As someone who writes computer science curricula and teaches it in real-time, I get heated when I see other schools in our country making stupid mistakes regarding the education of this vital skill. I tend to keep silent until it’s vital to speak out on certain issues when I’m 100% certain I have an important point to make, and this is one such point. This happened to me not once, but twice in one day today, so I figured it was time to write about it.
This article explains how app design is replacing computer science in high schools in some parts of the U.S. As the founder of a company who takes immense pride in our product design, and who values it more than most ed tech companies do, this cannot be more wrong. Teaching App Design without computer science is essentially teaching students to plan to build things without actually making them. Can you become a vehicle designer without taking an engineering course? Can you become an architect without knowing any physics? No field in their right mind would allow people to receive training on the surface of its principal products without learning how it works.
Do we allow school administrators to become certified in building and running programs without teaching experience, or teachers to become certified in content without field experience? Oh, wait, we do, and maybe that’s where this notion that it’s OK comes from. It’s not. Do not make this mistake at your school. Teaching app design is an easy way out of the problem stated in the article, which was that attracting students to computer science is difficult. We doubled our enrollment in two years at GHS, and it’s not because we dumbed down the programming. It’s because I showed students real value on learning this skill, examples of professional code on websites they frequent every day, and they learned that they, too, could be successful on the internet. Teaching students app design using the WYSIWYG creation engines is lying to students, because it’s teaching them that they can be successful without learning to code. No, no, and no. Do not take the advice presented in this article.
In fact, these two disciplines need to be taught hand in hand to be done effectively, and as my primary educational thesis states, the profession simply does not have that kind of talent. This has been the subject of many previous posts. That doesn’t mean it’s ok to figure out a poor solution. We don’t have the solution to this problem yet. We need to become comfortable reaching out to and directing our students towards outside resources to make up for it, not dumb down our curricula.
No Computers in School
Then, there’s this other one about Silicon Valley schools abandoning computer usage in their classrooms. This is an interesting case study but is yet another example of irresponsible reporting. First, the school that these students attend is a private school, and it’s stated nowhere in the article that the people who pay the tuition, a.k.a. all the Google and Silicon Valley executives, voted to remove computers from the classroom. The reason is because they knew they could provide their students with a better computer education at home, so they told the teachers to stop worrying about it and focus on what they’re good at. Guess what? They’re right.
Listen, we have to be real about this as a profession, and we have to be real about a lot more things before we make any progress. Education sucks at technology. We’re 15 years behind the rest of the world. These parents probably are better computer teachers than their students’ teachers, and they also realize the values that kids can get from school are important. I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings here but it’s true, we’re behind with technology. We don’t understand it the way the rest of the world does.
The reaction to this article is, “hey look, the Silicon Valley private school is doing it, so we should too!” This is where the problem is and this, too, couldn’t be more wrong. This is an easy way out from parents, teachers, and administrators who see how schools are struggling to correctly incorporate computer education and technology into their curricula. It’s a way for the outspoken people who are not yet comfortable with how to incorporate technology in their classes shoot it down.
Just because we haven’t done it right yet does not give us an excuse to stop. In fact, it makes it even more important to keep moving forward. How can we assess the value of something if we haven’t correctly incorporated it yet? We can’t, and until we do, I hope I never see another article about how a school pulled computers from its campus because a bunch of Silicon Valley folks did.
If you’re reading this and want to contribute but don’t know how, stand up for what’s right here. The correct way to manage technology is not to ask students to put their phone away, it’s to develop innovative ways to use the technology. The correct way to integrate computers into the classroom is not to take them away because we can’t figure it out, but to develop ways that actually work. As a teacher, you are the most qualified person in the world to do this and, if you’re reading this blog post, you’re already well on your way. Innovate correct uses of the technology in your class, share it, take pride in it, and make it so good that people can’t ignore it.
This is the way to integrate technology into your school. You don’t remove vital pieces of curricula because nobody will teach it. You don’t take away computers because you can’t figure out how to use them correctly. You do something you consistently fail to do, education, you use your own talent and figure out how to get the job done. Nothing less is acceptable.