To Code or Not to Code: That is the If-Then-Else

Credit: Fox

Credit: Fox

 This is the key to a new order. This code disk means freedom. – Tron

There has been a lot of interest and talk lately in teaching children to code in school.  One only needs to look at the recent push from Computer Science Education Week and the “Hour of Code” to realize that the topic of coding is something that has garnered much interest in the education and business world. I’d like to examine the phenomenon in more detail.  First, I’d like to provide a little of my history to help you better understand where I’m coming from in this quandary.

Greetings, Programs!

It was 1982 (too bad it wasn’t 1984 or this would be an even bigger nerd post) and I had just witnessed  a cinematic work of genius called “Tron.”  I was immediately immersed into the world of computer programs, programming language, and imagery that inspired a lifelong love of computers and programming.  I was only six years old (a first grade student) but I was ready to learn more.  A lifetime of chronic asthma had already ensured that any sports were well out of the question for me.  My father loved computers and I remember having a Commodore 64 hooked up to our television.

Over the next 10 + years I didn’t really go for any of the typical things that young boys are supposed to go for, instead I logged onto BBS systems, had handles, worked as a sysop, squelched users, went to GWBASIC classes with my dad, taught myself HTML and designed my own web pages, Learned Joomla, WordPress, and PHP, became a Technology Coordinator and teacher, lets just say that I’m a huge proponent and user of technology and that most of what I’ve learned has been self taught. You would think that I’d be a huge proponent of this Coding movement… but I have a confession… I’m on the fence.

There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

Okay, so just about everyone I know is talking about the merits of learning coding. Bill Gates, Code Academy, veteran teachers, hipster teachers (cringe), parents etc. But I have to wonder is Coding as they have attempted to introduce it worth its salt?

Here is the major problem I have with this initiative.  We have a bunch of students, we participate in Computer Science Education Week, and we have our students participate in the hour of code.  Okay, this is great, right? Kids have been shown the backdoor to the underpinnings of the internet, computer programs, iPad apps, etc.   They now have exposure to the “real world” in which they live. But where is the continuation of this initiative in the classroom?  I’m sure Hamlet would identify this as the rub. For all of you teachers that have participated in the Hour of Code, how many of you have continued to teach coding? Has it found its way into your daily conversations, lessons, or other learning opportunities?  I’m willing to bet that for most it has not.

If you are one who has managed to continue, I highly applaud you and I want to hear from you! Please share with the rest of the educational community how you have done this.  What I have observed from school to school is that there was a lot of hype about it and now it is woefully forgotten.  If this is the case, then it was a waste of an hour. It took time away from instructional minutes to help these students master the skills they will need in the future.  I’m not so blind as to say coding isn’t a necessary skill, I just think an hour of introduction is a waste and that we should dedicate more time to coding.

When I was a technology coordinator the term had very loose definitions.  Some were nothing more than glorified babysitters that taught typing.  I actually developed a curriculum of and about technology.  I taught coding as a yearlong course.  We used Scratch to develop our own programs.  My 8th grade students created their own webpages using only a text editor (no dreamweaver here).  I believed in the fact that they could learn but also understood that they needed to consistently hone this skill.  An hour is not enough time to help these students do much other than develop an awareness of coding. If this is the mission, fine. Mission accomplished. But I’d rather spend that hour helping a student that is reading below grade level work toward better fluency.

I’d like an honest response from the community.  How many of you that took part in the Hour of Code and are still teaching coding? Lets hold up the mirror and say, was this worth it, and if so, why?

I great article by Sean Blanda is on 99u.com and can be found here:You Don’t need to learn to code + other truths about the future of careers.  My take away is that “The smartest workers will be able to leverage technology to their advantage and be able to recognize the big-picture ways to utilize it.” But what does that mean? Well, let me try to put this into perspective.  I have no idea what takes place to really make most of my automobile operational. However, I know how to use it.  Should I learn how to be a mechanic? No. I only need to know how to effectively utilize the technology to get what I need from it.  I need to leverage this knowledge to the best of my ability.  I know a little about autos, but not enough to fix them. Should I take an hour of auto repair and expect to be better off?  Maybe, but I’d much rather have a year of instruction that is interwoven throughout my ELA, Math, Science, SS, etc. How much better off would I be if I had actually spent this amount of time on the topic.

I know I’m usually the one to push for change.  After all, this is Revogogy right? But I think that the change that we have witnessed is too little to amount to much good. I don’t want an hour of code; I want a year of code or more. Lets step up and make this a reality. Lets make it work within our Common Core curriculum. Why start small? Lets dream big and make a real difference.

End of Line

So that’s it. Its my rant, my angry shaking fist to the universe.  Let us do more than just an hour of something.  Lets stop falling for these novelty movements. I’m sure I’ll get some hate mail on this. There will be pushback. But honestly, lets do more. Even if you don’t agree with my statements I think you would agree that we should do more than we currently are doing.

