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General, Insights, Raspberry Pi, Reflection

Is Coding the new Fundamental Skill for Childhood Education?


Kindergarten children learning how to use computers.When I was a kid most of the people I grew up with did not own a computer – and I do not mean personally but even within their household. By high school it had become an expectation that your papers were typed and if you didn’t own a computer by then you probably had ready access to one in the school library. By my senior year I was writing Pac-Man on my TI-82 and using the “mobile Internet” on my cell phone – which was too thick to carry in my pocket and added a decent amount of weight clipped to my belt! Still, when applying for jobs I picked up resumes in person and usually completed the forms on a typewriter (and that was fancy).

And fewer than 10 years later my younger brother (by 14 years) was learning through educational games using a keyboard and a mouse. Dial-up quickly became a thing of the past and AOL Instant Messenger disappeared into the black hole of social media – MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and Skype.

It was exciting to watch the tech explosion over the past 20 years but 2012 is one that will go down in the books because of how we are bridging the gap with even younger generations. Looking back at my childhood, writing programs in BASIC on my IBM with DOS 2.0 I felt as though I were a pioneer in computer programming. Today that skill is nearly common place and a good portion of my friends have at least some exposure to coding be it in Visual Basic for applications, HTML, or whatever focus they were tasked with in their “Intro to Computers” college course.

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

The next generation was savvy by the age of three and I suspect most children have built a webpage of some sort or bricked their Android or iPhone (both of which are more than 100 times more powerful than my first computer and probably 1% of the size). In many ways this generation is more skilled in using a computer than much of my generation. But, they understand computers from an entirely different aspect. They know how to communicate, interact on social networks, connect via webcam, or track their mobile phone – but they cannot write a loan amortization calculator or create a pie chart.

And in 2012 we took a giant leap toward introducing children to actual coding. This is an exciting development to me and I think (I hope) it will usher a new generation of “computer geeks” that will create things we have not yet dreamt of.

I was programming at six years old and was able to complete my semester of work in the first week of my “Intro to Programming: Basic” and “Intro to Programming: C++” courses in high school. My Junior and Senior year I took two electronics courses (one of them focused on digital electronics) and “Engineering Physics” where I assembled my own transistor radio followed by building my own 4-bit processor and tracing flags and interrupts while I observed how a computer can make make quick calculations using binary mathematics. I was lucky to attend a school that offered such courses and probably only part of a small fraction of students who actually took advantage of such courses – presumably due to lack of interest at that age.

In 2012 we watched the launch of the Raspberry Pi – “a tiny and cheap computer for kids” (raspberrypi.org). And in the beginning of 2013, CodOrg launched this short video, “What most schools don’t teach”, featuring some of the tech industry’s most notable people – “an impressive cast (Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Dropbox’s Drew Houston, Valve’s Gabe Newell…)”:

Even in the past week nearly 80% of my conversations revolved around computers – programming, marketing, or other development. I researched ways of implementing home automation with the Raspberry Pi, or even controlling an RC helicopter and streaming video back to a base station. I assisted my parents with the development and launch of their new website. I listened to a presentation about a new “mobile gift card” to drive traffic to physical retail outlets. And I even talked with my younger brother about implementing a sports application website for his high school whereby the winner would receive a portion of profits for each application received district-wide.

Computer programming is not just for geeks anymore. It is exciting – whether you are looking to calculate the “break even” point on your mortgage refinance, improve your job efficiency by better leveraging Excel spreadsheets, or you are a capable and skilled programmer that knows you can make a computer do anything that you want, there is something to learn.

I am excited to watch this evolution and I hope that I will get to be more directly involved with it in the future. If you are looking to get into programming yourself, my advice has always been the same:

DO

  1. Pick a project (something simple – any new programming language begin’s with “Hello World!“).
  2. Pick up a book – I personally like the “for Dummies” books as they greatly simplify things and provide very easy-to-follow “how to’s” for writing your first program.
  3. When you run into a problem, Google it!

LOOP

When you’ve met your first objective, step it up a notch – change the objective, add a condition, involve user input. You’ll be developing before you know it!

After watching the video above which I found in an article I was reading, TrendIn this week: Marissa, Andrew, Bill, Mark and their friends by Isabelle Roughol, I noted a link to Codecademy.com which I think is an excellent resource and a great place to start! Coding is becoming as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Get involved. Change the world by teaching the next generation!

* The Raspberry Pi also includes a copy of Scratch (“Scratch” on Wikipedia)- a programming language learning environment enabling beginners to get results without having to learn syntactically correct writing first. Beginners should also look up Alice – developed to address three core problems in educational programming (“Alice” on Wikipedia).

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About christopherjcoleman

Independent IT Consultant. Cloud Expert. United States Navy Veteran. Dedicated. Focused. Driven. I make companies better by developing applications to meet specific business needs on reliable, cost-efficient cloud infrastructure. If the right solution doesn't exist then create it. I have achieved my greatest accomplishments because someone else told me "it's not possible; there is no way to do it" - and now there is.

Discussion

One thought on “Is Coding the new Fundamental Skill for Childhood Education?

  1. Great advice, thanks!

    Posted by E-skills4Future | 2013-03-10, 07:04

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