What are the compelling arguments both for and against computer coding in schools?

I guess I was a bit surprised to read that there were arguments against coding in school because I feel that coding is knowledge and that makes it relevant. Personally, I do not know much about coding. I tried to take a college coding course in 2000, but I got frustrated and confused, so I dropped it. It was harder than learning a foreign language and every time I went to my professor for help, I left feeling even more confused and frustrated. I felt like I was the only person in the class that didn’t understand it. It reminded me of when I took basic auto in high school and was the only girl in a class that included my younger brother. The first day, the teacher talked about engines, cylinders, and strokes. I was completely lost in the vocabulary and became frustrated when I saw all of the other students nodding along and answering questions. I felt stupid, so I dropped that class too. I have always regretted giving up on those classes, but it is disheartening to go to class and feel stupid every day. Maybe if I had background knowledge of automobiles and coding, things would have been different.

The New York Times held a written debate about teaching coding and the arguments were quite compelling. An argument by Partovi (2014) made me think about how different my attitude would have been had I been introduced to coding in elementary school. He stated, “Students learn fast at a young age, before stereotypes suggest coding is too difficult, just for nerds, or just for boys. Besides, building apps or games is far more engaging than arithmetic, yet these activities all teach the same concepts. Third-grade students can learn about angles as they work on animation, not just with multiple-choice questions.” I have to admit that I felt that both basic auto and coding was more suited for boys. I was never encouraged to learn about cars in grade school and we had computers when I was in elementary school, but they only played games like Word Munchers and The Oregon Trail.

I don’t know a lot of code and quite frankly, coding still intimidates me. I do not like it or care to do a lot of it. I definitely do not find it enjoyable. However, I am now wondering if I need to learn it well enough to teach it to my students. Even though I do not feel like I am good at it, I believe that “teaching coding at schools represents transforming a generation of students from passive consumers of technology to active creators. It encourages their creativity and prepares them for a future in which programmers will be in even greater demand. If students can adopt the language of coding at an early age, they will have laid the foundation for a greater understanding of the tools they utilize in their everyday lives. And who knows—introducing coding to a group of kindergartners may just help unearth a whole new legion of tech CEOs who could change our world as we know it” (Zamora, 2014).

There are people who make compelling arguments against coding. For example, Dvorak (2014) states, “A second grader should be running around, throwing a ball, scratching out drawings, learning fine motor skills and developing normal interpersonal social skills. Being hunched over a computer screen coding in some kiddy language to supposedly develop computer literacy is insane.” It is true that there seems to be less outdoor activity and more time in front of electronics for most students. I know that over half of my kindergarteners had access to an iPad at home. I now wonder what they would have chosen if I had asked them if they would rather go outside to play or spend that time on the iPad in our classroom. I know that many parents are conscientious about how much time they allow their child to spend with electronics, but that is not the case for all parents. Further, how do we know the appropriate amount of time a child should be on electronics?

References

Dvorak, J. C. (2014, May 12). Teaching Coding to Kids Is a Scam . Retrieved June 23, 2015, from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/05/12/teaching-code-in-the-classroom/teaching-coding-to-kids-is-a-scam

Partovi, H. (2014, May 12). Teach Coding As Early as Possible. Retrieved June 23, 2015, from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/05/12/teaching-code-in-the-classroom/teach-coding-as-early-as-possible

Zamora, W. (2014, April 1). Why Coding Should Be Taught in Elementary School. Retrieved June 22, 2015, from Techspiration : http://techblog.evan-moor.com/2014/04/01/coding-taught-elementary-school/

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5 thoughts on “What are the compelling arguments both for and against computer coding in schools?

  1. I too know nothing about coding. I ask my son about it and he gave me a quick tutorial. After reading articles and viewing tutorials I think I now have a basis understanding. I looked up the website Scratch https://scratch.mit.edu/ . I messed around for over an hour stacking code in different patterns to make the cartoon characters bounce around and make noises. It was kinda fun but very time absorbing. I can see how kids to get addicted to this.
    The way I am seeing the kid apps for coding set up I would probably make them an option at the tech table.

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    • I have also played a little on Scratch. It does take a lot of time. I agree that kids find it a lot of fun. I think having a tech table is a great idea. I’m also interested in adding coding apps to the iPod touches we have in our classroom. I can also put it on the classroom iPad. I wish I thought that coding was fun instead of just frustrating. It would make my life easier. However, I did learn some basic commands in my college class that I still know how to use today, so that is a plus. Maybe I should hit up my nieces and nephew and see if they can help me.

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  2. I appreciate that coding (and auto-mechanics) come as difficult subjects to you. Luckily, I am able to point out that neither subject is better suited for any gender, although unfortunately we as a culture still socialize our children into seeing such subjects as something males do better than females. At a young age, students know just about as much about auto-mechanics as coding. That is – nothing. Coding is hard for both genders as the years advance. No one tells anyone how to program in most cases until they reach “Computer Science 101” where they get spoon fed things like “for loops” for the first time. Fortunately while computer science is very hard to learn, and not likely you have time to do organizations like like Hour of Code and W3Schools ( http://www.w3schools.com/ ) have done the work for you. Places like Hour of Code understand that there are almost no teachers able to provide students with the resources they need to develop essential skills by learning to code. Therefore it is my suggestion that you simply complete the tutorials the Hour of Code provides before having your students use Hour of Code themselves. Sure you may not understand what your student means by “my for loop isn’t working” if coding is truly a hard subject for you, but that’s okay! Simply ask the student why do they think it isn’t working, ask them what have they tried to fix it, and ask them to go through the video again and see what the person in the video did differently. The worst thing you can do, in fact, is explain exactly why their code isn’t working and fix it for them. You are teaching coding to teach problem solving, meaning it’s your goal to teach your students how to solve their problems themselves. Luckily for you, problem solving has nothing to do with coding and is exactly what you need to know in order to facilitate students learning from online materials. As a teacher, you have to solve problems every day, whether it be how to seat students so that they are not distracting each other, or deciding how to cover your subject area best.

    By the way I’m a young developer asked to read and respond to these blogs.

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  3. Don’t say you felt stupid. You were frustrated because you didn’t have prior knowledge. I was the same way in a computer science class. I felt like the only one that was lost. I too dropped the class and never took another. I realized later that most people felt the same because the teacher was an idiot. What everyone is talking about here, in my opinion, is not coding. Coding is the actual language of the code (C++). Clicking things together is not actually coding, it is using someones code to create something. The actual task of coding needs to be taught by someone with experience, not a weekend warrior that watches youtube. I don’t want to try to teach it to eight year olds, I want to teach them other things, things they need to survive in the world they live in at eight years old.

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  4. I am new to coding too. In high school I never took auto shop because I did not feel that I would be successful, I had a fixed mindset. This has been the case with computers as well. It often seems that everyone around me is very techie and try to explain things as if I should already know. It seems to me that teaching coding in elementary school would be beneficial to students if the majority of the future jobs will have to do with computer science. In order for this to happen teachers will need to learn coding as well. I played around on the Tynker Games site and found that it could be fun for kids. Things to think about are when do we teach coding and how often? I do not have a technology cart at my school and access to the computer lab is very limited. I guess if coding was made part of the curriculum some things would have to change.

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