After all, if you apply actual coding to the picture above of the Home Sweet Home, you’ll notice its an infinite loop. Its not accurate. If it were in basic it is missing some key components.  “print” should be in the code lines. I’m a major nerd but if you’ve only had an hour of learning would you catch that? Or is the gist that it means home sweet home (non-infinite loop) enough for the average person to know?

Please share your thoughts on this topic. I’d love to hear the pros and cons (just be civil okay?) I admire intellectual discourse to a heated tear down.  Also, I’m beginning at times to feel that I’m talking to myself on this blog. I value comments and others can learn from your insight. So, please leave a comment. I welcome your thoughts and the I/O it will create on this blog.

Cutting the Noose- Liberating Teachers’ from the Shackles of I.T. Opression


Photo credit,Ѕolo

Traditional approaches, The Noose

I often write about technologies that can help educators be more effective in the classroom.  However, I’ve rarely taken the opportunity to speak directly to my compatriots in the Information Technology [IT] field of education. Tonight, I woke from a sound sleep and felt compelled to let loose some thoughts. It is my hope that they encourage constructive dialogue and intellectual reflection. I tend to have strong opinions when it comes to technology and how best to implement it in education.  I believe in empowering educators to make the most of the technology at their fingertips.  Few would argue that a teacher should be restricted in their ability to make the most of their resources to help students learn.  Yet, I find that the traditional IT approach has been to lock down computers, restrict installation of new software, and to block URLs behind firewalls that treat our teachers as if they were incapable of making good decisions about their use of technology.

I was born in an interesting time. I remember learning to type on a typewriter, yes with those hard-to-push keys that made your little fingers ache for hours. I also remember the first time computers were brought into the classroom… Oregon Trail any one? I grew up, not playing sports, but attending night classes with my father to learn how to program in GW BASIC on our commodore 64.  I lived during the time of the BBS (bulletin board systems) when a 300BPS modem could take an entire night to download a game or photo. I remember resisting the Internet and thinking that the BBS system would hold its own and my slow conversion to embracing the Internet. Self-taught HTML was a fun pastime. I offer you these memories, because I want you to know where I come from. I don’t believe there is a digital native or a digital immigrant. There are simply those willing to try to learn technology and those who aren’t. With the rate of technological advances, wouldn’t we all be considered immigrants anyway?

My background has afforded me the opportunity to work with many people in IT (not just in the education field). I’ve been known to bypass networks, crack a WEP key or two in order to test the security of my home network, I know the reasons for security in technology (especially in education).  However, the traditional business world approach to IT has been to lock down systems so tight that the IT person can easily diagnose problems, solve them, and put little effort into tracking down what may have gone wrong.   This approach may work well for the business world, however, in education, it tightens the noose around teachers’ necks. The ubiquitous image of the IT professional (portrayed well on Saturday Night Live) as a person in a white shirt who looks at a screen and tells the person having difficulty to “MOVE” so that he may quickly enter two commands that fixes the problem is prevalent among most business IT professionals.  How then do we (IT professionals in education) make a difference?

Turning IT Upside Down

I argue that we need to turn IT on its head. That means we don’t lock down our teachers’ computers so tight that they cannot pull up a useful video from YouTube that would enhance their students’ learning. We shouldn’t lock down their systems so that they can’t install new software that may, in fact, make them more productive.  I know the arguments… If a teacher installs software it may compromise their systemBlocking sites like YouTube is important so that teachers don’t waste time with useless videos…  These arguments may work for the traditional IT person who wants to maintain strict control over all technology within his or her domain, however in the realm of education it only tightens the noose and, just like the way the cell phone companies have throttled their bandwidth, we too essentially restrict our fellow educators’ ability to teach. I also argue that sites like YouTube can be extremely useful to students as long as policies and monitoring is put in place to ensure the protection of our students and that the work they perform is of educational value.

The key is to ensure that we empower our teachers.  Will they make mistakes? I’m sure of it; after all, we do as well. However, these mistakes are valuable learning experiences and training our teachers in the use and implementation of technology can mitigate mistakes. Taking the time to work with our teachers instead of pushing them aside and solving the problems for them like a magician in an ivory tower will help them to make wise decisions.  I challenge my fellow education IT colleagues to cut the noose from around our teachers’ necks. Yes, this may mean you’ll have to format someone’s hard drive at some point and reinstall the OS etc. There will be headaches; there will be challenges. However, I believe that the true spirit of the IT professional is one that loves a challenge.  Those of us who have the knowledge to bypass firewalls and utilize systems despite the noose that others attempted to place around our necks know that there is liberation in being able to make our own decisions about how to improve our productivity.  We owe it to our teachers to do the same.  After all, the end result is that our students will improve their learning because we took a chance on helping our educators understand and responsibly use the technology we give them

As always I welcome your comments and thoughts…