Twitter co-founder on Computational Thinking


I’ve long been a fan of Jack Dorsey, and I came across this excellent article about an interview on Charlie Rose.

Gary Stager a school reformer and Educational reformer speaks very well about Jack Dorsey. When we speak of using Computing in education, we often forget that in the words of Mitch Reznick ‘the computer is a paintbrush’. I’ve been subjected to some horrendous Powerpoint presentations in my life, and some horrendous ‘false complexity’. Yet I’ve somehow gotten to a Masters level education without being taught how to program.
Programming is something we shouldn’t deny students. In Mathematics for instance we have wonderful tools like Mathematica, Mathlab and Maple. These wonderful tools are interactive and provide all sorts of feedback loops that can greatly enhance learning.

The edtech community’s love affair with social networking has not made it easier for those of us advocating computer science experiences and S.T.E.M. for young people. I do not ascribe a sinister motive to any person or community. It’s just a reality that 1) the education community seems to have great difficulty thinking about two things at once 2) people enjoy talking to their friends and colleagues online 3) schooling is at least 90% focused on language arts 3) too many believe that education is about the transmission of and access to information 3) blogging and tweeting are simply easier than learning to program. New pedagogical strategies and teacher expertise are also required

So just like Professor William T. Shaw pointed out in his article about panic over S.T.E.M. teaching. We probably do need to change our pedagogical strategies which does involve teaching how to ‘get a computer to do it’. This will of course mean some movement away from the typical Gutenberg based technology of ‘teacher at the front of the classroom’, and especially at Universities more focus needs to be on getting students to read and think before lectures. Where the big ideas can be discussed and they’ve already been empowered enough to do computations.

So if in for instance the UK there was a huge movement to give interactive whiteboards to all teachers, and yet there is a denial of programming (something terribly important in S.T.E.M. – very few of my scientifically minded friends can avoid learning to program or needing to program) have we got our priorities as a society completely wrong?
Why do politicians like Michael Grove assume that things like Ancient Greek are somehow more important than teaching the importance of Computer Science, which is certainly already causing a revolution in Theoretical Physics, Mathematics, Biology, Linguistics and numerous other disciplines.
Notice how I use the term ‘Computer Science’ which is not I.T. We do a disservice to students when we fail to teach them the underlying infrastructure of Computers, and the power Computers have to solve problems. Of the various limits imposed by memory storage and the elegance that forces people into. Not to mention the inevitable Mathematics and Physics knowledge that some programming forces people into. As an anecdote, my own love of Mathematics probably goes back to Computer Games programming that I used to do while a teenager. Inevitably when one learns about OpenGL and 3D Graphics, you are forced to learn a few things about rotation matrices, group theory, and projectiles. The advantage of a ‘tinkering’ based system like a computer programming environment is it forces one to realise that knowledge and problem solving aren’t ‘binary’ processes of ‘I get it’ or ‘I don’t get it’ but a more complicated process that involves debugging, and additions. As Seymour Papert said ‘learning is debugging’. The wonderful, charming and well spoken programmer Jack Dorsey certainly understands this process.
Yet we deny students these opportunities, and treat computers in the same way a techo-phobic Accountant does.
This is not the same as learning the ‘false complexity’ of Dreamweaver or Microsoft Excel. Excel is the sort of program that a well trained programmer will just learn if necessary. Why teach the various tabs and windows in an ‘arbitrary’ Microsoft Application? Certainly I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach some HTML, but why not teach something harder? With languages like Scratch, and Logo, (not to mention the more sophisticated programs I mentioned above) students certainly have the ability to develop Computational Thinking and the sort of intellectual self empowerment that we all crave. We speak of ‘self-esteem’ among students, yet we don’t allow them the experiences of ‘making things’. And certainly I agree with Gary Stager that there is very little difference between the intellectual satisfaction that one gets in the Arts and in the Sciences. I don’t see some arbitrary dumb-bell distinction between right brain and left brain, yet many students and even teachers do.
Why not teach students how to program and build things. Lets treat the computer as an extension of ones mind.