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.

Reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic — and coding

Audrey Hagan, left, and Amelia Flint, both 8, learning to code last month at an event in Mill Valley, Calif. Jason Henry for The New York Times

Computer coding for kids is a “national education movement that is growing at Internet speeds,” reports the New York Times.

MILL VALLEY, Calif. — Seven-year-old Jordan Lisle, a second grader, joined his family at a packed after-hours school event last month aimed at inspiring a new interest: computer programming.

“I’m a little afraid he’s falling behind,” his mother, Wendy Lisle, said, explaining why they had signed up for the class at Strawberry Point Elementary School.

Code.org, a tech-industry group, is offering free curricula and pushing districts to add programming classes — and not just in high school. In nine states, students earn math — not elective — credits for computer science classes. Chicago’s public school system hopes to make computer science a graduation requirement in five years.

In Mill Valley, elementary school children and their parents solved animated puzzles to learn the basics of computer logic. Many parents see coding as “a basic life skill,” says the Times. Or perhaps the “road to riches.”

Some educators worry about the industry’s heavy role: Major tech companies and their founders, including Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, have put up about $10 million for Code.org. The organization pays to train high school teachers to offer more advanced curriculums, and, for younger students, it has developed a coding curriculum that marries basic instruction with video games involving Angry Birds and hungry zombies.

The lessons do not involve traditional computer language. Rather, they use simple word commands — like “move forward” or “turn right” — that children can click on and move around to, say, direct an Angry Bird to capture a pig.

Computer programming should be taught in every school, said Hadi Partovi, the founder of Code.org and a former executive at Microsoft. It’s as essential as “learning about gravity or molecules, electricity or photosynthesis.”

I’m not convinced that everyone needs to learn programming in order to use computers. And it’s not the only way to learn logic.

My three-year-old nephew was playing Angry Birds on his tablet today, prepping for his future as a high-tech zillionaire. That 7-year-old in Mill Valley is so far behind.

Programming for all?

 Computer science should be a high school graduation requirement, argues Mike Cassidy in the San Jose Mercury News. He wants more girls to give programming a try so they’ll have a shot at Silicon Valley jobs.

In a series called Women in Computing: The Promise Denied, Cassidy focuses on the declining share of women who choose computer science majors: By 2011, it was down to 17.6 percent.

Some colleges have boosted that through outreach programs and classes that persuade women that computing isn’t just for nerds, writes Cassidy.

A Berkeley class called “The Beauty and Joy of Computing” draws as many women as men. In addition to teaching programming, lecturer Dan Garcia explores how computer science can solve real-world problems.

Garcia is training high school teachers to teach computing and creating a MOOC for would-be computer science teachers.

Everyone should take a computer class, says Chris Stephenson, executive director of the Computer Science Teachers Association. “To allow students to graduate with no real understanding of what is happening and how that is created is really shortsighted.”

Cassidy thinks girls would like programming if they tried it.

Imagine if classes were widely available and that girls were required to take computer science in high school or earlier. They would see how computing often requires teamwork and is a key tool in other areas, such as medicine, environmental science, finance, politics and space exploration — thereby putting a lie to the stereotype that programming is a solitary pursuit in which writing cool code is an end in itself.

A group of “tech superstars” have started Code.org to push state legislatures and school boards to add computer science to the list of core college-prep courses. “Co-founder Hadi Partovi, a Seattle-area angel investor and coding evangelist, says the organization will pay to train existing K-12 teachers to teach computer science,” reports Cassidy. The group wants a class in every high school.

In Rebooting the Pathway to Success, the Association for Computing Machinery calls for expanding K-12 computer science education and making it part of the STEM core.

I’m all for expanding opportunities for young people — female, male, whatever — to learn programming. I took a computer class in high school myself in the days of paper tape readers. (I took it to meet boys, not realizing I’d meet nerdy boys.)

But I don’t think mandatory programming will make significantly more girls — or blacks and Latinos — see coding as “cool.” It’s cool if you’re into logic. I did some programming in college too in a “math for non-math majors” class. I liked it. Everyone else hated it.

And I’m very dubious about adding graduation requirements. If computer science is added, something else should be deleted. Maybe a programming language can substitute for a foreign language?

Regulators threaten coding academies

“Coding academies,” which offer intensive, short-term training in programming skills, don’t rely on state or federal financial aid. Job placement rates are sky-high. But California’s Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education is threatening to shut down coding schools unless they apply for licenses.

BPPE regulations require schools to get curriculum changes by the agency, which may take up to six months. “We change our curriculum every three weeks, and we can’t teach technology that’s six months old,” Shereef Bishay, founder of Dev BootCamp, said.

Will online learning deMOOCratize higher education? Poorly prepared students need face-to-face support to succeed.

‘Hour of Code’ promotes computer science

Hour of Code — an intro to computer programming — is part of Code.org‘s campaign to make computer science a standard course.  Celebrities from President Obama to Ashton Kutcher have signed on.

