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Computer Education in Public Schools

by dystrophy (Monk)
on Nov 06, 2002 at 05:16 UTC ( #210659=perlmeditation: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

I know several people who learned how to program (and the theory behind it) quite early in life. I’ve noticed that, almost exclusively, this learning was catalyzed by their parents (not in school). On the other hand, I know that we (here in Cal. and elsewhere in the US) are spending big bucks in public schools (K-8 grade) on "computer literacy and Internet" programs. Unfortunately, I have yet to meet anyone (young or old) who is anything other than an average-joe because of this "education."

Is our money going to waste in the system? Anyone have great experiences with early public education and computers?

When is it to early to teach kids? If we learned how to count in hex and octal right along with decimal, or how to program along with writing essays wouldn't that help? I wish I had started that early... I had a mind that would have eaten it up if I had been given the opportunity.

Honorable mention to this post.
- dystrophy -

Comment on Computer Education in Public Schools
Re: Computer Education in Public Schools
by Popcorn Dave (Abbot) on Nov 06, 2002 at 05:29 UTC
    It's probably never too early to teach kids, but you've got to be careful what you throw at 'em as far as programming I'd say.

    Like you I would have loved to get some programming training back in K-8. Might have even made me pay more attention while I was there. ;) And I think you've hit one something very important right there. Lots of kids need a challenge to keep them interested in what they're doing in school.

    The one thing I found when my wife was taking a basic class for a college requirement years ago - You can't teach someome to program that can't think in steps. She's very bright ( and no she's not looking over my shoulder right now (: ) but she can't solve a problem in a step by step manner. In my thinking, without that ability or being taught how to do that if it's not natively instinctive isn't going to allow you to do any coding at all.

    Of course I have to say that she more than makes up for my lack of color coordinating skills.

    Just my step by step colorblind opinion.

    There is no emoticon for what I'm feeling now.

Re: Computer Education in Public Schools
by BrowserUk (Pope) on Nov 06, 2002 at 08:23 UTC

    First, my early education was a long time ago, and on a different continent to that mentioned in this post. Things are probably considerably different now to the way the were back before the big bang:^)

    However, I think the biggest problem with most Computer Studies education prior to about 15 y.o (probably varies with location), is that it is way too structured and formal. There is far too much emphasis, at those early stages, on stuff like math, 'computer science' and worst of all, the history of computing.

    Math has it's own place and time in the curriculum and should more than adequately handle a child's math needs for computing until they reach the stage where they start choosing to specialise in computing in some form or another.

    The science of computing (though it's arguable as to how much science there really is) is fine and dandy at degree level studies, but earlier only serves (IMNSHO) to confuse and detract from the the fun of the art.

    I well remember the stuff I did for my first national level certificate (CSE, there was no O-Level back then) in computing. I learned about Ada Lovelace, Babbage's Difference Engine, Hollerith cards and weaving looms. Stuff I now find fascinating, but back then just boring when all I wanted to do was get on and program. I can honestly say that I cannot remember a single instance in nearly 30 years when that stuff has been of any use except in trivial pursuits and after hours bar discussions. The sad thing is that, if I remember correctly, some 20% of the final exam (1 question) was based upon discussing Holerith cards!

    Imagine that you started trying to teach your baby to talk by explaining the structure of sentences, the distinction between past and present participles and the reasons why they shouldn't split their infinitives or use double negatives. What's missing from the syllabus is the baby steps. The time to play and learn by doing and making mistakes. That's the way many a self-taught, computer enthusiast (I'm avoiding the word hacker because of both it's negative and positive connotations), has learnt to program. Many of them have gone on to become the luminaries of the field.

