Saturday, December 28, 2013


All of a sudden it seems, coding is cool.  Across the world, the teaching of computer science to school children is expanding by leaps and bounds.  This is long overdue, but remarkable in speed, scope and scale.

The most spectacular statistics come from  over 20 million (yes, million) children in the United States participated in the “Hour of Code” initiative earlier this month, producing more than a half billion lines of code., launched less than a year ago by Hadi Partovi, has assembled star-studded videos promoting coding, snappy hour-long tutorials, and comprehensive curricula for K-12 kids and educators.  Their massively successful strategy:  Change the rules, help the schools, make it cool.”  60% of the coders in the Hour of Code were female; the website boasts that more girls programmed in school in one week than in all of previous history.

Every movement has precursors – for instance, the popular, pivotal Scratch coding language is now 10 years old.   But the image of coding has just recently vastly transformed.   “I think [perception of tech] has changed a lot among kids,” says Ethan Eirinberg, a young coder who couldn’t find a coding contest for teenagers and so created his own.   “It’s the cool thing to do now.   It’s interesting to see how things work and create new things.”

Across the ocean, an Irish teenager named James Whelton started (with help from philanthropist Bill Liao) a free, open coding environment called CoderDojo that has spread worldwide, reaching over 6000 kids through 200+ dojos in 22 countries in just 2 years.  That statistic seems overly modest;  CoderDojo Twin Cities alone has welcomed more than 600 young coders since launching last April, and now offers 8 different code groups.

Two years back, Britain’s Education Secretary declared his country’s ICT curriculum to be “demotivating and dull.”  He scrapped the whole thing, and started over this year with a redesigned curricula starting at age 5.  The new standards set a lofty goal: “A high quality computing education equips pupils to understand and change the world through logical thinking and creativity.  (p 188)”

Code Club photo published in the Independent 7-26-2013
Also in England, there are nearly 1800 after-school Code Clubs run by volunteers in primary schools, reaching over 23,000 children.   Their excellent curriculum is delivered free by code-savvy volunteers around the world. Co-founder Clare Sutcliffe has create a precise vision, meticulous execution and engaging website (populated by adorable robot cartoons.)

The movement is not just clubs and classes.  Learn to code websites and platforms are proliferating, offering high quality coding education for low or no fees.   Dozens of new non-profit organizations – with names like Black Girls Code, Hidden Genius and Mouse Squad – reach out to underserved populations.  “Bootcamps” turn fledgling coders into professionals, in a few intensive months.   And there are myriads of professional groups – usually centered on a specific programming platform – serving the dynamic needs of practicing developers. 

Education is a long way from incorporating computer science as a new basic skill:  only one high school out of 10 even offers a computer science class, the percentage of young women studying computer science is tiny (less than 20%), computer science standards are uneven or non-existent and we are far from tapping the brainpower and insights of communities of color and of rural America.

But we’re approaching a tipping point.   From Estonia to Chicago to Vietnam, growing numbers of children and teens are learning to code.   The reasons are varied, but the direction is clear.  

 The days of derision are long gone: now geeks are gods.” declares an alliterative lead in the venerable Economist magazine.

And an article in New York magazine ends with a thoughtful quote from parent Albert Wegner:
“[Coding] is a very important way of analyzing the world, thinking about the world, interacting with the world, and manipulating the world… The biggest transformation I’ve seen is that coding has gone from something that weird kids do to something the cool kids do.” 

So come on and give it a try:  here or here or here.    Coding is cool. 


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