Friday, November 22, 2013

The newest foreign language

This clip is from the movie The Core. While the movie is of questionable quality, this clip encapsulates the meaning behind a conversation I had with one of my math teachers.

The math teacher came to me asking my experience with computer programming. Now, while it was a while ago, I did have some experience with computer programming. In elementary school, I had some experiences with BASIC and creating simple programs. When I was in junior high school, I took a summer class in LOGO and our computer class added to work with BASIC. After junior high, it was mandated, as a part of my math education, I had to take a little more advanced class in BASIC. My class was the last class to take BASIC before the evolution into True Basic and the loss of line numbers.

Sometime between my freshman year of high school and beginning teaching in high schools, the requirement of a computer programming course seemed to have disappeared. While most people might have not had many chances to apply their computer programming skills, I actually used my understanding of programming to make my wonderful TI-81 a more useful tool and created programs of algorithms so I did not have to remember them. (This was before programs could be shared and beamed to one another with TI calculators.) So when I started teaching freshman biology and asked students to use their calculators in this method, they looked at me like I was crazy and I had to change tactics quickly.

Flash forward to a few months ago and the conversation with this math teacher. She was telling me how, as a math major, she was require to take computer science courses and even pointed out the programming courses still listed on our course taxonomy. The conversation quickly morphed into more current applications of programming (Scratch, app development, JAVA, Flash, etc.) and how might she implement these in her classroom.

I then posed the question, why is programming part of the math department and not part of the world language department. While Spanish and Chinese are languages spoken by large portions of the world population, it is arduous to find anyone on the planet not affected by some type of computer programming.

Of course, after I had this conversation, neural priming went into effect and I saw multiple articles in my Twitter feed about this conversation, which I have linked below:

Is coding the new second language? -- From Smithsonian
Should coding be the new "foreign language" requirement? -- From Edutopia
Programming as a second language -- From Learning & Leading with Technology

So I ask you, will colleges accept 4 years of computer programming to meet the world language requirement? Is being able to create new programs more important that being able to ask "Donde esta el bano"? (Which I can tell you it is much more important to understand the directions than ask the question...) Do computer programming languages meet the 21st century need more than Spanish or French?

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