    My father was a carpenter, and he was sadly disappointed with the stuff I brought home from the woodwork classes at school. Every mortise & tenon joint showed more wedge than tenon, each dovetail looked like the doves appendage had been through a mincer. His answer to my sloppiness was markedly different to that of my woodwork teachers. Instead of drilling me with the 'measure twice-cut once' adage or emphasising (yet again) the importance of a tidy workbench and keeping my chisels sharp, he sat me down (as fathers are apt to do) with a piece of wood and a pen-knife and suggested that I carve things. Simple things to start and gradually more ambitious. I was never very good at it, but my joints improved considerably. The reason was that I acquired a feel for how the wood would split along the grain and learnt how that by making cross-grain cuts before the with-grain cut it would prevent the splitting from going where I didn't want it to. Of course, my woodwork teacher had made the same observation many times, but by learning it myself by trial and error, it became second nature to do things that way instead of another bloody rule that I had to remember.

    I saw (or was given) a link to an extraordinary story about the way uneducated (in any field) kids in Bombay (India) adapted to the presence of a computer in their midst in a recently. I'll add the link if I can find it. I also found a reference to the same story, though briefer, at the bbc.

    I guess what I am saying is that I don't think that we should be in a hurry to formalise the teaching of computers at an early age. Binary, octal and stuff is better dealt with by teaching general numeric base stuff (like Napier's Bones) in math class. Let the kids loose on computers and enjoy them and get a feel for what they can do (beside playing doom:^) before we bore the pants off them with Babbage and Lovelace or boggle their minds with two-compliment binary or BNF.


    Nah! You're thinking of Simon Templar, originally played (on UKTV) by Roger Moore and later by Ian Ogilvy
Re: Computer Education in Public Schools
by tonio (Sexton) on Nov 06, 2002 at 09:39 UTC

      Computer programming skills are never truely obsolete, because problem solving is a skill that will always be needed in programming, as well as elsewhere in life. The exact language you use is irrelevent if you can pick up the abstract ideas behind the syntax.

      Great, fantastic, 100%, tonio for president !!!!

      Start with basic education to have the fundamentals, before you need specialisation. Basic means - as pointed out - creativity, trial and error, open mind for any thinkable solution and find them by themselves (well, maybe with some help)

      Of course my 3 year daughter has a tiny mouse and it is fantastic how it trains fingers, patience, concentration. But it's living books not Visual Programming.

Re: Computer Education in Public Schools
by oakbox (Chaplain) on Nov 06, 2002 at 10:16 UTC
    Computer Science is too specific for grade school, and having these things crammed down your throat turns you off to it. I do wish that I had been taught LOGIC somewhere in grade school. You get a little bit of it in Geometry, but a few years ago (I'm 31) that wasn't even an option until you were in High School.

    I had a great foundation for programming even though my degree is in Electronic Engineering. EE got up close and personal with AND, OR, and NOT gates in digital circuitry. This was also where you learned good troubleshooting skills :)

    To me, the biggest hole in the US education system is that you are never taught how to learn, you are expected to pick it up by osmosis. Study techniques, how to restructure information into a format that YOU can absorb (some people are visual, some verbal). When you learn how to learn, everything else is a piece of cake.

    oakbox

      Probably the worst part about the truth to your statement is the grade school courses which seek to teach you study skills. For the most part, they (at least in my high school) were taught by remedial teachers, and just people who hadn't a clue what was going on half of the time. Not to downplay the importance of remedial teachers, but a course on how to study should NOT be limited in scope to those students are having trouble in high school. Rather, there should be also a course to help those students who are doing well in high school, but only thus far through osmosis. The problem is quite a catch 22: if a student actually need to study very hard for high school, then they might not have the aptitude to do well at a higher level university; if they breezed through high school on aptitude alone (like myself), they find themselves in a rough spot when the arrive at a university, as they have little or no study skills. If college-bound would have to go through a mandatory class teaching time management and study skills, but in a collegiate context, perhaps they wouldn't have such a hard time adjusting the first couple semesters.

        I think a lot of that "breezed through hight school to find themselves in a rough spot" problem is caused by the "same" hi-school education for all system in US. At the time the kids get to high school there are simply too big differences between them. Therefore the slow ones will be tooooooo slow and the bright ones will be bored.

        IMHO at about 14, 15 it's the highest time to separate them out. So that they end up with others at about the same level. With others that they can (and have to) compete with.

        Suppose you were preparing for some town-level athletic competition. Will you improve if you will practise with a world champion? I guess not. He'll be too god for you. Will you improve if your practise with someone whos fat and slow? No way, you don't have to push yourself to be quicker.

