Time for a Computer Science (Not Just Coding) Focus

We really need to work together so that 21st Century Learning grows in our classrooms. Can students really escape the skills taught through Computer Science in the their futures? There is a tendency to equate coding and Computer Science as being the same thing. Coding teaches many of these needed skills, but Computer Science is a broader study. Coding is part, not a whole, of this discipline. I am referring to the whole subject area of CS, and not only coding. Computer Science teaches these skills:

  • Data structures
  • Information extraction
  • Information organisation and presentation
  • Computational thinking
  • Design
  • Mathematical thinking, processing and application
  • Algorithms and the formation of algorithms

Opponents of computer science will say that technology is not the solution to our problems and is merely a teaching tool (I agree since I’m talking about Computer Science not technology). Others will say that coding is a well-publicized fad that is being pushed on schools by code.org or tech companies (Coding is an important part, but I am still discussing computer science as a whole). While many will add that other subjects are important / more important and that technology can be integrated into other subject areas (Yes incorporate technology, I am talking about Computer Science). Finally, some may say these skills can be taught in other areas (possibly, but Computer Science ties these areas together and is my focus).

When I think of an example of Computer Science, I think of Sheldon Cooper’s friendship algorithm. His visual to think of any possible scenario when talking to a friend, and his possible solutions to arrive at a desired outcome. This episode made me laugh and think. Anyone do a Sheldon-style algorithm in their class lately? Sheldon’s work is a non-tech example of design thinking, mathematical processing and information flow / presentation. It is a perfect example of Computer Science without the use of technology.

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It’s time for a 21st Century Learning Curriculum that focuses on tasks that accomplish or teach these skills. With a bevy of apps that teach Computer Science for areas as vast as 3D printing, film making, web design and coding, the education curriculum is playing catchup with the tools in our grasp. We need to identify and overcome obstacles. We need to hash out our ideas. We need information from the jobs sector. While I believe we are moving in this direction, I can’t help but identify a certain amount of hesitation.  At the same time, I feel excitement from some teachers as well.

Maybe we need to stop over-analysing and just try something new.  In the Sheldon example, he gets caught in a loop and needs help to fix his algorithm. Could we be stuck in a loop of self-doubt and “What if” questions? Who can help with our uncertainty? In researching my blog, I found this video that explains the need for Computer Science (not coding) by Simon Peyton Jones. For me, other subject areas often try to highlight their importance based on less of an argument. Computer Science is the only subject area that has become so obviously important yet is not represented in our schools today. Please let me know your thoughts. I have a feeling that I will return to this subject in a future blog.

 

7 Comments

Filed under Coding, Literacy

7 Responses to Time for a Computer Science (Not Just Coding) Focus

  1. Kristi Keery Bishop

    Hi Enzo,
    I love reading your posts because you teach me such interesting and thought-provoking things when I learn from you. So I hope you can help me understand this too. I’m curious about where you see coding and computer science playing different roles. When I look at the outcomes you mention we could achieve by teaching computer science, I see some similarities that could be achieved through coding. Is the difference in the variety of skills that could be developed through computer science? Please help out this remedial student 🙂 Thanks!

    • I am so pleased that you take the time to read my blog. My intention is not to bring coding down. I love coding. Lately I have been feeling that the terms coding and computer science have been used as if they are the same thing. For me, computer science is a much broader area while coding is almost like a strand! Coding and programming is part of computer science which does achieve those outcomes. Yet Computer Science does not begin and end with coding alone. Some examples are the use of robotics and Raspberry Pi. Those parts of computer science teach design thinking and structure. Design could also be taught through the use of 3D printing. With CS, there is a link to engineering and the use of numbers. As well, encryption is a skill that is rarely considered as important. How do debit cards work? If you think of a Macbook or an iPad, is the coded software the beginning and end of the structure? CS also involves the interaction of motherboards and components. Sphero even sells a see-through robot so kids can see the inside. Coding plays a large part and achieves many goals. However, it is a part of CS which incorporates so much more. Never before have I seen the opportunity to achieve so much with Computer Science with kids. We have a kid-friendly coding language, miniature computers, iPad apps galore, robots and kids who love tech.

    • Jamaal Bowman

      It seems like coding is a series of important technical skills whereas computer science is a mindset that produces students with a network of adaptive skills.

      • Thank you for reading my blog Jamaal. I agree with you to an extent. Coding accomplishes many of the skills listed above. It can be technical but also starts to make sense to students. Coding does lead to many adaptive skills. Coding is an important part of this picture. I revised my blog slightly to address your point. Thank you for your thoughts.

  2. When people hear “Computational Thinking” they immediately go to coding. To me the term is much larger in scope. Manipulating cells in a spreadsheet, creating greens screes and playing with Minecraft all take on a form of computational thinking.

    As for CS I am reminded of when I was learning to drive and my dad said it was important to know how to add and change oil and tires. I think the philosophy stands today with technology. CS is more than just coding, it is a way of thinking, creating and solving problems with different hardware and software.

    Thanks for the great read and continuing the push for a larger CS education.

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