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Teach Kids Long-term Computer Skills  (View post)

Veky [PersonRank 10]

Tuesday, February 27, 2007
12 years ago5,741 views

I can't really understand why formatting a table is classified as "specific", and writing hypertext as "life long". What do we know about what will people consider "cool" and important in 20 years?

Most of the things you learn in school are not taught to you because you need them, but because the whole process of education has benefits for your mental state, your upbringing, and the society as a whole. The specific subjects are of much lesser importance.

Ricardo [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

A lot of everything we learn in school is lost during the years. Some researches state that only 20% of what is taught during the first 8 years of school is actually kept for the next 8. Most of that 20% that we keep is the knowledge used everyday.

So, the idea of showing children all possibilities first (including computer programming) and let them choose later is great. Maybe it's the best way to maybe improve that 20% indicator.

Brian Mingus [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Most of my peers in college have almost no intuition as to what makes a good search query. I often find myself frustrated watching them fruitlessly attempt to pull up a certain bit of information, and politely ask if I can take over. They don't get it – what on earth could I possibly type in that is so much better? And then there it is – often in the first result. And its not just an answer to the question, its the _best_ answer to the question available on the web.

When I was attending the University of Maryland, I had to take a no-brainer class on information retrieval. The professor was an expert on library catalog systems but had no idea how to effectively use a search engine. That was painful.

I've often considered offering community classes. My roommates have benefited significantly from watching and asking questions. This should be on a top priority for universities.

Veky [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

I do not doubt that knowing how to construct a query is useful _now_. I just doubt that we can be so sure (and we must be very sure if we want to change the curriculum) that it will still be useful in 15~20 years.

Tony Ruscoe [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Something like database design will stand the test of time, as will concepts behind spreadsheets and word processing. I learned how to implement databases and spreadsheets at school when I was 15 using an old Amstrad PCW8512 [ ...] and the concepts between that and Microsoft Office are essentially the same. Of course, you have to learn to use whatever software you're using – so it's inevitable that not everything will be taught in a generic way.

I think that lessons on basic (note: basic vs. BASIC) programming for kids is a good idea. They already learn about logic gates (for example) in science, so learning about IF/CASE/SWITCH statements would be a natural progression. I think we used to do some very simple BASIC programming on a BBC Micro at my school and I used to practice at home on my ZX Spectrum. Which language should the kids of today be taught though? VB/VBA/VBScript? Java/Javascript? C++? C#? PHP? Or should they just be taught some simple pseudo code?

Personally, I think computing is like learning a new foreign language – so once you get past the age of about 7 years old, it starts to get harder to pickup. And the older you get, the harder it gets. For example, my parents only really started using a computer about 5 years ago and are probably better than most people their age – they can browse the web, send emails, download and print their digital photos, do their online banking, shop online, etc. – but my mum doesn't know what a "window" or a "scrollbar" is; she doesn't know phrases like "maximize" or "minimize"; she can't copy and paste; she searches for *everything* rather than just typing the URL into the address bar; and she chats to me using "Bubble Talk" (which is what she calls Google Talk because of the speech bubble icon). Does it matter? Not really. But it makes it very confusing when she's trying to explain things over the phone! :-D

Tony Ruscoe [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

(Sorry, I got side-tracked a bit there...)

I agree that being able to use the web *effectively* is as important (if not, more so) than being able to use a word processor in this day and age. People rarely write letters using word processing software anymore, they write emails instead, so different rules and etiquette apply.

However, I think we need to decide what should be teacher-taught and what should be self-taught. When I was at school, we were shown how to use a library and lookup information in books. It was probably only a one-hour lesson as it's quite straightforward. To draw a parallel, you could easily teach someone how to use a search engine in a similar length of time. Should we be trying to teach them how to write better queries? I don't think so; that just comes with practice. A skilled librarian will be able to find a book quicker than I can. Likewise, a skilled "searcher" will be able to find a relevant website quicker than a beginner.

Regarding "Information Credibility" in his articles, he says:

<< It's definitely important to teach kids how to recognize different types of ads, including sponsored versus organic search hits. >>

Nobody taught me how to recognize advertisements and paid-for editorial content in newspapers. Why should it be any different online? I guess because the consequences could be more serious if the ads are misleading in anyway. On a related note, how do I know whether I can trust a plumber I find in the Yellow Pages? They don't specifically teach you how to do that in school, so why teach kids how to trust websites?

One problem at the moment is that many kids know how to use computers better than their parents. Ideally, kids need their parents to guide them through some things in life, but at the moment this isn't possible with computers.

Scott Thomas [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

This article raises a very important point, and I wish educators (at all levels) would listen!

I've observed first-hand two areas which cry out for reform in the materials being taught:

(1) I have taught for a software company for years, and my students are mostly college graduates with some form of computer/engineering degrees. The vast majority (I would estimate 75% or so) are barely able to understand new (unfamiliar) software, and rarely have any idea of what is behind the GUI (I am including the students considering themselves to be programmers in this group). They are simply unable to form a concept of what is happening on the system when the "click a button";

(2) I taught a half-year of high school computer classes and found that while the kids may "know how to use a computer better than their parents", this is relative only to the specific applications (mostly games and music applications), not as to anything else. They couldn't understand why they should learn to use (I mean at a very basic level – not advanced skills) a word processor, spreadsheet or presentation application. Databases, html, and any form of coding or scripting was something they saw no use for.