        Jenda

        P.S.: Here (Czech Republic) the system was such that the first 8 years we were all in the same schools and then we dispersed into several totaly different types of schools.

        (If some sentences do not make sense it's beause of my english. When I'm try to speak about something nontechnical I hit the limits.)

Re: Computer Education in Public Schools
by Callum (Chaplain) on Nov 06, 2002 at 12:23 UTC
    Given the lamentable job that some universities do of preparing CS students for real-world computing, teaching computing in schools is always going to be problematic.

    As computers become a commonplace element of peoples lives and jobs, it becomes critical to ensure that children recieve some appropriate element of IT education, however this should probably simply be a broad, computer-literacy level of teaching. This is all that 95% of them are likely to ever need, and school teachers will often lack the experience, skills and knowledge to successfully teach more than this; IT, like music and maths, is a subject where occassionally the pupil will quickly outgrow the teacher -- we should focus on providing a sound IT foundation for all students, and then enabling, and assisting, those who wish to go further to develop themselves.

    Those who will take their interest in computers further than a mere computer literacy class must be empowered to do so, and provided with the necessary foundation; this requires strong mathematical, logical, mathematical, technical and mathematical skills (did I mention maths?); I suspect that US schools suffer from similar problems in this regard to UK ones -- a shortage of specialist maths and technology staff, and a poor level of mathematical, scientific and technical knowledge among other staff.

    We can help students to advance in all subjects, not just technological ones, by focusing early on on teaching them how to learn, and instilling in them a desire to learn, rather than focusing too much on facts and figures. Once they've developed these talents they will teach themselves things which interest them outside the core curriculum, we need then to help foster, develop and direct their interests, so that their own learning complements their formal education as well as possible.

Re: Computer Education in Public Schools
by hsmyers (Canon) on Nov 06, 2002 at 14:25 UTC

    Before I'd embark on a computer education for a child, I would first teach them Chess. And no, it doesn't matter if they are a boy or a girl, Chess is not gender specific except by 'nurture'. The idea here is that game playing is already a 'child' activity---as it should be. Chess is just an extension of what they already are doing, only 'more so' so to speak. If they can handle the ideas inherent in strategy and tactics, then they should have no trouble with programming.

    Assuming a positive outcome, I'd next grab one of the many Logo primers from MIT and then help them pan through it. If this works out, next I'd back the hell off and let the 'tree' grow how ever the hell it wants to---just getting started is enough!

    --hsm

    "Never try to teach a pig to sing...it wastes your time and it annoys the pig."

      I've never been god at Chess. Too many pieces with too many options. And it takes ages to get anywhere.

      What I did love was Merkur, "fake" Lego and other similar things. I did not spend time with toy cars, I built them. I did not waste my time with toy trains, I built towns and tracks for them.

      And I think I did learn something there. Besides aren't we all putting prebuilt pieces together? ;-)

      Jenda

Re: Computer Education in Public Schools
by Elgon (Curate) on Nov 06, 2002 at 15:33 UTC

    To be brutally honest, I don't think that much of this supposed education has anything at all to do directly with programming, although early exposure to computers is vital. The first skills should be those of knowing how to use a browser, word processing program and a spreadsheet. Sounds all a bit mickey mouse? Not really for most eight-year olds. There should be some basic (excuse bad pun) programming skills taught compulsarily in schools, such as breaking down a problem into logical steps as mentioned above. After this, I think that it should be an optional course. The biggest problem is often a complete lack of flexibility on the part of the school or teachers rather than a lack of actual time spent with computers: More so than most other subjects, at this sort of age, you are going to get a very wide spread of prior knowledge - in my class of 20 students we had three who could program in various 8-bit assembly langauages, another couple who could program in BASIC a bit, 10 who knew what a programming language was and the remainder who'd never seen a computer in their lives before.

