Kate and Kids Code Jeunesse on MAtv

Yesterday our Kids Code Jeunesse founder and chief badass Kate Arthur chatted on Montreal local tv with Richard Dagenais. Great interview — I think Kate did a good job positioning code as a common everyday medium that anyone can (and ought to) get a taste of and put to use, even without becoming a programmer.  And maybe some folks in the audience will come away a little less intimidated by learning to code. :)8b8db55d7dcb2cb6_150_montreal

Episode: MONTREAL BILLBOARD October 13, 2015 (Kate starts at ~8:30.)

Cited in the interview: our partner codecademy, who has a great lineup of well-documented, self-paced lessons in a variety of coding platforms. (Seriously, check out their HTML + CSS sequence. It’s not perfect, but they align well with my axioms of programming instruction. It’s a very good entryway for kids and newcomer adults.)

So meta

The Education seminar I’m enrolled in right now is a lot of fun, but is occasionally mind-bendingly self-referential.

It’s easy enough at the surface level: we (a mix of MA and PhD students) are learning what makes teachers effective. The trick is that we’re working on this practice NOT in order to teach K-12 students, but in order to teach teachers.

self reflection photo
Photo by arripay

We’re training to be teacher-educators, in other words. In business terms I’m in a three-month long Train-the-Trainer course—which, given my corporate business simulation and teacher-education roots feels like home—but where the ultimate end topics are K-12 math, science,  and humanities. Continue reading So meta

Male-female imbalance in STEM comes down to economics?

To know why fewer women choose math and science, you need to know the principle of occupational choice.

Source: Male-female imbalance in STEM comes down to economics | University Affairs

Here’s a fascinating take on the STEM imbalance from University Affairs: the major dynamic may not be sexism or any other institutional intent, but the accumulation of simple economic choices at the individual level. And the solution may be more background than foreground.  Intriguing, no? Continue reading Male-female imbalance in STEM comes down to economics?

Another kind of tech underrepresentation

A summer program in Baltimore has black middle-schoolers coding, designing apps and altogether hooked on engineering.

Source: Coding Camp to Baltimore Schools: Bring Us Your Bored! : NPR Ed : NPR

The conversations I tend to be involved in about underrepresentation in the technology world are about the gender divide. At Kids Code Jeunesse we’re very conscientious about designing our activities and honing our pitch so we include girls. And in my own reading and thinking (probably colored by who my 2 oldest kids are) I pay particular attention to the ways we can make technology and “computational thinking” accessible to girls.

There’s lots of interesting stuff to think about there: which applications of tech are likely to appeal to girls (and yeah, they are different than for boys); how to teach in a way that resonates with the expressive side of a kid, rather than the purely rational side; and more.

Other divides

But of course there are other divides too, and here’s a great story out of Baltimore about a year-round code camp directly targeted at minority boys: the Minority Male Makers Program (via npr.org). It’s being rolled out at a handful of Historically Black Colleges in the American south that have engineering schools: Morgan State U., North Carolina A&T State U., Jackson State U. and Kentucky State U. as of summer 2015. Guided by undergrad students at those schools, these kids get to design, engineer, 3-d print, and code their own ideas and products.

This is not the only program of its kind–see the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and AmeriCorps teaming up with CS First, and others. And they’re doing a few key things right:

They’re reaching kids at middle school age. They rightly point out that this is their last shot at reaching kids before their path toward adulthood (and higher education and professional life–if any) starts to solidify and accelerate. Influence them here, show them it’s possible to be creative and use their brains for good, hard things, and you stand a good chance of influencing their choices in next few years. And then they’ll be on a good, productive path.

They’re letting the kids make real things starting right now. With programming, modelling software, and 3d printers in the classroom, this is tinkering with real stuff. Look at the press release and see that these kids are walking out of the classroom with the objects they’ve made. There is no 4-year lecture-driven book learning period, no extended apprenticeship standing between their adolescent selves and being real-world-productive.

Graduates of the Minority Male Makers program
Graduates of the Minority Male Makers program (morgan.edu)

They’re looking specifically for kids who show signs of being disengaged and bored in class. They know that disengagement isn’t a sign of being stupid; it’s a sign of needing a more active, hands-on learning method than the school is set up to deliver.

And the NPR article suggests that, rather than opening it up for open registration, they are asking school principals and counselors to bring them students. This is a great way to (1) encourage administrators who are engaged with their students and know them well, and (2) sidestep the self-selection that attracts self-motivated geeky boys to code camps. We have plenty of those already. :)

Bootstrapping the talent pool

I love seeing programs like this, and the overall philosophy is what attracted me to the Kids Code Jeunesse team. All programs of this kind are trying to bootstrap the tech talent pool in a very conscious way. Malcolm Gladwell might say these are ways to solve our talent selection problem, our “quarterback problem.”

