My first experience with coding was in 3rd grade with Ms. Britton at Armor Elementary School. I had failed to make it into the Gifted and Talented program because I was not gifted and talented. I was just the third person in my class to memorize the multiplication and division tables, my little Popsicle stick ski wearing figure had gone up and down the Olympic mountain on the bulletin board to prove it, I had read ahead in my reading group (Handstands), and I was bored with school. My teacher was pretty desperate to find some type of enrichment to keep me busy. Ms. Britton had volunteered to try to fill the empty time where I had nothing to do and nowhere to go.
Ms. Britton took me down to the sacred AV supply closet where the equipment for the entire school was kept – film strip projectors, movie projectors, slide projectors, overhead projectors and led me to a small desk with an Apple 2E on it. I was pretty thrilled about seeing a computer. We did not have a computer in our home. Our neighbors always had computers like the Commodore 64 – they also had Atari which I longed to play every time I went over there (their dad was an engineer). My cousins always had computers (their dad was an engineer). My parents were not against technology, but their professions as a teacher and prison guard did not really expose them to the latest devices or technological advances. Ms. Britton sat me down at the computer and told me she was going to teach me how to program the computer to do things. I sat with her and I learned a program called Logo. The easiest way for me to describe Logo with my spotty memory of the fun I had using it, is to link you to the Wikipedia article on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logo_(programming_language). I don’t really recall how many times I was allowed to use the Apple 2E and how many times I actually used Logo, but I remember thinking it was fun and I also fantasized that perhaps they could just let me play on the computer instead of going back to class. Alas, I was no Bill Gates and did not get to hole up in the equipment closet and reprogram the 2E, nor did I really get a very comprehensive education in the land of Logo.
What would our schools be like if we offered programming as a required academic course? I feel a revolution must take place in our world of education where programming, nanotechnology skills and more advanced applications must be taught to our students as a regular part of the academic curriculum. I include nanotechnology here because they are building a nanotechnology facility outside of Utica, NY – just southeast of here – that might be some of our students best chance at a better life with stable employment and a great income.
It seems to me that there are plenty of empty spaces in the school schedule where we should start adding coding or programming classes that are more meaningful, practical and useful in our world.
With that being said, how might I incorporate coding into my library? When are my students free to learn programming in this environment? My solution is to see if I can put together a curriculum of programs that might teach them elementary or basic skills using the games, apps and sites suggested by Cool Tools. Will these sites be blocked on our public network? If they are, then I will have to justify their inclusion in our school. I thought it could be advertised as “Tech Tuesdays” during our after school block. Over the summer, I will explore all of the possibilities using my independent professional development hours to make sure that I actually have a plan in place for every possibility.
The next time I used programming language was when I signed up for an HTML course during my coursework at Syracuse University. It didn’t seem that difficult, just a language and format that you have to know. I supposed if I had more time to really immerse myself in the land of coding, I could become pretty good at it. I think about how different my life could be if I learned a programming language and actually attained a skill set that might open up new doors for me because sometimes I fear that I have become stagnant in my learning and growth as a librarian. Would I be able to try a new field? A new career?
The kids who had the computers in their homes when I wanted one are now successful engineers and I also have a cousin who is a true success story in the world of technology, social media and programming – he had a computer in his house as well and he studied computer science in college. Schools have to understand that you can give kids tools to advance their academic careers, but we really need to teach them how to make the computers work for them – how they can create the tools, the apps, the programs or the websites. We need to give them the power to create and make a place for themselves in this always evolving world. It isn’t enough to add computer labs to our schools, we desperately need some talented teachers to come in and instruct all of us on how to use these computers to their greatest potential.
I tried to find a computer class or camp for my 13 year-old daughter in our area to no avail. I’m desperate to know where I can get her instruction in programming from a good teacher. There are less than a handful of high schools in our area that are listed at Code.Org as providing these skills to students – 3 to be exact. Her school is not listed. There are no coding camps available for students in the Syracuse, NY area listed at Code.Org at all. My greatest wish would be to get the great leaders and gurus of the technology world and Silicon Valley to notice how many unfed minds are waiting to be educated in their language here in Central New York and for them to provide camps and classes for our kids too. Most of the camps and classes are, as expected, concentrated around New York City and Boston, MA, but I feel we are doing our kids an injustice by not finding out how we can expose them to and teach them the essential skills that would allow them to pursue careers in all fields of computer programming, computer science and technology.