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Is Code.org Too Soulless To Make an Impact? 384

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the whatever-works dept.
theodp writes "By trotting out politicians (Bill Clinton, Mike Bloomberg, Marco Rubio, Al Gore) and celebrities (Chris Bosh, will.i.am, Ashton Kutcher), Tuesday's Code.org launch certainly was a home run with the media. But will it actually strike a chord with kids and inspire them to code? Dave Winer has his doubts, and explains why — as someone who truly loves programming — code.org rubbed him the wrong way. 'I don't like who is doing the pitching,' says Winer, 'and who isn't. Out of the 83 people they quote, I doubt if many of them have written code recently, and most of them have never done it, and have no idea what they're talking about.' Code.org's because-you-can-make-a-lot of-money-doing-it pitch also leaves Dave cold. So, why should one code, Dave? 'Primarily you should do it because you love it, because it's fun — because it's wonderful to create machines with your mind. Hugely empowering. Emotionally gratifying. Software is math-in-motion. It's a miracle of the mind. And if you can do it, really well, there's absolutely nothing like it.' Nice. So, could Code.org use less soulless prattle from 'leaders and trendsetters' and more genuine passion from programmers?" Just force all ninth graders to learn Scheme instead of Microsoft Word.
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Is Code.org Too Soulless To Make an Impact?

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  • Coding??????? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2013 @03:39PM (#43038067)

    I am more interested in the learning to read above the 6th grade level.

  • by echtertyp (1094605) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @03:52PM (#43038209)
    I've worked in California in the past, so I'm sure my U.S. colleagues would agree: this is all just part of the show to get unlimited visas for large companies. Rather like the Wall Street banks pleading for a bailout...poor us... then making records profit$ the following years. It's all part of the game boys. Learning to lie convincingly is how you get to the top.
  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @04:00PM (#43038299) Homepage

    People who are satisfied with the status quo -- people who see a picture of Bill Clinton or Will.I.Am and think, "yeah, we're celebrating the right things" -- are not the kind of people who become passionate programmers. The best programmers the world has known have all looked at what we have and said, "This is lame, and I'm going to fix it no matter how many times my computer says, 'You coded it wrong.'" A dystopian view of the present is what drives people to run the compiler one more time, one more time, one more time, one more time, until at 3 AM they say, "FUCK YEAH, BITCH, I WIN!"

    So unless that front page is trying to inspire kids by making them think, "I am going to learn enough so I can destroy asshat hairstyles like this," I think they've missed the mark.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2013 @04:25PM (#43038607)

    Looking back, I hated coding. I had so many ideas and games I wanted to create that I bought programming books and tried to read/ understand them as much as I could. I tried Pascal, then Java. I found it infuriating that it took so much time and effort just to write a "hello world" - I had to download drivers, compilers, start some kind of server, setup the drivers etc etc. I hated it. At most, I wrote a calendar app. I hated it, especially when there were thousands of other calendar apps out there which were much better and looked nicer.

    Later in life, I picked up 3d software (thanks to Maya educational version). I fell in love with it. The scripting was a bit tough, creating a simple sphere was much more gratifying. I could procedurally create a matrix of spheres and randomize its colors - in short, I could visually create an if-then loop. I loved it.Coding was cool and it felt powerful. It sure beats creating 1,000 spheres and trying to align them by hand. Now I go back to my math textbooks. I am fascinated by physics formulas and actually understand them. I can't get enough of coding and manipulating visual assets/ data that way was enlightening.

    I don't agree with the PSA and it kind of turns me off too. I agree with the OP that motivation has to come from within. If I had high hopes to say, make big bucks, a "hello world" would be infuriating (I understand is a necessary step though). But what sent me into a path of disillusionment was the notion of how much a single coder can accomplish vs. a team of coders - assuming you're an average guy. I'm no Bill Gates or Zuckerberg. I'm not a gifted coder at all. I had my own assumptions of what I could do as a coder vs. what movies and media seems to imply what an individual (and average) coder can accomplish.