    I, along with most programmers I know, started off with our parents' home computers teaching ourselves the ZX Spectrum or BBC Micro variants of BASIC in our spare time during evenings or weekends. Some of us then moved onto Z80 or 6502 machine code - personally, after this I regressed into Visual Basic before advancing to Perl, PHP and C only recently. The practical upshot of all of this was that I could find out how to solve problems in a way which made sense to me as a ten-year old kid. I feel that this was far more important than any particular skill I ever gained at a particular language.

    In many ways IT should be a compulsory subject IMHO, however practical skills with a spreadsheet are far more important than knowing a bit of Delphi or VB for a large sector of the population. This doesn't mean that far more advanced courses shouldn't be on offer in schools for kids with the interest and aptitude: From specific programming languages to a more generalised theory of programming (something which I keenly lack.)

    Elgon

    "What this book tells me is that goose-stepping morons, such as yourself, should read books instead of burning them."
           - Dr. Jones Snr, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Re: (nrd) Computer Education in Public Schools
by newrisedesigns (Curate) on Nov 06, 2002 at 15:42 UTC

    It's never too early to teach a child anything.

    Growing up, I had access to a Commodore64. It wasn't much, and I didn't know much about it besides LOAD "*",8,1. I started using it around age 5 (1986).

    When I got into school, I was allowed to use the school's Apple II's and first generation Macintoshes. Our school had a mandatory BASIC course which all the students had to take. Well, a partner (who also had home-access to a computer at an early age) and myself wrote about 500 lines of BASIC composed of a menu system and three very simple games. This was all done on Apple IIs. Not many others in the class programmed anything besides low-res still images (which was covered in depth). I'd safely say that not one of those 21 kids remembers how to write BASIC on an Apple II. But I know that for many of those kids, this was either first experience with a computer, and by allowing them to have free access to it, it gave them a greater understanding and respect for computing.

    A healthy mix of computer instruction at home and in school is what makes children become knowledgeable in computers and programming.

    John J Reiser
    newrisedesigns.com

Re: Computer Education in Public Schools
by Theseus (Pilgrim) on Nov 06, 2002 at 15:50 UTC
    I'm 19 now, and went to public school in Miami, FL for K-12. As far as programming instruction, we got a little exposure to Logo when I was in 4th and 5th grade, drawing buildings and other such things. In 8th grade, I took a class called "Computer Programming." This class spent half the year teaching QBASIC, the other half on Logo. Due to my previous Logo experience, I was able to convince the teacher to let me do QBASIC the entire year and continue on to the advanced projects while the rest of the class did Logo.

    In high school, no computer programming courses or instruction were offered. Personally, I think that's a problem. The fact that there is a woodshop or home economics class available to me in high school but not a computer programming class seems ass backwards to me.
Re: Computer Education in Public Schools
by mousey (Scribe) on Nov 06, 2002 at 17:21 UTC
    Well, as I type this, I am waiting for my class to come in, I would say that these classes aren't going to waste, but are helping to show a new way to look at things. Such as if you grow up without a knowledge of how a computer works, you probably wouldn't want to grow up and learn them later on. I know this is hard to see, since most people that did learn them later on, computers weren't as popular as children. I don't know if I have a point to this post, but I'd say that showing children what computers can do and a minimal education on how to use them++
Re: Computer Education in Public Schools
by insensate (Hermit) on Nov 06, 2002 at 18:56 UTC
    Starting in high school and spanning the rest of an individual’s life; a bizarre paradigm has permeated American culture. For the average student, high school is nothing short of a four-year sentence. In June of each year students are promoted a grade without having to demonstrate true mastery of any established standards. To make it from one year to the next, all one has to accomplish is avoidance of demonstrating shear incompetence. Promotion is based on not failing…rather than on the demonstration of mastery.

    This strange arrangement persists throughout college. The degrees that adorn so many office walls are symbols of completion but truly only indicate that an individual spent four years of his or her life not failing at the coursework indicated by the calligraphic scrawl on the parchment.

    The life of a computer programmer is about mastery. Programmers must never stop learning. The pace at which technologies are advancing and evolving make this an industry where failure to dedicate time and energy to the study and practice of emerging and developing standards constitutes professional suicide.

