Coding, The New Literacy
“Every era demands, and rewards different skills of that generation”….Samantha Jonas-Rongo
All of us, including our children are connected to technology unlike when we were kids. It’s now part of our lives and our young ones are born into it. Teaching them to code is like playing with LEGOS, which itself is a great introduction to the concept. They want to make things and making a Lego house and building an app or a game is about the same concepts.
In earlier generations, including today, parents including stepmoms such as myself, teach their children how to grow plants, cook meals, separate laundry correctly, iron clothes, wash dishes, take care of animals and plants, make their bed and take vitamins daily, brush and floss their teeth at least twice a day, wash hands, speak proper and respectfully, use manners, do their homework, study hard, enjoy reading read, write a story, shoot hoops, ride a bike, the list goes on and on.
Our world has morphed and so many of the things we once did with elements such as fire and iron, or tools such as pencil and paper, are now wrought in code. We are teaching coding to help our kids craft their future. Isn’t it amazing to see a baby or a toddler handle a tablet or a smart phone? They know how technology works vaguely already.
Kids absorb information so fast. Languages, spoken or coded, can be learned in a matter of months. Recently, there has been a surge of importance and poplularity emerging about teaching kids to code.
Programming is viewed as a strict logical stream only available to the brainiest. In fact, coding is within the grasp of everyone. It teaches creativity, strategy, solving puzzles, and even cooperation. I want to expose not only my stepson to coding, but hope that other parents understand the importance of programming because it’s a great skill and a powerful way of thinking.
As much as kids spend enough time playing Angry Birds and Cut the Rope on a smart phone, I figure they should get a peek behind the curtain at how the programming works. In fact, developing the codes that tell computers and devices what to do is now a vital mainstream skill. With that being said, everyone should learn to code in my opinion, but something’s getting lost in translation between technologists and parents of students around the country.
Let’s get this out of the way: Not everyone needs to learn how to code. Coding is just one part of the constantly evolving technological landscape. It produces all computer programs, from games to social media sites and online calculators. Some experts call it “the new literacy” and say that to survive in tomorrow’s society, young people must learn to code.
There’s a big difference between learning how to code and having a fundamental understanding of how technology and software operate. Of the two, the latter is way more important for some people including myself, while many in the U.S. don’t understand the tools and software they’re using and are settling for just knowing how to function the program.
“The cloud” is still one of those misunderstood technical terms that gets thrown around far too often, and yet people don’t understand what it means. Even CNN couldn’t educate their viewers appropriately about where and how data is stored in cloud services like iCloud.
I believe that offering programming electives for students who want to learn Python or scripting won’t solve the underlying problem of digital illiteracy alone. In order to teach all students to code, schools will first need to introduce computer-science concepts that help students learn how to stack the building blocks themselves.
Also, digital literacy won’t be a part of a students’ required curriculum until parents acknowledge it’s presence, understand its meaning and importance, and thus demand, that their children be taught it. Parents need to realize that this is an intellectual gap in the elementary school curriculum that’s going to be useful no matter what their kids are going to do in the future.
They don’t need to learn how to build the next Dropbox or Facebook, but they should understand how the cloud works at least. Instead of just knowing “its a storage space on the web for your stuff”, or something related to that, they should know the fundamentals and meaning behind it. For students with access to more advanced technology, dovetailing computer science concepts with courses that students are already studying can benefit both subjects.
Bootstrap, for instance, teaches students programming concepts by using algebra and geometry to create a video game. The materials are open source, and math teachers of students aged 8 to 13 can download and introduce Bootstrap to the classroom, but finding and enabling qualified instructors to teach concepts of technology and computer science can be difficult.
The “learn to code,” movement has almost as many skeptics as supporters—in part because coding, and understanding how coding works, are two very different things. When you understand how things work, it changes your perception of the world, and the Internet is not this thing that’s separate from you any more. You can be part of it.
Coding, that’s the future. Many creative professionals are going to need to know how to do the technical stuff. Even if you or your child are not planning to become a programmer or developer, knowing and understanding computer code can enhance resumes and help careers.
So how do you, yourself become code literate? Learning computer languages has been compared to studying foreign languages, so a lot depends on your style of learning. Some people prefer working independently at their own speed, so online programs such as Codecademy, Codagogy, or Code Avengers work best. Others may learn better in traditional classroom settings. An array of meetup groups can also help newbies get coding.
As a parent with the knowledge and understanding of coding and having the capability to code, helping teach your child learn those same skills and matters is much easier. If our children can learn how to abbreviate their text, text with emoticon, they can learn the fundamentals behind their device and its programming.