Wednesday, January 15, 2014

More on Kids and Computer Science

Ok, so last week I was talking about Max's new found love of circuitry, and mentioned teaching computer science to kids. I thought I'd come back to that today.
Max doing some Computer Science while the bunnies play
So what do I mean? Do I plan on sitting kindergartners down in front of a computer and teaching them C++? Well, no. That would be a little silly. But computer science is more than just programming and programming is more than just writing code. There are great reasons to get kids started early and you can do it without gluing their eyeballs to a screen.

What is Computer Science?
The fabulous folks at Wikipedia call computer science "the scientific and practical approach to computation and its applications." I love that definition because I find it both to the point and delightfully vague. Computer science (CS) is not just programming computers. Much like the scientific method is a thought process, not just the act of doing experiments, CS is an approach and style, not just the act of programming. 

The truth is, CS is hard to define for me, because it's so ubiquitous. You know some CS. When you do a Google search you're using it. When you're planning out an efficient route for your errands, explaining consequences to your kid, or organizing your photos, you're using computer science. Sure, real study of CS is going to require a computer at some point, and you'll write programs too. But we need to move past the vision of CS as something that only happens at a computer terminal by highly technical geeks. CS is for everyone. 

Where is Computer Science?
Oh, man. It's everywhere! Sure, it's in your computer, but that's too easy an answer. It's also in your phone, your car, your doctor's office, the traffic lights, TV shows, music, art, sports, and your school. Every social media page, website, shopping portal, news feed, and, yes, blog, is backed by CS. It's even in your coffee maker and thermostat. All these things are controlled or directed by CS. Then sure, we can add computers, printers, software, video games, cameras, scanners, etc. to the mix as well. These days it can be harder to find things without CS connections!

Why Should Kids Learn Computer Science?
Did you see how I said it was everywhere? To me, that's reason number one. Let's face it, computers aren't going anywhere. Now, they may look very different by the time our kids grow up (I'd be surprised if they didn't!) After all, if you took an iPhone back to when I was a kid, you could probably claim sorcerous powers. Between quantum computers and the internet of things, the face of computing is changing right in front of us. We've also been through a lot of computer languages in the last 40 years. Who knows what language the coding of the future will be in? But the underlying thought process and methods are what really make up CS and will translate to whatever our kids are using decades from now. 

Whatever Max ends up wanting to do, I bet he'll need some CS background. Seriously, it's hard to find a profession these days that doesn't either require or encourage some CS knowledge. So, if we know that they will need it later, why not start young? We all know how fast kids pick things up, and CS is no exception. We shouldn't be waiting until college to get them started on subjects they will so clearly need. I'm not saying every little kid needs to be an expert programmer by age 8, but exposure is key. They need early and often introduction so it's not some geeks-only subject that they couldn't possibly understand or enjoy; it's just another important tool like math, science, reading, and writing. Plus, and here's the best part, computer science can be really fun. It's what we use to build games, after all. Talk about a subject tailor-made to be enjoyable! 

And here's some facts...
I very much enjoyed doing the Hour of Code with some of my students last month. This was an event promoted by Code.org and it was great. It's a movement to get kids (and adults!) to try CS. Even just for an hour. You can do it too! They address better than I did why this is important and I encourage you to check out their site. Here's a few of their facts to whet your appetite:

  • By 2020 the US will have 1.4 million new Computer Science jobs, but only 400,000 new Computer Science graduates. That's 1,000,000 person gap!
  • Those unclaimed jobs will account for $500 billion dollars in wages. Yes, billion. With a B. 
  • 67% of CS jobs are not in the tech sector - this means using CS in other fields
  • CS is the fastest growing field, but less that 2.4% of college graduates get a degree in CS
  • Women in particular are missing out: they now account for 57% of Bachelors degrees, but only 12% of CS degrees
  • 9 out of 10 schools don't offer computer programming
  • The majority of states don't even count CS classes toward High School Graduation requirements



Alright, clearly this is a subject near and dear to my heart. We need to get past the conception of CS as something hard, or only for geeks, or only for boys. All our kids need some exposure to it. Now, I'm not saying we need to get silly here. Kids need to do art, play, get dirty, and run around. They need activities and toys that connect them to nature and the earth and other people. But they also need activities that get them ready for the world. Sometimes that means reading, sometimes math games, sometimes messy science experiments, and sometimes learning some early computer science. I'll be back with ideas of how to do that. 

TTFN!
Cady

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