Should All Students Learn to Code?

This is a new video circulating out in the Internet world.  You'll recognize many of the faces in it.

Look, I'm married to someone who knows how to program (and teaches computer science).  He did a stint at Google and yes, it's an exceptional work environment (free food - for both you and your dog - free snacks, massage chairs, games - it's a swell place to work).   But I would also gently point out that not everyone is cut out to be a programmer and many of the people in computer science have what I might gently call "communication issues."  Sometimes people are drawn to certain jobs based on their personalities.

Yes, learning to program does bring together a lot of elements in the brain.   I think it might be good to have an elective class in every high school for programming.  But not everyone is going to have to program to have a job.

Do I think it should be a core item to teach?  I do not. 

I sense some arrogance in this video about who the new "wizards" of the world are.  I can only say, from my own viewpoint, that I believe the ability to write and communicate are far more important. 

One speaker talks about creating an idea and sending it out into the world.  That could also be called writing and it's been with us for centuries. 

(I also had to laugh at Mark Zuckerberg talking about creating something that billions of people use every day and you can make lots of money.  Well, not everyone. The highway littered with failed start-ups shows us that.  Also, Zuckerberg didn't start Facebook with any intention of creating a company - he wanted to meet girls and be the big man on campus.)

But maybe I'm just too old-school. 

I hope some of  you watch this video and tell me what you think. 


alxdark said…
All students should be exposed to some aspect of the STEM industries, and here in the Puget Sound Region, the "T" largely includes software and programming. This is an industry that is local, pays well, and there is good demand for software engineers. It is certainly a better field to expose students to than a few other occupational programs I have seen in the district. As a practice, it also teaches specific kinds of critical thinking skills that are useful beyond programming itself.

I also take offense to the idea that there's a dichotomy between good communication and writing skills, and programming. All knowledge workers should have good communication skills; many don't, in many fields (not just programming), but that doesn't mean that the district can't work to teach students to write, communicate, and program.

I am depressed that in our district, in an area with such an active technology industry, "computer skills" often means nothing more than using PowerPoint or Word. I had a programming class in third grade in the Bay Area, and obviously, it had a large impact on the course of my life. I don't see anything like that in our district.
Anonymous said…
So as part of the science class all freshman take at Nathan Hale, they are building robots and writing code for them. Students are getting some of this at high school and can take further classes if they wish to.

Greg Linden said…
I think the point is that computers are a powerful tool and knowing how to use that tool well will be increasingly valuable.

I don't think the point is that everyone needs to be a coder, just that more kids (and especially more girls) should have a chance to learn to program.
Anonymous said…
Students are required to take some type of art class to graduate from high school, yet many people will not need to use this in their job. Technology is all around us and, though maybe it shouldn't be specifically coding that is required, I think that if art is required, some sort of technology class should be required as well.

Anonymous said…
It's a great job in your 20s, maybe 30s. Good pay, Interesting business opportunities. But it is all-consuming and being outsourced globally faster every year.

You are likely to be washed up by your 40s and if you don't have a solid set of wider skills, you will be sunk. With depression, anxiety, unemployment as your new time filler.

STEM is not some panacea. It simply another employment track. Come out of SPS learning how to learn, how to think critically and how to communicate with others not like you, and you will be good to go in the 40s - 70s years, too.

"Been there"
Patrick said…
I think getting at least an introduction to writing code would be a good experience for most students. It's not something vital, like reading, writing, or arithmetic, but it's helpful to be able to at least a little bit. And to see if that's something the student would be interested in for a career.
Well, the video tried to say everyone doesn't need to be a programmer but then goes into how many great jobs there are. My vibe was "join us" and that's not a good reason to put ed dollars into it.
Eric B said…
IMHO, everybody needs to learn how to problem solve. Coding is one way to get there. Auto shop is another, probably just as valid. I'm sure there are many other approaches as well.
Jet City mom said…
We do have vocational requirements for graduation, right?
It seems reasonable to offer a class alongside things like marketing, photography, business & woodworking.
Anonymous said…
Offering a class is a great idea—making it required...not so much.

Programming may be a terrific, high-paying job, but I hate to see one more required class to possibly bring down the GPA of the kid who wants to be a writer, or a lawyer, or an artist, a social worker, or anything that doesn't require programming!

Solvay Girl
Greg Linden said…
I think the point is broader than saying that being a software engineer is a high paying job. The point is that computers are powerful tools that help in many fields, and being able to use that tool well, especially looking a couple decades out, will make you more capable in many jobs (yes, even for artists or those in marketing, in business, or doing wordworking).

