Many people in Computing education are critical of the word coding, yet Miles chose it deliberately for this talk title. Why? Because there is a purpose to computing, as the National Curriculum puts it ‘to understand and change the world. Code is the tool which people can use to do this. Learning the principles, and developing the understanding is important, but the code is how this is actually embodied.
He quoted Papert on children learning Geometry with Logo programming. Papert’s concepts were all about children manipulating ‘powerful ideas’ using the tool, by doing the programming. This wasn’t about giving them computational thinking skills then using these for mathematical thinking skills. This was about using programming to embody the mathematical concepts to make them concrete and learnable.
How could this work in other subjects? Writing in the form of HTML strips out the fascination young children often have with style over content when word processing. Mixed with CSS it’s all about separating style from content, and using tags to define the structural features of writing. The abstract ideas of population growth in Science can be actually modelled with rules implemented as code, a process that requires developing a deep understanding of the principles in order to model them effectively. Python libraries for image processing hold huge potential for exploring some of the powerful ideas of composition and aesthetics in Art.
The opening years of the Computing curriculum in England have been marked by teachers stepping up to develop their understanding in a subject many had little experience of. Perhaps the side effect of this has been a focus on the theoretical, the Computational Thinking. In some way this is because that is what the teacher is focusing on; developing their deep understanding of the topic. In others it may be because presenting the subject as a series of concepts that you don’t even need a computer to teach is comforting to those who have little experience of computer based pedagogy, or very limited access to equipment.
Now, two years in, perhaps the next stage is to seeing coding on screen as an unmovably essential part of working with the key ideas in this subject. Once we make that shift, Miles makes a strong case for code starting to be seen as a tool for manipulating ideas. Once we get there, the subject of Computing is just the start.
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