Dear Learn to Code Startup

Hello, I’m a computer science teacher.  Every day, I read another article about another venture, online or face-to-face, that seeks to teach kids to code.  We’ll make it fun, they say.  I appreciate the effort.  If anything, you’ve at least made learning to code look like “the thing to do.”  You’re like the iPhones of coding.  No one wanted a smartphone until the iPhone came out.  That’s all good.  That makes what I do a little easier to explain.  But if you really want kids to learn to code (and I’m uncertain that that’s you’re real goal), then don’t make yet another tool or start yet another class that’s separate from your nearby school.  If you make a tool, share it for free with your school district.1  Contact a science or math teacher and help them learn to use the tool.  Host a workshop for local teachers.  Hire those teachers for your summer camps. They will share with you how learning actually works so that you can make your tool better.  That’s been the model MIT’s Scratch has used.  It works pretty well.

Better yet, if you really want kids to learn to code, provide money to teachers and schools for training and buying equipment (like actual computers to code on) through a grant program.  Or work on policy at the local, state and national level to incorporate Computer Science into the curriculum.  There are organizations like CSTA that are doing this already.  Maybe you can help them.  Washington State recently decided that AP CS counts as math or science for graduation requirements.  That will get CS and learning to code into the curriculum.

See, all this stuff you’re doing does a lot for publicity, but I’m afraid you’re working against actual change.  And you’re working against (in some cases) diversifying the field.2  Who has the time and luxury to go to summer camp? To work on their on with an online program? People who have resources and time. People who are likely already thinking about computer science as a field.  Often not women.  Often not students of color.  So, again, I appreciate the effort, but I think it’s time you did this a little more thoughtfully and maybe talked to some educators and schools.  Get out of your Silicon Valley bubble for a bit and deal with some of the realities facing teachers and students.  Because we do want to teach kids to code and we do want your help, but you need to work with us.

Thanks,

Geeky Mom, teacher
1I’m starting to see tools that aren’t free, not to schools, certainly not to individuals.
2The exceptions are things like Girls Who Code and Black Girls Who Code as well as CodeNow, which target underrepresented groups.

6 Replies to “Dear Learn to Code Startup”

  1. I love this!
    As the daughter of two teachers, and two teachers who taught in some of my home region’s poorest districts, I understood from a really young age that for a lot of kids, there are no extra opportunities for learning waiting for them at home or during summer vacation. What my mom and dad and their colleagues could offer was all there was for most of the kids they taught.
    Public schools also are the place where if you’re learning something, you’re learning it alongside everyone in your class. It makes a given activity something “everyone” does, so you can discover a new interest or talent free of any issues related to who can and does seek it out independently. You aren’t “that weird kid” if you’re doing well in school, but you sure are if you’re the odd one out, or the one who’s just starting, in an outside group made up of people not like you.
    The writer of the piece obviously knows these things, but I figured everyone can use a little affirmation.

  2. Hi there! I’m an open source developer who’s been teaching Python workshops (some for kids, some for adult women looking to get into the field) for the past year and a half. In the past couple of years there’s been a lot of discussion in the open source community about what we can do to help improve K-12 CS education. Many individuals have also put in a lot of effort to help in the ways that we know how to – by creating teaching tools, teaching kids through local user groups and at conferences – we really are trying to bridge the gaps.

    But I agree that reaching directly into the classroom and helping teachers is going to be a lot more useful and effective. Unfortunately what we’re missing on the developer community side is a way to reach out to computer science teachers in our local school districts. For example, I’d love to put together a workshop to introduce teachers to some of the latest programming tools. Maybe it doesn’t even take the form of a workshop – maybe it’s a one-day forum instead, because I’d also love to get some feedback on what teachers really need from us.

    Is the CSTA a good place to start for reaching CS teachers in the community around me? Or should I start by just calling up my local high school?

  3. Hi Barbara,

    Thanks for commenting! Workshops are great. And honestly, if a local developer emailed me and offered to teach me some new things, maybe with a couple of nearby colleagues, I’d be thrilled. Also, I know I’m always looking for people to come to my class and just talk to students about what they do. It never hurts to ask. Every teacher will give you a different idea about what they might be interested in in terms of assistance, but I think it would be great to get in touch.

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