A lot of people say, “coding is just a fad, not everyone has to be a computer programmer,” and they are right. Many of us are guilty in referring to coding as being a necessary skill. I am not saying that I want to walk that statement back, but it is important to provide a refined explanation of how the skill of coding plays into a larger understanding of the field of computer science.
Coding is a way for learners to become engaged in the larger subject of Computer Science, which is the subject we really need them to know.
While I will agree that we don’t need every student to be a computer programmer, but from an educational perspective I wouldn’t mind every student learning how to code.
Coding does many things for a learner:
- Provides yet another opportunity for creativity
- Creates an environment that fosters the understanding of the importance of iteration through trial, feedback, and correction
- Encourages analysis of procedures to reflect on the outcome, ensuring it is in line with the desired goal.
- Engages students in a field that governs and oversees much of what we do.
The Gateway to a Larger World
In the list above, number four resonates with me (as a teacher) as the most important feature. This engagement in a procedure that connects with the platforms of our lives, creates an essential learning opportunity.
The image above strikes all to close to home for many adults. The questions always arise, “why didn’t they teach us about finances…” or “knowing how to invest would have been way more useful than (insert subject you hated here).”
To me, the question of our current generation will be… “Why didn’t they teach us how the internet works?”
Without getting too caught up in the numbers, most of us can admit to spending a fair amount online for one reason or another. Unfortunately, I am not sure that “most of us” really know how the internet works, even though our data (personal, private, monetary, social, and who knows what else) is a part of every search, like, or comment.
This is where a course in Computer Science would demystify much of the foundational complexities of this environment, and coding is the first foray many people take into the CS world.
To wrap up this idea, coding is a great idea, but the better idea is to feed on the enthusiasm of the introductory activity and stretch that into a goal of a deeper understanding of the entire subject area with courses in CS.
Why do we need to learn more than coding?
A fair argument as to how Computer Science will be different than any other perceived “useless” subject area is something that needs to be made.
From a strictly pragmatic perspective, for the amount of time we spend in the digital world, it is only appropriate that we provide an opportunity for students to understand how that world works. From a certain perspective it can be considered the “biology” of the technology world… “what are the essential elements and systems that allow the digital world to exist?”
Frankly, many of our students will spend more time in the digital world than in the “biological” world. I’m not saying whether this is good or back, but some students would be better served to know how bits and bytes are associated with data than xylem and phloem are associated with plants.
Action Items for Schools and Teachers
As a current computer science teacher, you could say that I am biased; however, just so that everyone knows… I became a CS teacher originally through my interest in programming, which led to a desire to know more about the world I was beginning to explore.
I taught all the traditional science courses (biology, chemistry, and physics), but found the value in offering a Computer Science class as an optional part of a students educational journey.
Adding a course out of nowhere at your school is not the right approach. I would encourage you to get a gauge on the interest level at your school and possibly even drum up interest by starting with doing the Hour of Code provided by Code.org.
From here, in conjunction with discussions with curriculum directors or administrators, a decision can be made on adding a CS course at your school.
To wrap things up, I do agree that not everyone needs to be a computer programmer, but the more of us that understand the digital world, the better we can be informed digital citizens.
My name is Andrew Julian and I am a teacher of science, computer science, and technology. I have a passion for considering how technology can positively impact a classroom and the education of all students.
Check out my website at andrewjohnjulian.com for more information.
For more about my classroom instruction or my foray into AR/VR development, you can read my Medium articles, a few of which are found below. Thanks!