The 'Hour of Code' is here
Computer coding is going to become an essential skill for all students
Today's students are growing up in a world very different from the one in which their teachers did, and there are fascinating opportunities awaiting this generation.
However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for educators and schools to anticipate which skills these students will need after they graduate.
There has been a lot of talk about 21st Century Skills with a popular model from the US identifying the four ‘essential' 21st Century skills as; communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking - the 4Cs. I'm a fan of this model and I've found that students genuinely enjoy projects and activities which enable them to develop these skills.
Alongside communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, I've recently been converted to the idea that there is another 21st Century skill which every student should be introduced to, because it is the quintessential 21st Century skill - computer coding.
Many people still think that learning to write computer code is something that's only of use to nerds, hackers and residents of Silicon Valley, but it's about time that stereotype was changed.
Today's students need to be introduced to the basics of computer coding so they can understand how computer programs work and so they can begin developing the skills that will enable them to write their own programs, create their own websites and develop their own apps.
At present computer studies at schools in Thailand, and the rest of Asia, focus on using mainstream computer programs such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel. These programs will have fundamentally changed, or been discontinued, by the time today's students have graduated.
Simply learning how to use popular software applications is no longer enough for today's students. Other countries, including the UK, are waking up to this reality and education departments have reformed their computer studies curriculum to introduce students to the basic principles of computer science from an early age.
Eventually, coding will become as common place on the school curriculum as Physics and History. Unfortunately, Thailand is unlikely to implement such curriculum changes for years to come, chances are, today's students will have graduated by the time the Thai MoE puts coding on the curriculum -something that will leave Thai students at a disadvantage once again.
But don't despair, because thanks to an excellent initiative from the US, the ‘Hour of Code', teachers with only rudimentary computer skills can still give students their first ever insights to computer science - all you need is a computer.
The ‘Hour of Code', was first introduced in response to the lack of opportunities for school students to learn basic programming skills.
The initiative, which has the support of a diverse range of public figures that includes; Bill Gates, Snoop Dogg, Malala Yousafzai, Richard Branson, Aston Kutcher and Mark Zuckerberg, aims to ‘demystify the art of coding' and expand student participation in computer science.
This year the Hour of Code, which takes place from 7th-13th December, has teamed up with Minecraft, Disney and Star Wars to create some great online tutorials which have everything students, and teachers, need to get their first taste of coding.
The Minecraft tutorial is a great place to start.
It uses Blocky to introduce learners to the basics of computer code. Students use these blocks to program a Minecraft character to complete various tasks. Under each block is a line of Java code and the students can ‘look under the hood' to see the actual code that is being used.
Not only is the tutorial easy to follow and engaging but it also introduces learners to ‘commands', ‘repeat loops' and ‘if statements', concepts which lie at the very foundations of computer programming. Once you've come to grips with the Minecraft tutorial they can move on to the Star Wars tutorial which allows students to actually begin writing lines of Java code.
There is also a Frozen tutorial which encourages students to program Elsa to carve patterns by skating over the ice - a great activity for students learning angles.
The benefits of learning computer science are immense and all students should have this opportunity, not only because it can be a path to a rewarding career but because, as Steve Jobs famously explained, ‘everyone in this country should learn how to program a computer... because it teaches you how to think.'
Furthermore, these online tutorials are excellent practice for students to apply their English language skills in ‘real life' situations, by following instructions and issuing commands.
In the same way that all students are given the opportunity to play a musical instrument and ride a bicycle, 21st Century students should all be introduced to the basics of computer science because developing computer literacy is essential for this generation.
Students who ‘speak code' will have far more opportunities than those who don't, and it is these individuals who will use technology to meet the challenges of 21st Century life - challenges, such as climate change, environmental destruction, natural resource management, health epidemics and overpopulation, which will only be overcome with human ingenuity aided by technology and computers.
If you are interested in getting involved, you can get started by visiting the Hour of Code's website , there is still time to sign up and there are lots of great resources to inspire future programmers.
You can even download certificates and stickers for students who successfully complete their first hour of programming.
Varee Chiangmai School
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Agree with Mark Newman. What about students who want to pursue a career in the arts, humanities, journalism or languages? These students do exist, Daniel. And I'm glad they exist and they have no appetite for your "Hour of Code" that you so eagerly promote here, A lot of the students that I teach are not interested in computer science, so why shove this Coding down the throats of these students? I don't see the point.
