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, a nonprofit bankrolled by tech giants such as Microsoft and Google, writes Johnson. In December, 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.

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., 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 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 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 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‘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.