Archive for May 4, 2012

Blog Post #1000: The Magic of Time — about making beer and reform

I’ve taken up a new hobby: Making beer.  My kids got me a Mr Beer Kit for Christmas, and I’ve just bottled my second batch.  I enjoy how it connects me to an ancient practice.

It’s a slow-moving hobby that helps me understand a belief in magic.  You make up this brown gunk that smells odd, and a little powder (yeast), and let it sit for two weeks.  Taste it — it tastes like (flat) beer!  Put it in a bottle with sugar and let it sit again for a couple more weeks. It really is beer!  Sure, I’ve had biology classes, and I know what yeast is doing, but I’m not sure that I really understand it.  Am I really that different than the ancients who saw magic in the transformation of wort into beer?  I think I just have different gods (I call my special powder “yeast”) for explaining the magic of making beer.

The key to the process is time.  It takes a bunch of time to make beer.  Maybe an hour of effort to start the fermentation, two weeks of waiting. About 45 minutes of effort to bottle, and two weeks of waiting.

Parents know all about the magic of time.  My children range in age from mid-teens to twenties.  I remember them being born.  I remember dealing with day care and elementary school and Cub/Girl Scouts and soccer and dance classes.  Where did these smart, beautiful, and talented young adults come from?

This is my 1000th blog post here on WordPress.  It’s a relatively arbitrary milestone.  It doesn’t correspond to any particular piece of time.  This June will be my fourth year on WordPress, and I was on Amazon for a couple years before that.  It’s a good place to put a stake in the ground and explain what I’m doing here.

I believe passionately in the power of understanding computing and  using programming for all professions.  I am fascinated by computing education research, the study of how people come to understand computing, and how to improve that process.  I would like to see all professionals achieve a level of computing literacy. But I don’t really expect to see that in my lifetime.

How do we change/implement/improve computing education, permanently and effectively?  Slowly.

It took well over a hundred years for calculus to be taught to undergraduates, and another hundred years to be taught in secondary schools.  Want computing education to happen in high schools?  Require it or expect it for undergraduates.  Universities can show value by using programming across the curriculum, and expecting its use (in a deep, informed, literate way) by their students.  It’s going to take time to convince our colleagues in higher education that real computing, with programming, is useful for all undergraduates.  If we can’t, we’ll never convince all the high school teachers, principals, and administrators.  How can we say to secondary schools, “Oh, you should teach computing to everyone” but turn around and say, “But we don’t, and we don’t particularly care if our students can program”?  But if higher-education demonstrates that we value computing, we will create a model for secondary schools.  When all undergraduates learn computer science, it will appear in the high schools.

Along the way, we’ll change how we teach computing. We’ll understand how to do it better and what’s useful about learning it, and we’ll change and improve the languages and tools to better achieve the goals.  Computational thinking is a fine goal, and it’s on the path, but it’s not the final goal.  I really do mean programming in Amy Ko’s sense and for all the reasons that Alan Perlis said.  The ability to define processes for an insanely fast agent to execute sometime in the future does change everything.  Seymour Papert said it well when he called the computer an object to think with. In that same article, Seymour wrote:

“The computer is a medium of human expression and if it has not yet had its Shakespeares, its Michelangelos or its Einsteins, it will.”

When you have a tool for thought, the most powerful and creative “medium of human expression” that has ever been created, why would you not work towards everyone having access to it?

But it’s going to take a lot of time to see that level of adoption: in most undergraduate programs, in most high schools.  I completely expect it. One day.

There is a significant way in which achieving educational reform and parenting is different from making beer.  Making beer is a little effort and a lot of waiting.  Parenting and education reform are about sustained effort over long periods of time.  You get there by keep being there.

This is my 1000th blog post.  Monday starts the next 1000.

May 4, 2012 at 9:00 am 15 comments


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