    When a programmer's education begins is not as important as the fact that it never stops.
Re: Computer Education in Public Schools
by strider corinth (Friar) on Nov 06, 2002 at 19:27 UTC
    Like newrisedesigns, I learned programming first on a C64, when I was nine. I got as far into the manuals as it took to learn LOGO, Commodore BASIC and Simon BASIC, and how to make a bullet sound out of an ASCII string. Then my mom bought our first Macintosh: a Mac SE.

    I used HyperCard, took other people's programs apart, and went from there. My computer lab teacher encouraged me, as did my 5th grade teacher, who gave me an 'A' for the Carmen Sandiego mock-up I did, even though it wouldn't run on the school's Mac Plus 'cause it could only read single sided disks, and my program took a whole 800k, double-sided one.

    People learn best by doing what they like. Students ought to have access to programming tools and encouragement in that direction, so that nobody who would love programming misses their chance to discover it. But if a student doesn't like programming, or can't get his or her mind around it, it would be a mistake to try to teach them, even for the sake of teaching logic or problem solving. If a student is bad at math, the Establishment knows how to help him or her. It means that a core skill is missing, and they've dealt with that problem before. If a student is bad at programming, it may just be because it's boring to him or her, and nobody is going to know (at first) what to do about it.

    Construction techniques, corporate management, and automotive design are all excellent fields which can be taught with the aim of teaching other things, just as programming can. They are also just as specific, and just as prone to finding a large number of students disinterested or unable to learn. That's why they're specialized, and usually taught in a post-high school setting. I think (much as I'd love it if every kid was a programmer) that the same thing is true of programming. I think the resources should be available to the interested, but to teach it as curriculum would be a mistake.

    This largely holds true because in order to make programming a subject the impact of which on a student could be measured, the curriculum would have to be very Computer Science based. At that stage, it's mostly math, and has no visible benefits as I can see them. On the other hand, it might turn some otherwise potential programmers into computer haters.
    --
    Love justice; desire mercy.
      I definitely agree that programming-related instruction should be mostly optional. I can understand having all kids do a little Logo and a little QBASIC in the elementary school computer lab, but any more in-depth and technical programming classes should definitely be optional. You'd be doing more harm than good by forcing people into the class that hate the subject matter, they'll just distract the people who are there to really learn.
Re: Computer Education in Public Schools
by jynx (Priest) on Nov 06, 2002 at 20:41 UTC

    Already a long thread but...

    for some reason i always try to get motive behind things, and here's what i ascribe to the situation you describe, which not only seems to explain things but also gives a general instruction as to how the curve will continue later (everything's a curve, it's just that sometimes that curve is a straight line; damn mathematicians... ;-)

    The teachers of current generations are different then the teachers of my generation. So i don't plan on starting from the beginning where some anomalies happen, but instead explain what i think the cycle is now that it has stablilized.

    1. There is new technology becoming widespread that new humans should understand to better integrate with society.
    2. Let the teachers of education find the best way to teach this technology to young minds (i mean, hey, it worked for math/physics/etc, it should work with technology too, right?)
    3. The teachers are a generation behind and probably not hip on the gyrations in the tech industry. What would they teach? What they don't understand. They cannot teach above their level, so most kids learn about basics, and no more, because that's all that the current staff can provide (and they have problems understanding it, whereas kids pick it up quick -- as kids tend to do -- and get bored quickly instead of endlessly fascinated).
    4. The kids of today grow up and face the same dilemma, go back to step (1).

    Note how at every step (3) only the basics are taught, because at any one slice of time the subjective term "basic" means different things, and people who are up on current practices will (more than likely) scoff at what is being taught in grade/junior/high/etc school...

    So, in my opinion, the money is not going to waste, because in a few years when the next generation of teachers starts in, they'll start teaching higher concepts and levels. And those kids will be able to grasp more and more. This bumps the bar on what one "needs to know" to get through school (and thus survive -- for some definition of survive) but in the end it makes the whole of people slightly smarter over time (which to my mind is the point of education).

