I am going to start this blog off by talking about someone who you would not usually relate to this industry. His name is Prince and he recently died. yeah, I thought you knew him. Why am I starting my blog off by talking about Prince?
Though many would say Prince changed the world through his music, the artist also took a hands-on approach to changing the world beyond music. The 80’s global superstar was the inspiration behind YesWeCode, an nonprofit in the Oakland region in the USA, which works to help young people from minority backgrounds, enter the tech world. The idea for the program came from a conversation between Prince and his friend Van Jones. Jones told CNN in an interview after Prince’s death,
“Prince said that ‘A black kid wearing a hoodie might be seen as a thug. A white kid wearing a hoodie might be seen as a Silicon Valley genius. Let’s teach the black kids how to be like Mark Zuckerberg.’”
The program is aiming to teach 100,000 low-income, non-white teenagers how to write code. The organization now has 15 technology companies working with youth to help prepare them for Silicon Valley Jobs. Currently, the nonprofit’s website has a page dedicated to thanking Prince. “When you think about how great he was as a musician, just please understand that’s a part of the greatness,” says Jones in a statement.
Jones said that Prince’s faith as a Jehovah’s Witness meant he didn’t speak publicly about his charity, but that he was constantly giving anonymously and making calls behind the scenes to try and get support for causes that needed help. “I guarantee you, anybody struggling, anywhere in the world, he was sending checks, he was making phone calls,” he added.
I became intrigued to find more instances of big organisations helping kids by giving them materials to learn how to code. I remembered a while back that President Obama was talking about bringing in coding as a compulsory topic into the school curriculum. I found an article from January 30 that stated President Obama is seeking $4 billion from Congress to dramatically increase the number of children who have access to computer science classes in school, a move he said is necessary to ensure that students are competitive in a job market that rewards technological know-how.
Obama stated that, “In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill — it’s a basic skill,”. The president had mentioned the need for broader access to computer science classes in his State of the Union address earlier in January, but had not provided much in the way of details until his announcement on Jan 30.
If Congress approves the President’s budget request, the $4 billion would be divided out over a period of three years to any state that applies for the funds and has a well-designed plan to expand access to computer science courses, especially for girls and minorities.
- Just about 25 percent of the America’s K-12 schools offer computer science courses, according to the White House, and 22 states do not allow computer science courses to count toward high school graduation requirements.
- Fewer than 15 percent of high schools offered Advanced Placement Computer Science in 2015, and the demographics of those AP classes were not representative of the student population. Just 22 percent of students who took the Computer Science Advanced Placement exam in 2015 were girls, and 13 percent were black or Latino.
White House officials described it as the largest federal effort to date to expand computer science courses, and an attempt to accelerate efforts already underway in many cities and states. They called on tech companies and philanthropists to get behind the initiative.
Just three days later, K12CS.org announced the New Framework to Define K-12 Computer Science Education, the collaboration of large school districts (NYC, Chicago, San Francisco), technology companies (Microsoft, Google, Apple), organizations (Code.org, ACM, CSTA, ISTE, MassCAN, CSNYC), and individuals (higher ed faculty, researchers, K-12 teachers, and administrators). “Funding for the project will be provided by Code.org and the ACM. The framework will identify key K-12 computer science concepts and practices we expect students exiting grades 2, 5, 8, and 12 to know.”
In a FAQ, K12CS.org envisions a Programming and Algorithms standard for 1st Graders that calls for the 5-year-olds to “Work collaboratively in clear roles (e.g., pair programming) to construct a problem solution of a sequence of block-based programming commands”.
This K-12 CS collaboration has a three-step review process which exists to provide transparency into the development of the K-12 CS framework and include feedback from a diverse range of voices and stakeholders.
Individuals and institutions are invited to be reviewers of the K-12 CS framework. Reviewers could choose to participate in any or all of the three review periods, but the first two have already been, with the last review period being between June 8 and 29:
- Feb 3 to Feb 17: Early review of the 9-12 grade band draft
(Here’s the webinar recording if you are interested.)
- March 18 to April 5: First full review of the entire K-12 concepts and practices.
- June 8-29: Second full review of the entire K-12 concepts and practices.
(Sign up to be notified when it opens if you are interested.)
I then got even more curious and researched what some other countries are doing to give K-12 students the opportunity to code in schools. I discovered that the BBC are doing their part to give school students the opportunity to learn to code.
The BBC’s Contribution
Every Year 7 student in England and Wales, Year 8 student in Northern Ireland and S1 student in Scotland will be handed, for free, a BBC micro:bit computer specially designed to help pupils learn to code. Micro:bits, which are smaller than the size of a credit card and can be hooked up to a mobile app or accessed via the Internet, will be delivered nationwide through schools and made available to homeschooled students over the course of the next few weeks. The students are able to keep their devices as their own, meaning they can work with the device for homework, in school holidays, and use it for more applications as their grasp on coding increases. The initiative follows on from the BBC’s Micro programme that was introduced in the 1980s, and sees a partnership between the BBC and some of the world’s most notable technology companies such as ARM, Microsoft, and Samsung. The computer will hope to emulate the Raspberry Pi, of which more than eight million have been sold.
The Director-General of the BBC, Tony Hall, said: “The BBC micro:bit has the potential to be a seminal piece of British innovation, helping this generation to be the coders, programmers and digital pioneers of the future.”
The actual micro:bit itself is designed and created by ARM, one of the world’s biggest computer chip designers. The core code of the BBC micro:bit has been developed by researchers at Lancaster University, which says it will continue to support the micro:bit community as it grows. Teachers are also being handed extra micro:bits as well as a wealth of teaching and lesson material so they can introduce micro:bits into the curriculum.
Sinead Rocks, Head of BBC Learning, said: “The BBC micro:bit has seemingly limitless potential, especially when paired with other hardware, and we can’t wait to see what students will do with it. They’ve already come up with all kinds of ideas during testing and at events around the country – some ideas help solve some of life’s daily challenges, some could have business potential, and others are just great fun. Teachers have been quick to embrace it too, which is so important to the success of the project, and they have already made valuable additions to our online resources.”
Inside the box pupils will also get a USB cable to connect the micro:bit to a computer, a battery holder with two AAA batteries, some crocodile clips to connect to other devices and sensors, a buzzer than can be activated by the micro:bit, and a music jack cable that can be used with speakers or headphones.
Both pupils and teachers are directed towards the BBC micro:bit website where they can program each element or feature of the micro:bit from a PC, tablet or mobile device. Android users already have a dedicated app for the device, with an iOS version coming out soon, according to the BBC. The website features a range of tutorials and resources, with projects including turning the micro:bit into a heart monitor or a virtual pet.
The BBC said that the micro:bit initiative has been a “digital literacy project on an unprecedented scale”, and that it will be a truly landmark moment for the BBC, its partners, and children across the UK.
Big, important companies and organisations are starting to recognise that to futureproof the youth, they need to teach them how to code. The importance of code will just keep increasing as more and more aspects of our lives are technologically integrated. The problem isn’t just that not enough teenagers have access to learning how to code, it is that females and non-white youth are of a fraction of the overall population that have been exposed to, and are interested in code. Females and non-white students make up between one-eighth and one-fifth of the total population of students self-learning how to code.
This is Daniel Jochem, signing out.