December 9, 2019

Steve Jobs is quoted as saying, “I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.” I’m dubious that any one subject can teach people how to think. I do, however, believe that if we teach computer science as good logical sense, if we teach it well, if we spark students’ interest in it, and excite students with it, computer science offers rich opportunities for teaching good thinking and clear articulation of that thinking! Ideally, of course, we’d be doing exactly that in all of our subjects—not just in the sciences.

However, I think there’s a better reason why all students should learn how to program a computer. All students can learn how to code, and all students can enjoy programming a computer to do things that genuinely interest them. Too many students—too many adults—still think coding is for a select few. Such thinking is simply wrong.

In EDC’s computer science education work, we see all kinds of young people get excited about coding. The genuine successes they experience—puzzling things out and pushing through until they see they’ve succeeded—surprise them. Their successes also show them concretely, not with pep talks or praise, that they are much smarter than they think they are and (too often) much smarter than (alas) others have led them to believe they are. I’m happy when I see young people experience these “Ah-ha!” moments, and Computer Science Education Week (December 9–15) and Hour of Code help these moments happen.

Both events send a strong, clear message: You don’t have to be a computer scientist or mathematician to join in. This message is a powerful way to change the public impression that only “geniuses” can tackle computer science. And it’s a message I want every student to hear every week, not just once a year. Everyone can tackle it, everyone can succeed at it, and everyone can benefit. Whether as an entree to higher-paying jobs or “just” for fun and fascination, everyone should have the chance to experience the beauty of coding and be given the choice to follow it up!

EDC’s Paul Goldenberg, distinguished scholar, adviser, and internationally known expert in mathematics education, designs innovative, evidence-based mathematics and computer science (CS) instructional resources for learners and teachers.


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