    As to when is it too early to teach kids? That's child dependent. For some strange reason i have very early memories to before i was 3 years old, which is unusual, and my comphrension of material starts from that time onward. Some kids don't start remembering (and thus comprehending, that is to say, learning) until 4 or 5 years. IIRC the average is 3. As soon as the child is ready to start learning what they want to learn then by all means start teaching. Children are information sponges, but like all sponges they should not be squeezed. To forcibly teach something they don't want to learn will just dry out their thirst for knowledge...

    Disclaimer: As always, the parents should have the final say on what a child does or does not learn during their formative years.

    Anyway, those are my opinions, and two cents, take them for what you will...

    jynx

      I'm not really sure that it makes sense to comment on someone elses opinions in what is already a very subjective thread, but there are a couple of things in your post that stimulated my thought processes beyond where they were currently languishing.

      I agree completely that general education has always been at least a generation behind the bleading edge (or even the current stable norm) within any given technical subject. However, I do perceive a difference with IT, that being that I don't think any other field has had such an immediate, far reaching nor so rapidly evolving effect upon the whole of society as IT generally and computers specifically.

      The computer industry is barely 50 years old and it's effects are already far more prevelent that any comparable technological advance. I've heard it said that the car industry went from nothing to maturity in around the same time frame--the late 19th century to universal availablity (within some definition of that phrase) just after WWII-- but the development of the car as we know it today actually builds on a great deal of stuff from the preceeding centuries. The horse drawn carridge, steam engines an so on.

      By contrast, the development of computers and most of the related fields really sprung into existance half way through the last century and has grown, and continues to grow, at rate that far outstrips those industries and fields of knowledge that preceded it.

      However, more than any other technology I can think of, computers also encroach, with ever increasing impact, upon almost every other field of human endevour. I started to draw up a list of these, but rapidly realised that it would be easier to list those which computers do not have some impact upon. This is even easier than I first thought, because I truely cannot think of one. Every single endevour I could think of is or soon will be impacted by the use of computers. From the obvious, communications, automobiles, map making etc. to the less obvious like farming, fishing, medicine, even child-rearing with fetal heart monitors, baby alarms, etc.

      My conclusion is that in many ways, computer technology, IT whatever label you wish to put on the whole subject matter, is destined to become the fourth 'R' in the core curriculum. It is likely that it will need to become as ubiquitous and fundemental to have an appreciation of the use of computers to manipulate information in the future as it is to be able to read, write or count.



      Nah! You're thinking of Simon Templar, originally played (on UKTV) by Roger Moore and later by Ian Ogilvy
Re: Computer Education in Public Schools
by thraxil (Prior) on Nov 06, 2002 at 21:38 UTC

    i'm not an educator myself, but i work with a bunch of them.

    i have to credit my public high school with at least teaching me to touch type (the keys on my keyboard at work are rearranged to spell my first name along the home row :) and it amazes me how many people i work with (programmers and webdesigners, people who work on computers all day every day and have for years) can't type on it without looking at their hands. it's somewhere around 95%. it blows my mind. anyway...)

    the same mini class that tought me to type also covered basic word processor and spreadsheet use and had a QBASIC component that was basically a waste of my time. later i went to a math and science magnet school and got put in a C class. that class was actually on par with Calculus or Physics in terms of class time and had a really good instructor who did a remarkable job of teaching the underlying concepts of programming. so i can say that that class definately helped me. but i am quite aware that this class was a huge exception when compared to the rest of the k-12 education in this country.

    one thing that might be important to keep in mind in discussions like this is that computers now are very different from when most of us were growing up and learning on them. with the 8086 i had as a kid and the apple ][s and C64s that my friends had, programming the computer was a large part of using them. even using the applications on them had a much steeper learning curve. without a mouse, you had to learn a huge set of key commands for any new program just to be able to get the basic stuff done. just learning to use one of the old word processors indoctrinated you into the whole process of having to understand the model that the program used and reading the manual (or at least looking really closely at the screen for hints on what to type). from there, learning a little BASIC and writing a simple program wasn't that big a step. now computers have become much different beasts. they're turning into extensions of TVs, VCRs, telephones and stereo systems. for most people, learning the very basics of clicking around Windows is enough that they can then use their computer as an entertainment and communication appliance and they really have no need or desire to use their computer as a tool for performing computations.

