Educators say more student-friendly programs make it easier for them to show the creative sides of math, science and other subjects and integrate programming into the curriculum.
Forty years ago, when large mainframe computers roamed the earth, few experts gave much thought to how these mammoth machines could be used for education, and fewer still about how they could help young learners create, explore, and learn through technology. At the time, highly trained programmers still worked in inaccessible languages that mainly processed numbers. But all that changed with a turtle. In 1967, MIT professor Seymour Papert and colleagues developed Logo, an early language for children. Its main innovation? A small robot–the turtle–that students could easily program to move or rotate. For the first time, young programmers got instant feedback and a physical manifestation of their commands.
While Logo’s use spread throughout the 1970s, programming never achieved the influence in schools that Papert had envisioned. It wasn’t considered a viable educational tool until schools had routine access to computers. Even now, at a time when computers are pervasive in everyday life, many educators still question the value of children becoming articulate in the language of technology–programming. But as STEM and Common Core concepts–with their emphasis on math, science, and critical thinking skills–begin to shift curricula across the K-12 spectrum, coding is sparking renewed interest.
“We really need to broaden, to rethink what it means to be fluent in today’s society,” says Mitch Resnick, the LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research at MIT. “The ability to program, the ability to code, is an important part of being ‘fluent’ today. In the same way that learning to read opens up opportunities for many other things, and learning to write gives you a new way to express yourself and seeing the world, we see that coding is the same.”
In schools where programming is taught, it often acts as a stand-alone class or as part of an after-school program. According to Susan Einhorn, the chair of the management team that runs Papert’s company LCSI, part of the reason programming hasn’t seen greater integration is that there is no consensus about where it fits within the educational curriculum,. The lack of qualified computer-science teachers and educators comfortable enough with technology to teach programming is another barrier, as is a general resistance to a class that looks more like fun than substance.
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