One of my Early Computer Programs

My brother found this at my parents’ house the other day. First off, for those of you who are wondering, it’s perforated printer paper. The holes (originally on both sides) are grabbed by the printer’s tractor cogs that pull the paper in to be typed on. The perforations enabled you to remove the hole strips and divide the conveyor of paper into 8 1/2 by 11 sheets. Since computers mostly delt with columns and rows of data back then, the green stripes made reading them easier.

Click Image to Enlarge

But what I’m excited about is what’s printed on the paper, a computer program that I wrote in 1983, when I was still teaching Social Studies in South Carolina. The program is a database application for our TRS-80 (Radio Shack) computers. It enabled students to create datasets for the counties of SC or states of the U.S., or animals by phylum and genus, and then run analyses on them.

I wish that I could find printouts of some of my games. It was such an exciting time when we were free to push the technology, writing and adapting software to support new ideas about learning, because no one else knew what we were doing. It was just computers.

Are We Missing the Point?

Coding super power

Coding Super Power

The title of this article is a question, because I admit my ignorance of the answer.  I’ve not been paying much attention to THE conversation, since I have finally accepted my status as retired. Wahoo!  But I am working on another book, so my mind is still in our righteous endeavor, even though my PLN has evolved.

The book I am working on will be a history of technology in education, as I have witnessed it – so programming is on my mind.  You see, that’s what we called it back in the 1982, programming.  So I was struck by a sense of déjà vu when I saw so much of the edtech discussion, at the recent Raleigh NCTIES conference, devoted to coding.

But are we (and I’m asking this question seriously) missing the point of a skill that has been so important to me, not to mention a pure personal joy?  You see, what has made coding so important is not necessarily its practicality, though I have been able to support the educational endeavors of many teachers with my tools.  It’s not even the bread it has put on my table, though I am enormously appreciative of that.

I often tell the story that on that first afternoon, after spending my first couple of hours teaching myself how to program (uh, code), I got on my hands and knees and I thanked every algebra teacher I had ever had.  There was finally a practical use for those mystical techniques for manipulating numbers.

But there was a major difference between how I was using Math and how I was taught Math – and it is a difference that strikes right at the heart of what we’re doing wrong in education.  You see, I immediately understood, though I may not have been able to express it, that I was using Algebra as a language, in order to instruct the digital environment (Radio Shack TRS-80 computer) to behave in the way that I wanted.  If you can communicate with a computer, then you can use it to learn and express.

We learned Reading so that we could read our textbooks and other more authentic sources of knowledge.  We learned to Write so that we could articulate our growing knowledge.  Maybe we should learn Coding in order to learn the language of numbers, so that we can learn from our own thoughts and express our ideas in endlessly creative ways.

..instead of teaching Math and teaching Coding.

Of course, I’m not the first to suggest such a radical idea.  It was during those earliest years that some very smart people (Seymour Papert & my friend, Gary Stager for two) were already suggesting and putting into action this very idea with the Logo programming language.

Image Attribute – Coding: It May be the Closest Thing We Have to a Superpower [Digital Graphic]. (2016). Retrieved from From the web site of Spring Forest Middle School Tech Apps Activities

Smart Curriculum

I’m not sure why this Jared Zimmerman Flickr Photo seemed ideal for this post — but here it is.

On Sunday (Aug 9) I wrote about a recent THE Journal article about the decline of computer science classes in U.S. schools.  It was based on a survey conducted by the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA). The post enjoyed a number of thoughtful responses. 

I was especially taken by Dave Winter’s comment,

Computer Science is in between a rock and a hard place as far as curriculum is concerned. The half life of knowledge in this area is so small. We need quickly changing curriculi to match the pace of change in this field. We look to building capacity in teaching and all organisations trying to develop.

Dave then transends, I believe, the computer science issue, when he says,

The world is in need of smart people and therefore smart curriculums.

This is what got me thinking. 

     What is a smart curriculum?

          What does it look like?

               How is it different from a dumb or slow curriculum? 

What is curriculum?  I remember our conversations about the definition of curriculum in one of my first education classes at Western Carolina University (“Go Catamounts”).  Drawing from memory and from a quick review of web-based definitions, curriculum seems to be the “what” and the “how” of teaching/learning — the content and the method.

In recent years, the federal government (here in the U.S.) has placed the determination of the “what” in the hands of state departments of education, and the “how” in the hands of the research community.  Is this “smart curriculum?”  You may honestly believe that it is — and I respect that. 

But I have to wonder, are our state departments of education — staffed by smart, knowledgeable, experienced, and dedicated educators — capable of keeping up with a rapidly changing world through 5-year updates.  Can the research community keep up with a rapidly changing information environment, with new tools emerging almost every day, that might be re-purposed by inventive teachers into powerful learning experiences?

Can smart curriculum come from centralized education institutions, or can it only come from empowered classroom teachers?  I vote for the teachers.

Dave closes with,

What would we start to include? html5, xna etc ipod apps android.

I’d rather leave it up to the teacher — or better yet, up to the student.  You have an iPod.  Teach yourself to code for the iPod and finish the year with an app that makes it to the iTunes store.  Enjoy playing video games?  Learn to use XNA’s tool box, create a video game, and get reviews from at least five gamers.

Of course, this sorta throws standardized tests out the window. 

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