In the Media

Published on December 10th, 2014 | by St Peter's College

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Hour of Code beckons as tech curriculum debate heats up

FORTY-SIX years ago, my school introduced a coding unit as part of Year 10 maths. It would change my life.

These were exciting days. During lessons, we’d break down tasks into coding steps, and draw flowcharts showing program logic. We’d write code in Minitran, a student-friendly derivative of the popular Fortran language devised by Monash University.

Using a paperclip, we’d punch the code letter by letter on pre-perforated “port-a-punch” cards and wrap them with rubber bands. They were submitted to a distant computer for processing. We’d get printouts a week later. That was 1968.

Fast forward to 2014, and I can attest that this 1968 course had a major impact. I went on to create a small business around coding myself, teach programming, and now write about the industry and its beloved gadgets.

Like mathematics, the analytical skills learnt from coding transfer into general life. Modern coding imparts a lot more skills, like design skills and a huge dollop of creativity.

It’s therefore surprising that nearly half a century later, we’re even debating whether to have coding and computational thinking mandatory in schools from prep to Year 10.

It makes sense as children these days are exposed to technological wizardry as consumers from year Dot. Why not as creators? It should have happened already.

Yet Education Minister Christopher Pyne and his state and territory counterparts are deliberating on whether such a subject should be offered throughout schooling, or just from Year 9 onwards.

A host of organisations want the ministers to reject the Year 9 onwards option for a schooling-long one when they meet on Friday.

That’s why this week’s Hour of Code has come at an ideal time, during Computer Science Education Week. And it’s good to be reminded that people as young as 15 can be successful app developers and entrepreneurs.

Now in its second year, the code.org coding movement stretches across more than 180 countries. As its website says, anyone, anywhere can organise an Hour of Code event for anyone aged 4 to 104. One hour tutorials are already available in more than 30 languages.

In Australia, Apple is organising free workshops on Thursday afternoon in 21 of its retail stores. The workshops aim to demystify coding. Details and registration can be found here.

“Education is part of Apple’s DNA and we believe this is a great way to inspire kids to discover technology,” Apple senior vice president Eddy Cue says.

“We are proud to be part of making computer science accessible to students of all ages around the world.”

Australian National University, Australian National Maritime Museum in Pyrmont, Charles Darwin University, The University of Adelaide and dozens of schools are also taking part. A list of events is here.

In the US, President Barack Obama has joined the coding push with The White House announcing an expansion of introductory computer science courses to all students in several districts.

Of course, many savvy Australian schools already teach coding and courses are going gangbusters.

“The coding classes are the most widely attended classes. Students have figured out that coding is going to be the language of the future,” says Walter Barbieri, Director of eLearning, at Adelaide’s St Peter’s College. “ The most impressive thing about coding in education is that it really unlocks their creativity.”

St Peters’ student Dallas McNeil says you need persistence when learning coding. “When I released my first app on the App Store called Circular. Many people were amazed that I had become skilled enough to launch my first app at age 15 and the positive feedback was very rewarding.”

Young coders point to the skills they pick up from games development.

“The fact that I can put a smile on a kid’s face with a game I created, is extremely rewarding. It makes all the hard work and late nights worthwhile,” says video games developer Josh Caratelli. He released his first game, Rugby League Live 2, as a paid contract worker at age 15.

“The biggest piece of advice I can give is to just start making something.”

Simeon Saëns, the creator of a coding app for fast games development, says building games inspires developers due to its mix of coding, art, storytelling, and design.

“It’s one of the few areas in programming that can invoke real passion. There is a lot of creative experimentation — lots of unknowns about whether something will work — that it often feels like magic to encounter a beautiful and fun game idea.”

His Codea iPad app lets developers write code, press play, and within seconds see how their code works. This instantaneous feedback is a far cry from my days of flowcharts, paperclips, port-a-punch cards and a week’s wait for a printout.

Hopefully the success of these teenagers will enthuse education ministers and curriculum developers alike so that more students are technology creators. Bring it on.


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