer science but had never had any experience with programming, so she ended up switching her intended major to business while applying,” Horn said.

In May, Horn used the crowdfunding website Indiegogo to raise more than $20,000. That funded her first course in Phnom Penh at the Future Light Orphanage of Worldmate (FLOW).

Horn said the first week of KhodeUp focuses on HTML, CSS and design basics; the second on JavaScript; and the third and fourth weeks are devoted to a final project in which the students – working in teams of two – have to design and code websites for imaginary businesses.

“I give each team a dossier containing client and market information and they have to do further research and make design decisions based on what the client wants and who their market is,” she said about the last two weeks of the course. “The businesses are modeled after actual businesses that could be their clients in the future.”

Horn was adopted from China. Her brother was adopted from Cambodia. “I’ve always been able to imagine what my life would have been like had I not been adopted,” she said.  “When I realized that I could have never had an opportunity to learn programming or tech, which is so much a huge part of my life and my passion, I wanted to give the kids here that opportunity.”

Why Minecraft is really cool

What’s so cool about Minecraft? On The Verge, Ben Popper explains why parents and kids are hooked on the game.

In Minecraft, users move around a virtual world, harvesting resources like wood, gold, and iron ore that they can use to build whatever they like. Everything is made of textured 3D cubes. The graphics are extremely low-fi. There are bad guys to watch out for and defeat, and technically a dragon you can slay to beat the game, but what has captivated millions is the total freedom Minecraft offers to wander around and build, often collaboratively, a huge world of you own.

Steven Sorka, a 36-year-old software developer from Toronto, plays with his 20-year-old stepson and 11-year-old daughter. “Minecraft seems to be a perfect storm of Lego and adventure,” Sorka says.

Parents see Minecraft as a teaching tool. Players learn about architecture and use “redstone circuits” to create “simple mechanical devices, even entire computers.”

. . .  the incredible variety of worlds to explore and items you can build comes from “mods”, modified software created by the community that can be installed on a server to reshape that world or the rules that govern it. For many young players, mods become a gateway to the world of computer programming . . .

Minecraft is “more than a game,” writes Abby Ohlheiser in the Washington Post.  “Minecraft is also an ecosystem of dedicated fans who play, create and share within and beyond the game’s open world.”

Last week, Microsoft paid $2.5 billion for Mojang, which crafted Minecraft.

Teaching computer science — without computers

Teaching computer science doesn’t require computers, writes Annie Murphy Paul for the Hechinger Report. Computer Science Unplugged designs activities that teach the “computational thinking” that underlies computer systems.

A group of children on a playground, each kid clutching a slip of paper with a number on it, moves along a line drawn in chalk, comparing numbers as they go and sorting themselves into ascending order from one to ten.

Another group of children, sitting in a circle, passes pieces of fruit — an apple, an orange — from hand to hand until the color of the fruit they’re holding matches the color of the T-shirt they’re wearing.

. . . In the first activity, they’ve turned themselves into a sorting network: a strategy computers use to sort random numbers into order. And in the second activity, they’re acting out the process by which computer networks route information to its intended destination.

Computer Science Unplugged has been developed at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand over the past two decades. Games, puzzles and tricks are aimed at children in kindergarten through seventh grade.

 Youngsters can tackle topics as apparently abstruse as algorithms, binary numbers, Boolean circuits, and cryptographic protocols.

. . . Younger children might learn about “finite state automata” — sequential sets of choices — by following a pirates’ map, dashing around a playground in search of the fastest route to Treasure Island.

Later, students can learn to program a computer.

NanoDegree promises fast track to workforce

For $200 a month, anyone who’s mastered high school math can earn an online NanoDegree in programming in six to 12 months and qualify for an entry-level job at AT&T.  The company created the new credential with Udacity, which is working on more industry-linked NanoDegrees.