Barcamp MediaCity – Should Programming Be Taught In School?

At the Barcamp MediaCity event, a fair proportion of the talks considered the teaching of computing and programming in schools. Adam D King and Sam Starling, who have recently graduated in computer science, planned a talk entitled “Should Programming be taught in schools?”

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Although the room allocated for the talk could only seat 20, the room was packed with many barcampers having to stand or sit on the floor. All of the barcamp talks were allowed 20 minutes, with a 10 minute break between talks. Adam and Sam’s talk lasted much longer than the prescribed time, and could possibly have lasted another half hour – such was the level of interest and debate.

Should kids learn programming in school?

This talk preceded the BBC CodeLab talk which I presented afterwards. I feel one of the reasons why the BBC CodeLab talk (which followed) was so well attended was because Adam and Sam had clearly provoked a lot of interest in the topic.

It was powerful to hear two recent graduates argue quite clearly their opinions that we should TEACH COMPUTING in schools.

Please watch this video and listen to the arguments and counter arguments made. Different aspects of the discussion will resonate with different viewers. I would encourage you to share or tweet a part of the recorded discussion that you thought was particulary insightful. (At the specific time you wish to highlight, Right-Click (PC) or CTRL-Click (MAC) and select ‘Copy Video URL at Current Time’ then paste this URL into a tweet)

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Computing (Networks) in School

The next day, A Level student Jack Wearden who is a 17 year old student at a school not too far from MediacityUK presented a very confident talk on his school’s computer network. It was encouraging to hear someone so young, speak so clearly on an aspect of computing in school. Although the talk was not quite what I expected (I was expecting a talk on teaching computing in school), I was really glad I chose to attend Jack’s talk. I would not be surprised to meet Jack in 5 or 6 years time when he is leading his own successful technology enterprise.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Chris Monk says:

    Ok cannot resist a comment or two on ‘whether we should teach programming in schools’

    Sometimes I wonder what we would be saying if we were debating whether we should teach ‘writing’ instead of reading? Would we discuss this with so much emphasis on becoming a journalist or would we be more concerned in helping a young person develop a skill that he/she can use to express themselves, their ideas and have some fun with? Does it matter if they use this new skill to write their diary, an email to a friend, an xmas list or their first novel? We must focus first on developing skills that young people can use through informed choice and then you can develop pathways that a few might wish to follow to enter careers that would take advantage of that skill. Developing problem solving skills through programming can be a powerful outcome in support of a very wide range of careers, way beyond this narrow focus on developers and commercial programmers.

    Saying that ‘if we teach programming young people can build apps’ is like saying if we teach writing young people can make shopping lists! It is enough that a young person can write and develop intellectually and emotionally through acquiring and using the skill. The outcome to be celebrated isn’t the shopping list it is the capability to construct the list in your head and then deploy the skill of writing to manipulate your thoughts and ideas. The success is enabling a young person to make a choice – shall I write a shopping list today or a poem and knowing that they can do either well. I dont think programming is any different.

    I think programming is a literacy – it is a means to explore and express the solution to a problem and for me that’s enough of a reason to include it in the curriculum. I don’t really care what computer language is used and I don’t care whether the result is an app or a buggy moving across the floor; I want a child to have capability and choice. I happen to think the context and the quality of the teaching is more important than the tools or the practical outcome. Incidentally, the comments about the ‘boring’ use of wordprocessing and spreadsheets are unfair. They are simply tools that can be used imaginatively or not. I have seen some pretty boring ‘lessons’ using pen and paper – but do we abandon the pen? The child and learning are central to this and the quality of the teacher and the context is critical. Please don’t excuse poor teaching by blaming the tools – programming can be taught badly too! I was once a teacher of mathematics and I know that spreadsheets are ‘models’ that can be manipulated like programs. The spreadsheet is an amazing tool that can reflect very imaginative activity. Sadly they can be very boring in the hands of a poor teacher.

    In this debate we muddle what the curriculum should contain with the methodology we should use to deliver it. We focus too much on the tools and not on the teaching and learning. We confuse cognitive development with career choices. Over and over I hear people tell me how much they picked up programming through their own efforts rather than school. That isn’t an argument to demonise schools and demand change, it is evidence that knowledge could be acquired through means other than school – wow, that’s to be celebrated not condemned – why don’t we make use of this newly identified means of learning???

    Why don’t we put the ‘computing curriculum’ online and give learners the choice. Take the very best we have in the country – teachers, materials etc and put it all online. Schools well prepared to deliver computing might dip in and use the resources wisely, those schools struggling would have access to high quality support materials and some might wish to access the online materials independently. Let the UK be the first country in the world to put an entire ‘subject’ online and put the learner in control. Why don’t we think out of the box – it is after all ‘computing’ – so let us use the nature of the subject as a key part of the solution. Trying to solve this 2011 problem through the methodologies of the past few decades is so unimaginative and inefficient. Im so saddened to hear of solutions in terms of just new GCSEs, courses, CPD etc – too many old ideas being thrown at a new problem. The curriculum takes years to turn around; do we have the teachers with the knowledge and skills? Do we have the equipment, the curriculum time? Do we have the money?

    Deliver computing in a new way – a very new way, not ‘boxed’ like other subjects – make it something special, something new, something that is as creative in its delivery as it is in its content. Liberate the learner and the teacher. Make it so exciting in its delivery that all children will see it as ‘now’ and using the very same digital world they access every day – please not just another subject to do on a Friday afternoon.

    Lastly in defence of some teachers who are teaching ICT and doing an amazing job, exciting kids, developing their skills and knowledge and having a lot of fun. Im tired of the suggestion that all ICT teaching is boring. It simply isnt true for some but may be for many.

    Like

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