Coding isn’t too hard for third graders in Charlotte, reports Anya Kamenetz on Hechinger’s Digital/Edu blog. Melissa Loftis teaches many immigrant and refugee students with weak English skills. They’re enthusiastic about writing their own programs, Loftis says.

“They’ve been in our country some of them a month–that’s amazing. It’s been eye opening for us as teachers, that they can build their reading, listening, speaking, and math skills and technology all at the same time. Seeing them engaged with more than just the social media aspect of technology–the math and the code and really thinking how to create and manipulate–it’s exciting.”

Loftis and her school’s technology teacher won a $10,000 grant by pledging to have every kid participate in the Hour of Code. They’ve used the money to order 30 low-cost Chromebooks.

From picking berries to programming

“We’re only one hour away from Silicon Valley, but we might as well be on the other side of the planet,” says Zahi Kanaan-Atallah, dean of advanced technology at Hartnell Community College in Salinas. A Japanese-American orchid grower has funded an intensive program to get students — most are the children of immigrant farmworkers — to a computer science degree in three years.

Europe: Colleges are ‘unemployment factories’

In France, where universities are derided as “unemployment factories,” Xavier Niel has started a computer academy, reports the New York Times. Would-be programmers, who  pay no tuition and will earn no degree, have to be smart. They don’t have to be high school graduates.

The school breaks with the often-rigid methods and philosophy of the government-run education system wherever it can, and Mr. Niel believes it will produce graduates who are more innovative, more employable, more diverse and more useful to the stagnant French economy as a result.

. . . Despite a national jobless rate of nearly 11 percent, as many as 60,000 computer coding jobs are thought to be vacant in France, the government says, for lack of qualified candidates.

A telecom billionaire, Niel completed high school but not college, reports the Times.

Via Edububble, who also links to another Times‘ story on Europe’s overeducated, underemployed young people. Youth unemployment rates for those 24 and younger are 56 percent in Spain, 57 percent in Greece, 40 percent in Italy, 37 percent in Portugal and 28 percent in Ireland, reports the Times. The story starts in Madrid.

Alba Méndez, a 24-year-old with a master’s degree in sociology, sprang out of bed nervously one recent morning, carefully put on makeup and styled her hair. Her thin hands trembled as she clutched her résumé on her way out of the tiny room where a friend allows her to stay rent free.

She had an interview that day for a job at a supermarket.

Méndez has worked without pay for a sandwich chain and a luxury hotel. Unpaid internships are common.

“To gain experience, she was making plans to form a cooperative to study social issues like gender equality and sell reports to public institutions,” reports the Times.  (Good luck with that.)

In the supermarket interview, she learned most other applicants also had high-level university degrees. Méndez was offered a temporary job stocking grocery shelves and running a cash register. The monthly salary of €800 (about $1,080) is just enough to avoid moving back home with her parents.

“Be careful what you wish for,” advises Edububble. “Sure it would be nice if education cost less and there was little or no student debt, but then there would be even more smarty pants with nothing to do.”

Teens learn to code an app — and sell it

GenTech NYC teaches New York City teenagers to design, code and sell mobile apps in a summer program.

Reading, ‘riting and coding

“I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think,” said Steve Jobs.

Code.org is launching a campaign to persuade schools to offer computer programming: Nine out of 10 high schools do not.

Less than 2.4 percent of college graduates earn a degree in computer science, fewer than 10 years ago, despite rising demand for programming skills, according to the nonprofit group.

Code’s site includes links to online apps and programs that teach programming. Some are geared to young children.

Should kids learn programming, as they might study a foreign language, to develop thinking skills?

Coding isn’t just for boys – but sometimes it seems that way – reports the New York Times.

Microsoft engineers teach high school

Microsoft engineers are teaching high school computer classes (with the help of regular teachers) to encourage young people to pursue technical careers, reports the New York Times. The company, founded by education philanthropist Bill Gates, has issued a report on educating young people for science, math and technology jobs,  A National Talent Strategy.

There are likely to be 150,000 computing jobs opening up each year through 2020, according to an analysis of federal forecasts by the Association for Computing Machinery, a professional society for computing researchers. But despite the hoopla around start-up celebrities like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, fewer than 14,000 American students received undergraduate degrees in computer science last year, the Computing Research Association estimates. And the wider job market remains weak.

“People can’t get jobs, and we have jobs that can’t be filled,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel who oversees its philanthropic efforts, said in a recent interview.

Microsoft pays engineers a small stipend to teach at least two high school classes a week for a full school year.

Google funds a programming summer camp for incoming ninth graders as well as computer science workshops for high school teachers, the Times reports.

Fewer high school students are taking computer science, according to the U.S. Education Department.  However, the number of computer science bachelor’s degrees has been rising for four years, after years of decline.

In 2012, a new graduate with a computer science degree started at $58,300, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.