By Dr. Ramiro Zuniga, Ed.D.
(Part 1 of 2)
I have recently seen a resurgence of an idea that first surfaced in education during the 1960s. As with most ideas found in education, the root is generally based on the desire to improve student learning. I think we all can agree that this is a good thing.
The idea that I am referring to is the desire to teach students how to write computer programs. In Part 1 of this post, I will discuss the beliefs behind this idea and provide a brief glimpse into its origins. In Part 2, I will discuss my perspective on this idea.
Although the premise of this recycled concept is the same as in the past, some of the terminology has been modified. This is generally the case with all recycled ideas. The most notable change in terminology is that computer programming is now referred to as “coding.” What has not changed is the desire to have every student learn how to program.
Again, teaching students how to program, or code, is not new. This idea began with the creation and use of two computer languages—Logo and BASIC. Logo was developed by Seymour Papert. BASIC was developed by John Kennedy and Thomas Kurtz. These languages were designed for use by students and designed to be simple to learn. The supporters of this idea have suggested that it is best to teach computer programming to students at the elementary grade levels.
The two most common justifications used today are the same as in the past. First, it is believed that learning how to write computer programs will develop higher-order thinking. It is, thus, this higher-order thinking that will lead to the development of better problem-solving skills. Second, it is believed that teaching students to write computer programs will prepare them for the jobs of the future.
Programming is, without a doubt, a very logical process. Simplified programing requires looking at a problem, imagining a solution, and writing a program to carry out the solution. Of course, the process is much more detailed and includes breaking down the problem to develop a thorough understanding of it. The writing of the computer program consists of writing specific instructions that allow a computer to complete a task. It is believed that this continued analysis leads to the higher-level thinking that all educators seek to inspire in each of their students. There is a certain element of truth in this belief.
With technology seemingly piercing every nook and cranny of our existence, there is also some credibility in the belief that learning how to program will prepare students for future jobs, many of which do not exist today.
Today, we find a variety of methods by which to carry out this idea. To some, the idea is to introduce students to computer programming by having them spend one hour creating a simple program. Others try to accomplish the same over the span of one day. Then you have those who want computer programming to become a part of every student’s instructional program.
Although I think it is always our mission to find the avenues for continued and improved learning, I don’t think this idea is the proverbial “silver bullet.” I think everyone can appreciate the intention of this particular idea, but as many ideas go, the idea falls short of the long-range goal.
(Continued in Part 2)