If we want to change the complexion of the tech industry and what it produces, it will have to be through initiatives like this: initiatives that intentionally reach everyone, or that intentionally reach underrepresented groups.

If we can keep those going, the tech industry will not only look different in its makeup and its atmosphere; it will start producing output that’s better and that speaks to a wider range of people.

 

Introducing Mike’s axioms

finger point photo
Photo by jetheriot

Introducing…. Mike’s Axioms for Computing Instruction.

As I do more and more teaching and lesson writing, I’ve started collecting the gemmiest of my design principles.

Little by little I’ll record them here in the blog with some examples and the reasoning behind them, and hopefully they’ll be a useful reference for me and others. As I deepen my formal knowledge and gain more hours of practical experience, I’ll come back and elaborate or revisit.

Continue reading Introducing Mike’s axioms

CS Capture the Flag 2015

Following the recent topic of cryptography for high schoolers, here’s a cool event that popped up on the radar this week: HSCTF, a US-wide high school “capture the flag” style programming competition.

The week of May 17-24, 2015, students from across the US are invited to play a (everyone outside the US too, but they’re not eligible for prizes). Challenges include cryptography, reverse-engineering, and reconnaissance. Continue reading CS Capture the Flag 2015

Crypto for high schoolers

At one of our recent Kids Code Jeunesse meetings, my friend, high school programming teacher Stuart Spence (see his site and his YouTube channel) was telling us about what his students are into.

One of the things they get most excited about–especially, he says, the girls–is cryptography. They think it’s really cool that they can use their just-beginning programming skills to reverse-engineer passwords and crack codes and stuff like that.
Continue reading Crypto for high schoolers

Education reading list for 2015

Via my friends Andrea and Adam over at inov8 Educational Consulting, here’s a list of interesting 2015 Edu books, published by Australia’s informED ed-tech-pedagogy blog.

I would personally skip the two about higher ed “disruption,” since nobody really knows how much of that (for-profits, MOOCs, finance/tuition reform, etc.) will stick—and, frankly, the blurbs are an embarrassing mix of hype and misunderstanding. From The End of College, for example: will the “traditional meritocracy” really be “upended” in the end? Who would describe the US college system as a “meritocracy” in the first place? It just goes downhill from there…

Some more promising books on this list, by my own reading of the descriptions:

Using Evidence of Student Learning to Improve Higher Education by George D. Kuh and Stanley O. Ikenberry. I cite this one because I’ve seen university teaching & learning be directly influenced by research, training, and classroom design. It’s definitely true that strong teachers and strong classes can be made, and it’s worth universities consciously investing in this.

Making Classrooms Better: 50 Practical Applications of Mind, Brain, and Education Science by Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa. This one interests me for my own application as a teacher and a geeky parent of school-age kids. It starts with cross-disciplinary scientific background and then touches on a range of practical topics, from classroom climate to metacognitive skills and mindfulness.

What Connected Educators Do Differently by Todd Whitaker and Jeffrey Zoul. In 2014 I read Elizabeth Green’s Building a Better Teacher and came away convinced that way we leave teachers isolated in North America, with a (well or poorly designed) curriculum on a page and no community of practice, simply doesn’t make any sense. I immediately thought of teaching Computational Thinking in North America—an obvious place where we can start to build a better system. I’d be interested to see what Whitaker and Zoul have to say about social media and professional development.

These are, on the surface anyway, practical and grounded in good research and analysis. Not all are published just yet; post a comment if you’ve read any of them (or plan to).

Was object-oriented programming a failure? – Quora

From the discussions in my Quora digest recently, a brilliantly simple and cheeky question:

 “Was object-oriented programming a failure?”
( free signup required to see the whole thread)

Note the use of the past tense. You gotta love trolling for Java apologists.

To be fair, you gotta love trolling for Python believers too. The difference, of course, is that the Python believers are usually right. :)

If you read the Answers, there are some very thoughtful critiques . The best of them seem (my favorite is by Joe Wezorek) to conclude that Object Orientation is a useful way of thinking about certain things – but maybe is a relic of the past, developed as a good response to the specific kinds of software problems that were prevalent in the 1980s, and probably gets used too abstractly and too blindly to be called good practice.

Another good response (by John Colagioia) appreciates the fact that Object Orientation provides some useful scaffolding: “You might not end with a great design, but you can have a passable design if you ‘implement every noun as an object, every verb as a method, every adjective and adverb as a condition.'” I can get behind that.

But the over-abstraction that we see in some languages–and really, this may just be because it’s being poorly understood and taught–is a real stumbling block to having more people become coders, and having our existing coders be expressive with their work.

My own opinion is that the over-abstraction may just be a natural interaction that happens when engineering meets the corporate business world. You end up with people who think a certain way about process and content and how they should work in the world, and before you know it, you’ve got a gospel that turns an otherwise creative, dynamic act (programming) into an exercise in over-architecture and bloat.

But my favorite bits are still the ones where the Java folks get teased.