    as computers get into schools more and more, the tendency seems to be to offer classes teaching people how to use word processors, web browsers, and spreadsheets. the whole 'computer literacy' thing. but it's almost unnecessary these days. especially the younger the kids. if you sit an eight year old in front of MS Word and leave them alone for 20 minutes, they'll have figured the whole program out.

    so back in the day when 'computer literacy' actually implied some basic knowledge of programming, it may have been a laudable goal for schools to teach. now it has absolutely nothing to do with programming skills and has to be considered seperately. most importantly, you can no longer assume that just giving kids access to computers at an early age will somehow magically help them develop programming skills. that would be like assuming that children who watch a lot of TV will somehow pick up video editting skills through osmosis or something.

    as far as actually teaching programming skills early on, there has been a real interest amongst those in the educational community in adding programming as a supplement to math education. in the k-8 world, the focus is entirely on fundamentals; reading, writing, arithmetic, and basic problem solving and thinking strategies. educators have very little interest in teaching real 'skills' until high school. once you go beyond the basic arithmetic stuff, the main benefits of studying math for most students are more in the area of developing problem solving skills and learning to think in a precise, logical, rational manner. even though most people will never use calculus once they get out of school, it changes how their minds work in broader ways that are useful outside mathematics. programming is almost exactly the same in that respect. if someone learns to program but never actually writes a line of code again, they've still learned skills for disecting a problem into smaller parts and solving those small problems independently. one of the big problems with math education is that math is by nature very abstract and many of the people who would benefit most from learning those problem solving skills can't handle the abstractness and get bored and distracted. programming has the advantage of having instant gratification. so the kids see that they can actually build useful and cool things themselves and they stay interested longer.

    anders pearson

Re: Computer Education in Public Schools
by Anonymous Monk on Nov 06, 2002 at 22:27 UTC
    The problem is that different people learn in different ways based on their personality. Some people learn better through details (step-by-step), and some people learn better through concepts. I think that any child can learn any topic if it's brought to them at the right angle. It's the Intuitive vs. Sensing difference. Here some starting info.
Re: Computer Education in Public Schools
by blssu (Pilgrim) on Nov 07, 2002 at 17:40 UTC

    My wife is a public school teacher and I'm a professional programmer. We've chosen to send our kids to a Waldorf school. Computers are introduced in high school. The K-8 grades have absolutely no contact with computers.

    Instead, every elementary student takes in-depth "block" lessons covering language/math/history/science/etc., two foreign languages, music, art, wood-working and hand-working.

    The emphasis is on natural development and expression. For example, my first grader was introduced to painting with one color of paint. (Very good paper, brushes and paint -- but only one color.) Children experience how paint and water mix, how paint flows on paper, how dry paper absorbs paint quickly, etc. It is a game of self-discovery. When a second color is introduced, the game expands to include how colors mix, etc. This takes time, but the results are stunning.

    The problem I see with traditional U.S. public schools, is that students know how to type, but they don't have anything to say.

      Before proselytizing about Waldorf any further, check out the underpinnings of this deceptive "education" at http://www.waldorfcritics.org/ Sobering info there.
        What a load of crap. I had a hard time finding anything well-researched on that site. Morons. They should never have been allowed to leave the cult. ;-)
Re: Computer Education in Public Schools
by John M. Dlugosz (Monsignor) on Nov 08, 2002 at 20:49 UTC
    I had a good Teacher in my high school class, AP Computer Science. He recognised my self-teaching ability and allowed me to explore on my own, and answered questions by loaning me his own college texts (including Knuth).

    I thought to myself that nobody learns "programming" in class, while in College. Rather, we learn languages and skills, but the inate ability must be self-taught and developed as a skill. It's just like playing the clarinet: you have to do it and practice it.

    What's too early? I think kids might not have the required abilities before some age, but I don't know what that is. Also, could certainly teach pre-programming skills before the "real thing" as the child develops in different stages.

    OTOH, teaching Computer Literacy is very necessary for all those who don't take an active interest in it.

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