By Cor Verhoef, Bangkok (4th January 2016)
Great post Daniel, thanks.
I've been searching high and low for a teach-programming job as my school closed down. Not surprisingly, there is nothing out there, as the Thai MoE will be the last to respond to the need. I have never seen a job advertised in Thailand to teach students programming - other than my last one. Since that school closed, I have barely seen a job advertised to teach ICT. What's going on? Are schools getting English teachers to double-job at something they're not qualified to do?
As Carl Sagan said, we live in a technological world where nobody understands technology, and this is becoming more true with every passing year. With a rising population and ever-increasing reliance on computers, just who do we think will be programming the increasing number of apps required in the future? There certainly IS a need for people who are not programmers by trade to be able to program. Previously it was only computer specialists who were able to use computers ... now everyone is expected to be able to use computers. No longer are programmers the only ones who can create websites, the software has long existed to help non-specialists do so. Although not everyone will be expected to be a programmer, there will be a section of society who will have to pick up the ball and run with it.
Thailand, I fear - using the English language model as a reference - will be last to the table again. As ASEAN approached, was there any effort to raise the average English exposure from an hour a week? ICT training has long been in place in schools worldwide, except Thailand, and there are no plans to change that. We all know why.
By Ajarn Dara, Chonburi (4th January 2016)
I think the impact of technology on education is constantly misrepresented. An analogy - the car. How many people can actually explain how a car or motorised vehicle works? Very few beyond a basic level. This does not stop people using cars or in any way shape or form impact their enjoyment of said cars. It's much the same with technology and computers.
The bottom line is technology can only support learning. It will always be this way. Some politicians who would like to make education 'teacher proof' see ICT as the way forward but it cannot replace or come close to replacing the unique dynamic of the teacher-student relationship. Of course that relationship no longer needs to be in the real world and many of us have experience of online learning and talking to tutors who are in different continents.
When I think back to my primary school in Castlemilk, Glasgow in the 1960s, those happy days of gentian violent, once a week we had a motion and movement session in the gym. Our teacher, Miss Reid, brought in a radio speaker which she connected up and at 1030 a radio programme, broadcast from the city's education department, commenced which guided us through our paces. The same programme was being broadcast to all primary schools in Glasgow. Was that significantly different to me walking into a class today with a notebook and speakers and showing some video clips?
Education will continue to evolve but I do think the impact of ICT has been hugely overstated. Don't get me wrong, I support its deployment and indeed use it at every opportunity, it's undoubtedly useful but there is a need to be clear about its limitations.
By Gerry B, Thailand (24th December 2015)
Those 'experts' are wrong.
"Today's students need to be introduced to the basics of computer coding so they can understand how computer programs work..."
Sorry, but this isn't gonna work out well for most people in education.
We won't be teaching computer coding the same way we teach English and Math.
It's a specialized branch of science like physics and biology and will be treated that way.
People who like it will study it and those that don't, won't.
We don't teach car mechanics despite the fact that it's a no brainer.
Every student will one day have a car yet it's 2016 and almost no-one can fix the simplest problems when they go wrong.
We don't teach how to manage money and operate a bank account correctly.
Another no-brainer. You'd think this would be a big part of a child's education, right?
But it's not.
We don't even teach physical education anymore despite the fact that we have an epidemic of fatties (not) running about!
Why aren't we teaching nutrition science, etc?
Also - the ground work of basic coding doesn't provide much of an insight into how computers work for most people.
And the arguments of advanced coding are just too difficult for people to understand.
There's more of a commercial angle to be had from people who learn the science of marketing and human desire.
The new technologies of the future are about controlling what people do and what they (think they) choose to do.
Computers are really just games consoles now.
Nobody is breaking them apart to see how they work like I did as a kid with clocks, etc.
If we didn't have them then we'd be more bored than usual, but that's about it.
The lines in the bank would be longer...
Checking in to the airports would take longer...
Buying stamps would be a thing again...
Kudos to the educators who introduce kids to coding.
It could be a school subject and for those who like it, it'll be an option when it comes to deciding on further education and career choices.
But you're making it out to be more important than it is.
Add to that the glut of unemployed programmers out there and the outsourcing of projects to India... well, you can see where we're going with this.
By Mark Newman, Thailand (17th December 2015)