Kids should learn programming as well as reading and writing – Mitch Resnick

January 28, 2013 at 2:00 am 10 comments

A recommended video from Mitch Resnick, who leads the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, the home of Scratch.

Most people view computer coding as a narrow technical skill. Not Mitch Resnick. He argues that the ability to code, like the ability to read and write, is becoming essential for full participation in today’s society. And he demonstrates how Scratch programming software from the MIT Media Lab makes coding accessible and appealing to everyone — from elementary-school children to his 83-year-old mom.

As director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, Mitch Resnick designs new technologies that, in the spirit of the blocks and finger paint of kindergarten, engage people of all ages in creative learning experiences.

via Kids should learn programming as well as reading and writing – Boing Boing.

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. David Wees  |  January 28, 2013 at 2:07 am

    I’m working on it. 🙂

  • 2. Mike Byrne  |  January 28, 2013 at 2:41 am

    You keep beating this “everybody should program” drum. I still don’t buy it. Everybody should play an instrument. Everybody should learn basic probability and statistics. Everybody should study film. Everybody should get the skills of a mechanic. Everybody should learn linguistics. A case can be made for so many things, and I think there are many things that should be in line in front of programming.

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  January 28, 2013 at 10:40 am

      First, please note that I was quoting Mitchel’s talk and copying his title in this post. While I do beat that drum a lot, I was merely pointing out another drummer here.

      I’m okay with you not buying it. I’m sure that I’m not making the case well yet, but even if you (and everyone else) agreed, we couldn’t do it yet. We don’t know how.

      I do think that there are several subgoals that you and I could agree on, that help us in getting closer to the “everyone” goal and help us understand how to do it.

      • For example, I bet you would agree that there is too little computer science in high schools today (<10% of all US high schools have CS today). That's a problem on lots of levels: students don't get access to computing to understand their world (similar goals as having kids take any kind of science), minority students don't get the opportunity to discover computing and get a chance at the deeper end of the economic pool, and we want students to correct their misperceptions of what CS is. To achieve this goal, we have to figure out how to teach high school teachers about computer science and figure out what CS makes sense in a high school context.
      • I bet you would also agree that most scientists and engineers need to learn to program, just to have that toolset available. That requires us to figure out how to teach CS not for software engineering.
      • Meanwhile, as long as some schools require CS for everyone (like Georgia Tech), we can continue to figure out how to teach it and where it’s useful to liberal arts, business, and architecture majors.
      • Just the above agenda will probably take longer than my lifetime. The next generation can worry about “everyone.” But that’s still the longterm goal for me.

      • 4. Mike Byrne  |  January 30, 2013 at 4:17 pm

        Actually, no, I don’t agree with all of your subgoals. 2 and 3 I’m fine with but I’m not sold on #1. To quote myself from two years ago on this very blog:

        “There are a great many university subjects that are not (usually) taught in K-12: linguistics, chemical engineering, philosophy, probability and statistics, neuroscience, anthropology, computer science, psychology, architecture, women’s studies, astronomy, art history, materials science, etc, etc, etc. …” and “Arguments like ‘people have misconceptions about what computer science is’ seem like incredibly weak tea here. Most K-12 students have equally strong, if not stronger, misconceptions about many of the subjects on that list. (As a psychologist who isn’t a clinician, I have very high confidence in that claim.) People not understanding a discipline doesn’t make it a K-12 priority.”

        I don’t see the compelling argument for why CS should get special treatment ahead of all these other subjects, especially when K-12 budgets are under so much pressure and qualified CS instructors are hard to come by, and therefore expensive.

        “Understanding their world?” I’d argue that understanding probability and statistics is FAR more important in “understanding our world” than is computing. (Not that computing is unimportant, mind you, just that I don’t think it gets to the front of the list on that basis.)

        I’m also not sold on the vocational argument. Why not teach plumbing in K-12? Lots of good jobs there that pay well, with a lower barrier for entry. I bet the expected value of K-12 vocational training in plumbing is higher than for CS, and costs less to teach.

        Note that Im not arguing that we shouldn’t teach CS in K-12, I’m just saying that there are lots of other things we could be teaching in K-12, too, and I don’t see CS as the highest-priority need on that list. Would it be great if more high school students had some CS training? Sure. Is it more important than everything else they don’t get in high school? I don’t think so.

        • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  January 30, 2013 at 5:27 pm

          I completely agree that probability and statistics needs to be in K-12. I am not making a case for prioritization. I don’t believe that I have the right background to make the either-or argument. I do think you’d agree that it is useful to have CS in high schools, not necessarily as the most important thing, but one of the important things. And I’m not arguing for a requirement here — I’m arguing for access. Right now, we have too few teachers to provide access. Sure, let’s make sure that plumbing instruction is available too, but I suspect that we don’t need that many new plumbers, and we need far more people to know about computing.

          • 6. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  January 31, 2013 at 2:35 am

            Based on supply and demand around here (and number of unemployed in each profession), I think we need more new plumbers than more new programmers.

  • 7. tadwiggins  |  January 28, 2013 at 5:24 am

    I think kids can grasp more than we do, so would be great to make them learn programming, implementing this thing will introduce software developer with more knowledge than what we have now.

  • 8. Bonnie  |  January 29, 2013 at 9:00 am

    Why shouldn’t scientists and engineers learn CS as software engineering? Many of those science majors will end up writing large amounts of code in their future careers, and need to know how to develop systems in a rigorous, engineered fashion. Wall Street employs many physics PhDs, who all end up writing code. They are valued for their quantitative skills, but at the same time, it is well known that they write the WORST possible code, mainly because they were never taught how to design large software systems. Those systems live on and cause problems for many years.

    Scientists are also developing many research software systems that are handed out to the world via open source. Those systems are used by many people and exist for many years. How can one trust a complex bioinformatics system that has never been adequately tested? Yet the developers, having never been trained in software engineering methods, know nothing of systematic testing.

    Something posted on gasstationwithoutpump’s blog a while back really made my mind start percolating. We need to develop software engineering methods, particularly testing strategies, that work for research-oriented scientific software systems. I think that is a largely unmet need these days.

  • […] as literacy — a way of expressing and notating thought.  I’ve also argued about the value of computer science as science — insight into how the world we inhabit works.  This part of the essay is saying something […]

  • […] I expect Mike Byrne (and other readers who push back in interesting ways on my “Computing for Everyone&…, and there may be a greater cost for not understanding those topics.  I agree, but I am even […]


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