No one is arguing that everyone should learn to code, just that many more should have a chance to. No one is arguing we should divert funds away from the basics, of course math and reading skills are far more important.
Anonymous said…
Agreed about using a computer Greg—pretty much every job requires some skill these days. I'm a graphic designer who started out old school (back in the stone age) and now do everything with the computer. But I do not need to program—though I do occasionally need to insert simple HTML tags at times. I was speaking specifically to making it a required core subject.

Solvay Girl
Anonymous said…
If only so many coders weren't coding games to distract people from the dreariness of their everyday lives during this celebrated computer age.

I won't mourn the passing of this time, and while its true that technology is a large part of our future, it will be nice when people once again see the value of interacting with human beings.

Go see the film Sound City to get a taste of what I'm talking about.

TechyMom said…
I'd like to see introductory programming taught to all elementary students. It teaches you logic and how to break down problems in a very concrete and immediately rewarding way. I don't think it needs to be a daily class, but it would be great if all kids got exposed to this kind of thinking early on, maybe as a unit in each year of elementary science. Making it a high school elective doesn't really do the same thing, because kids, especially girls, have already sorted themselves into geeks and not-geeks by that time.

The programming unit I had in my 7th grade science class is one of the things I remember most fondly from school. My first programming job, building silly little web sites, had the same thrill.

It's not a matter of code or communication skills. Both are valuable, and there will always be work for people who can translate between them. Even in an outsourced world, someone has to write the requirements and understand enough about the work to be able to tell if it was done correctly.

The wizard stuff is a little arrogant, and not all workplaces are as snazzy as Google, but those things are there in the movie to make it seem cool to kids. The joy and passion of the speakers also comes through. Films that tout the value of the arts in education have a similar tone.

Even for kids who don't go into STEM fields, I see value in understanding how the technology around you works, and currently much of it works on code.
CT said…
I have to laugh.
How many of you remember LOGO? Same arguments about coding and logic; it was going to revolutionize schooling.
I was in 3rd grade when we got computers at my elementary school in Phoenix. Back then, we all learned BASIC, and that was going to revolutionize schooling.
Now we have the push for STEM - all kids should learn to code.
Seeing any patterns?
TechyMom said…
I was taught basic in 7th grade, when my exposure to computers before that had been what I saw on Star Trek. BASIC changed my life. I have met and worked with others whose lives were changed by LOGO. No, it's not for everyone. Neither are a lot of the things we teach in school. The point is to find out what is for you. Kids need to be exposed to all sorts of things to find the one that changes their lives.
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
Techymom, I had the same experience with Basic. It was such a cool and different way of thinking about communication and organizing information. Too bad by 7th grade I had already decided I was "bad at math," an idea I only began to question nearly 30 years later! I think your idea of introducing this in elementary school is a good one. Even though I never thought seriously about a science career due to my math issues, I really appreciate the education I got about science topics. My life is richer because I can understand the science section of the newspaper.
Charlie Mas said…
Of course everyone should learn to code, at least a little bit, just as everyone should learn to read and play music, and everyone should learn a world language. These are all languages and students should be exposed to them all.

"Should" is one thing. "Must" is another.
Jet City mom said…
My daughter took courses through +free.
She also has just been hired as an editor for an educational content provider.
Anonymous said…
My point exactly Charlie—well said!

Techymom—I like the idea of early exposure, when it will do the most good and the least damage to a GPA for the technically challenged.

And I agree that a basic understanding of how a computer works is important for everyone. My daughter can whip through her iPhone faster than I, and can navigate the web well...but I know what to do when there's a technical problem. (I also know how to use a search engine better as I understand how the key words work because I am a verbal communicator first).
Katrin said…
Just want to point out that the longer video linked to here is worth watching.
Katrin said…
This is a good article on the need for diversity in computing. I think something needs to be done to combat the self-perpetuating cycle of women and minorities not choosing the field because they don't see people like themselves in the field. I'm all for starting early.
Jet City mom said…
Its too bad the district killed the global tech academy program.
Jan said…
I'm with Charlie here. I think it would be great to "demystify" coding and bring accessibility to this field. But I don't want to keep piling on "requirements." For kids with deep areas of interest, there is simply not enough time in life to have a childhood where they can immerse themselves in fields of interest (music, drama, art, athletics, political activism, etc.) AND do a general survey/cover all the bases (health, volunteer hours, occ ed courses, physical ed courses, senior projects, etc.)-- while still getting a quality education in English, Math, History, Science, etc. We need to start trusting that if we make stuff available, kids and their families can/will make the right choices for themselves -- and stop loading them with requirements.
Jet City mom said…
One requirement that I think we should stress would be two-three years of the same language.
Without it, students cannot apply to a four yr school in Washington, yet many students do not learn this until it is too late for them to take the courses needed.

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