  • by Graymalkin (13732) * on Thursday February 28, 2013 @05:02PM (#43039105)

    Code.org doesn't have a messaging problem, they've got a core conceptual problem. Trying to teach more people to program, especially by making it part of a core academic curriculum, is amazingly foolish. Anyone that's taken an introductory programming class at a university can tell you it is foolish. Jeff Atwood [codinghorror.com] pointed out this paper [mdx.ac.uk] seven years ago that expands on this idea. The skinny is that 30-60% of computer science students fail at introductory programming classes and consistently do so despite changes in languages, IDEs, and teaching methodologies. Some students simply could not form mental models needed to be able to program effectively. Keep in mind this was a self-selected group of students, ones who had chosen to take up computer science as a major.

    Based on this it seems apparent that if "everyone" was required to take programming courses then a majority of them would simply fail to learn the skill and only pass because schools don't like to fail students. No greater number of students would learn to program and they would have no deeper understanding of how computers or software works. Computer programming is a fine elective and is something that should be available to high school students but it is simply absurd to think that trying to teach everyone to program would lead to everyone magically enriching their lives.

    Teaching advanced mathematics [imdb.com] to students is unlike teaching programming despite the two being advanced skills. With mathematics there's a consistent domain specific language that can be used. The language of calculus builds on the languages of algebra and geometry which themselves build on simple arithmetic. If someone learns calculus (and continues to use it) it will be applicable for the rest of their lives. The language used for theory is the same one used for applications.

    In computer science there's the theoretical topics where "language is an implementation issue" and then more practical topics where the language and platform is paramount. Teaching high school students high level computer science topics isn't going to leave them with practical skills since it is often non-trivial to apply those theoretical concepts (which back practical topics) to a specific language and platform. Teaching more practical programming is going to leave them in a lurch when the school's choice of language and platform doesn't end up the future of the industry. There's thousands if not millions of kids that learned BASIC on Apple ][s and C64s that have not only never used those skills since but have absolutely no conception of how to apply the core concepts learned in this classes to more modern languages and platforms.

    If the goal of a programming curriculum is to teach critical thinking, problem solving, or logic there's much better ways to teach those things. Limited school budgets shouldn't be trying to cover programming for everyone. Kids would be much better off being taught how to balance a check book, plan a household budget, and if you want to use computers some basics like don't send naked pictures to your boyfriend or girlfriend because shit stays on the internet forever.. Kids interested in programming will take programming electives and focus in that area. Trying to get everyone to program simply is not going to work and it a waste of time and money that could both be better spent.

  • Re:Lol (Score:4, Interesting)

    by magic maverick (2615475) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @05:31PM (#43039401) Homepage Journal

    So, you know all about tab-stops? There's something that I had to be taught. It's not exactly obvious what they are or how to use them. Especially if the ruler is hidden. Kids don't, they'll do what all the adults they know do, and format with spaces (trying, and failing, to get things to line up correctly).

    What about styles? OK, admittedly the latest versions of MS Word have pushed styles to a more prominent position. But you know, I bet that most people who weren't taught to use styles (or picked it up from another place, like HTML and CSS) don't use them when doing word processing. And that includes kids. It's just so much easier to increase the font size or hit that bold button. OK, and what about the format paintbrush? People aren't using styles, so now all their headings are inconsistent. How to fix it? Manually check and change every property...

    Or in a spreadsheet program, what about pinning rows or columns (I think it's called freezing in MS Excel). I had to be shown that was possible, and that was after I'd been using a spreadsheet program for years. It's just not obvious. I'll be showing someone that tomorrow, someone who currently copies the headings into another document so she doesn't have to scroll up and down this long spreadsheet when working with another system.

    I was taught with two different systems, MS Office and ClarisWorks. For assignments, we could use either (and I used ClarisWorks generally). I was not taught to use either system though, I was taught to use a generic word processor, a generic spreadsheet program, etc. I am also a person who is willing to play around with stuff to see what's available. I'm a bit exceptional, I suspect most people just want to get their work done. They'll do as best they can, and use the one method they've found (even if it's not the best) from then on.

    I watched someone use alt-tab to change windows, but then use the mouse and context menu to copy and paste.

    Anyway, just like teaching typing is still important (because kids will pick something up, but proper tutoring will improve their method), so is teaching generic office suites.

The meta-Turing test counts a thing as intelligent if it seeks to devise and apply Turing tests to objects of its own creation. -- Lew Mammel, Jr.

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