I believe that you've identified the source of the problem and a potential (if partial) solution – teach skills that transcend specific software applications – then teach the applications. This is the method used in other disciplines, as well. First we learn basic arithmetic, then algebra and only then do we learn calculus.

mister scruff [PersonRank 3]

12 years ago #

Unix commands have stood the test of time – 30 to 40 odd years on , and we're still using them.

ls , cd, grep, top, ps ... there's loads of them.

and i dont see the bash shell going anywhere soon.

mister scruff [PersonRank 3]

12 years ago #

"They are simply unable to form a concept of what is happening on the system"

Scott -> have you read the "fizzbuzz" post on Coding Horror?

very interesting (albeit, highly sobering) reading... ...

something is seriously going wrong with the teaching of computers at school/college if so called graduate "programmers" cant even do a "for" loop.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Another angle to view this is to teach the specifics first, and then through these specifics, let kids learn the broader concept by experience. I'm wary of very abstract concepts – I always "spaced out" in school when I didn't know what to apply that thing for. (Not to say that this was to my advantage!) On the other hand, the joy someone will have when their knowledge is immediately put to visible action can be the motivation for that person to learn the grand concept behind this later on, through extensive studies.

Personally I didn't learn programming by understanding grand theories first, I just always had specific goals and then tried to implement those, like programming a game. The first game will include rotten code, undeclared variables, abbreviations instead of self-documenting code, no functions, thousands of lines without indention, 51 global variables, no object orientation, dozens of nestings, etc. But by the 3rd game you're writing, by and by, these things start to disappear not because someone told you "it's bad" but because by practice, you find out which tactics are more effective. This kind of knowledge of grander theories IMO is much deeper than any knowledge acquired by reading tutorials on what you ought and ought not do.

Ideally, the first programming environment should include a quick n' dirty visual feedback language. Instead of pseudo-code, it should be something that a kid can find running in the wild, to work with samples and so on. A teacher can then teach basics but mostly supervise the efforts and be there when kids need help, and to give tips.

Our teacher in school for the computer course we had for a limited time always prefaced every lesson with about 15 minutes of theoretical talk, with all computers screens switched off. To the 3 or so people who actually really liked computer class, this was horrible because we wanted to continue our program, and we tried everything to hack into the system with an inactive screen (sooner or later you'll figure out how to enter the BASIC interpreter and blindly program a beep loop, which really annoyed the teacher!). The rest of the class didn't care either way. This course dissolved in later stages at my school because there were only 2 people interested in it, not enough to make it happen – my friend, who later turned out to be my colleague at work, and myself.

mister scruff [PersonRank 3]

12 years ago #

"Which language should the kids of today be taught though?"

i'd start with PHP (to teach the basics – for loops , switch case statements, etc) and then move onto the highly elegant and lovely Ruby for all the OO stuff.

the IRB in Ruby is a great way to learn – its an interactive command line , where you can input ruby commands line by line and you get response.

for php – i'd start with php-cli , command line and much later move onto html stuff. but way way way later.

a terminal, php-cli and the nano editor would be far less distracting than a lot of the modern GUI development environments. just my two cents.

mister scruff [PersonRank 3]

12 years ago #

philip -> thats why very forgiving languages like BASIC are great for just getting stuck in and learning from scratch.
i'd put PHP in that category as well.
php-cli is almost like the modern equivalent of the old BASIC stuff.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago # would also be a neat language to start with, because it's so graphical. It's much easier to find a bug when it's graphical. You *see* if the sprite collides correctly with the wall, in real-time. Besides, many kids might love to be able to create games they can then play.

mister scruff [PersonRank 3]

12 years ago #

cross platform – os x, windows and linux versions! nice. must check that one out.

Hong Xiaowan [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Chinese aphorism:
To give him fish, not as good as to make him to be a fisher.
For any industry, three stuffs enough to be fishing tools.
1.Logic, including philosophy, this can make us find a right way to begin anything. Sometimes, selection is the most important.
2.Language, simple and exact language can make other people understand us fast and easy.
3.Math, this can help us to make a reasonable plan that can make us go to the target.

Rob O [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

I'm a bit surprized that nobody else seems concerned by the whole concept of teaching kids – children – how to program.

Maybe we need to seriously consider the wisdom of introducing computers into kids’ lives at too early an age. Does technology magically equate to a more efficient learning environment for children — or could it actually become a barrier to kids learning to think creatively and solve problems?

That kids now start using computers in kindergarten is a bit stunning. Don't kids need time to just be kids – to learn how to interact with the world around them and develop social skills? I'd rather they have the opportunities to learn arts, social sciences, and language skills before they learn Powerpoint, video games, or instant messaging.

I’m baffled why more people can’t see that funding books, teachers, & (non-athletic) school programs is a much more appropriate use of already very limited funding and teacher resources.

Countless genuises — people whose ideas changed the world — existed long before the advent of semiconductors, so it hardly seems likely that delaying the introduction of formal computer training will truly hamper any child’s learning ability or intellectual potential.

I’m tentative about introducing computers into kids’ lives at too early an age. The next generation will be enslaved by technology to a degree that we may not even be able to fully forsee. Computers will dominate almost every facet of their lives. I'm not at all suggesting that we deny them opportunities to learn computer skills, but don't we need to make sure kids have opportunities to learn how to exist in the real world before thrusting them headlong into the inescapable cyber-world?


Since I'm clearly the minority voice here, when computers are taught to little children, there certainly needs to be an emphasis on logic and basic math skills. And keyboarding – every day I see firsthand how not being able to type well hinders people in the workplace.

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