I had one of those dinners last night that I rarely look forward to, but always enjoy immensely. I’ll be working for an independent school this week, helping them to rethink their computer science program. Also here, is Barry Webster, a computer science teacher and technology coordinator for the Detroit Country Day School. I had the wonderful Mushroom Encrusted Mahi-Mahi and deep conversations with four computer teachers and technology program people from one of the most prominent private schools in North Carolina.
The first thing that struck me was a conversation we had around Barry’s recent visit to schools in Japan, on a Fubright Scholarship. He was asked about the major differences between schools there and schools here in the U.S., and his first answer was that the students play a direct hand in keeping the school up. He said that time was made each day when students mopped the floors, dusted, cleaned windows, and everything else that we hire a janitor to do. This led to a conversation from others in the group who had worked in independent schools with service orientations.
I was reminded of the school I visited in Shanghai, where the high school seniors were given a space in the school that they were allowed to make their hangout, a place for relaxation, study, group work, etc. They were responsible for the space, but free to arrange it in any way that helped them accomplish their goals. Come to think of it, that might have been the Maggie Walker Governor’s School in Richmond, Virginia. It’s all running together.
We had another long conversation about whether it was important for all children to learn some computer programming. I rather cruelly played the devil’s advocate by pushing the conversation with questions of, “Why?” My personal conclusion was that anyone who truly uses computers and the Internet (digital networked information) as a tool, probably does so through invention. We literally invent for ourselves applications for the machine that help us accomplish our jobs.
Anyone who has used a spreadsheet to solve a unique problem probably had to create/invent their own spreadsheet layout and formulas. It is, in my mind, the seminal and truly unique quality of computers, that they are universal machines that can be instructed to do or be (or simulate) almost anything. I believe that learning about computers, on a conversational basis, is critical to understanding this quality of personal computers. Learning that it is a machine that you operate by communicating with it was probably the first thing that I noticed when I saw my first personal computer (TRS-80 Model I) — and the earth shook under my feet.
When you factor in all of the “residual learning,” as one of my dinner companions phrased it, related to programming, I think we all came to the conclusion that it should be a part of every child’s learning experience.
“cs12pc0006.” Sofimi’s Photos. 1 Mar 2006. 2 Apr 2007 <http://flickr.com/photos/sofimi/106220697/>.