I am a part of the Software Engineering Pilot, a Department of Education program designed to “address the shortage of high school graduates ready to enter new and emerging interdisciplinary high-tech fields.”
I was recently interviewed for a teacher newsletter, and decided to post a few of my answers.
What got you interested in the Software Engineering Pilot program initially?
There is a largely facetious debate about whether children growing up today are learning to be makers and creators, or just consumers. This debate is mirrored by the equally facetious one over whether new computer platforms like iPad are devices for creation or purely for consumption. The reasoning is something like this- as technology becomes more widely adopted, easier to use, and consumer friendly, the consumers will be of lesser “stock” than the archetypical tinkerer.
This is totally backwards.
The great and growing trend of technology advancement is part and parcel with the mission of the Software Engineering Pilot: the democratization of technology, the leveling of the playing field of access and exposure. There are many exceptional things about Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, and their educational history as incredibly successful college dropouts is well known. What is less well known is that before they dropped out of college, they got into excellent middle schools. They had exposure to the best technology of their time from an early age, and exposure to educational opportunities that, augmented by their natural intellect, put them on a trajectory of success.
I was recently asked by a news crew that visited my classroom if I think I’m making the next Mark Zuckerberg. I don’t want my students to view educational attainment and technological success as separate paths, but rather find inspiration and success in Technology class that emboldens them to face the challenges that await their academic careers and invent the solutions of tomorrow.
Why do you think computer science/software engineering/computational thinking is important for young people?
I think thinking is important for young people. I think it’s important for old people too, but it’s for some it’s too late. We talk about science thinking and engineering thinking, but most young people are natural scientists, and are at least naturally curious about engineering and the way things are put together. This is often manifested by students who are eager to take things apart but frustrated by the difficulty of constructing an item in the first place. I do think it’s important to give these thought processes a name, and a vaunted place in our school day. There are a lot of classes where failing 37 times in a period is a troubling occurrence, but in my SEP class, every failure is just useful data, feedback from the problem we are tackling.