Programming “Petting Zoo” (Hour of Code)

I see that grade schools all over the world participated in an “Hour of Code” last week.  Lots of PR.  Kids had a great time. “Hey, I programmed a Star Wars game on my iPad!”  In my town, a person called, “information literacy instructor” said, “It’s all about critical thinking skills and logic.  They are learning 21st century skills.”

In an hour. Wow, didn’t realize it was so easy.  On the other hand, we have very smart kids at our schools.  I’ve been told that they all are “above average”  😉

Seriously, I think is is excellent that kids get exposed early to technical things, but I wonder if they aren’t getting he wrong idea.  I asked one of them to explain how she built her game and how it worked.  Her answer invoked a memory of John Cleese (Monty Python) explaining how to play the flute.  “It’s very simple.  You just blow over this hole, here.  Wiggle your fingers, there — and the music come out — easy!”

I also asked, “What’s next?’.  “Nothing at school — no time”. It’s analogous to the Chicago Symphony oboist giving a demonstration in class, but not having any programs to teach the kids how to play.

Why not follow up the fun introduction to programming, with an on-line set of courses that will build the necessary foundations?  Kids can then learn at their own speed, time, etc.  Programming is abstract enough that it can be learned that way.

There are 70 million hits for the Google search of “learn C programming”.  So, the courses are out there.  Right?

For sure, but which ones to take, and in what order?  I’ve looked at a bunch of them, and most are very good, but limited to the specific language. However, kids need an interesting approach that doesn’t trivialize how important learning fundamentals are.  (Think about building a house. Designing that 2-story entrance hall with the curved staircase is really fun and challenging, but what about the critical foundation and basement design? — can that be as fun and interesting?  Does it have to be?

Stay tuned.  I’m going to give it a shot.  I tried an approach on my grandkids this last summer.  They stayed interested and learned a lot of quality concepts and skills.  I believe that they can build on these and better understand how languages work and how a computer might interface with real world objects.

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