Do you remember this commercial?
When it came out a few years ago it caused quite a stir because it laid bare the dramatic changes to reality that the advertising industry was causing. It brought to light how “Photoshopped” images were. I remember showing this in my classroom and watching the shocked and amazed faces of my students.
More interesting, I used this in my classroom as the basis of a number of projects. We made our own images and photoshopped the heck out of them, producing pictures that in many ways had no connection to reality.
But I had a larger purpose behind this. I wanted to dispel the magic behind these types of ads which can do so much damage to kids. I thought that if I could teach kids to make pictures like these of their own, it would allow them to see behind these ads and be more critical of what they were viewing.
By and large, I am glad to say that this worked. It led to conversations between students where they questioned and wondered about the reality behind the images they were consuming.
This same argument applies to teaching kids how to code.
I used to argue against teaching coding. I used to argue that I wasn’t interested in teaching kids how to make lights blink.
My mind is changing on this issue. But it’s not changing because I want to turn every kid into a computer programmer. It’s changing because I want to dispel the magic that happens every time a student clicks a button or uses a new website or web service. Right now, for most of them, when they click their mouse to open a new web service, magic happens. They have no idea how the service works or why it happens. They simply know it works.
I no longer believe this is enough.
I don’t know how to make or design a car. I don’t know how to completely rebuild the engine in my truck. But I do know how to change my oil, change a tire or a belt. While I don’t know the entire process or designing and building a vehicle, I do know many of the basics. This is the same argument that I am applying to coding. I don’t believe that every student needs to be a full blown hardcore coder, I do think that they should have some information about how all of this works. We don’t just teach kids to read books, but we give them the skills to write their own.
We are intense users of technology and our students are often even more so. Yet most of them (and us for that matter) have little idea how all of this stuff works. As I heard a comedian say one time. “If I dropped you off in the bush with just an axe, how long would it be until you could send me an email?”
This is why initiatives like Raspberry Pi and Scratch are important. This is why Estonia is teaching first graders to code.
It’s technology …. not magic. We need to break through these barriers. And I’m not sure in North America if this is even on our radar.