Coding in Schools is Eating Education

Today Mayor de Blasio declared that every school in NYC will teach coding by 2025. The $81 million initiative will enable all of NYC’s 1.1 million students to have the opportunity to participate in our modern society and economy. This announcement is one more step in a clearly emerging trend in education – a trend that makes me optimistic about the future of NYC and the nation. Soon every kid will learn to code in school, and this fact is going to change everything about school, education, and the way kids learn.
Put simply, coding in schools is eating education. 
Famed venture capitalist Marc Andreesen said, “software is eating the world” by which he meant that software fundamentally changes every business in every industry. The inescapable equation for teaching coding in schools is this: if “software is eating the world” means that every business is becoming a technology business, then every job is becoming a technology job and every school must evolve to teach kids to use technology – particularly coding – to learn, understand, and communicate. Then, once students possess the fundamental literacy of coding, they can use it in any class, any subject, and any grade, to accentuate and accelerate their learning.
Many people equate teaching kids to code with after school clubs making games or Saturday-morning hackathons. That limited conception of coding misses the reality of what learning to code does for kids in school. Coding does the same thing for kids’ learning that software does for companies that build on it – it fundamentally transforms the way they think and work. Coding empowers kids to explore and engage academic topics in ways they could not without it.
Want examples?
SCIENCE: Teach middle school students to code, then in science class have them write a program for DNA translation that decodes a strand of DNA into amino acids to make a protein. They can animate it to show their friends. They can write a function for random mutations to see what happens to the protein.
The active process of creating with code will trump any other learning a school could offer. But first, we must teach every kid to code.
MATH: Don’t have students explore probabilty by rolling dice and recording results manually. Instead, have them write a program for a dice simulator that can roll repeatedly, record results automatically, and display the data. Then math teachers can ask questions about probability of compound events or how results differ with small sample sizes vs. large sample sizes.
When students create the simulator program they learn underlying math. Then the simulator gives them the power to explore the math more deeply through concrete explorations.
HISTORY: Students struggle to memorize the facts, names, and dates in history class. Why not have them create their own Jeopardy-style quiz app with questions and answers. Have the app randomize the questions, mix up answer choices, and automatically tell students if their answers are correct. Then students can quiz their friends with their app. Of course far more learning occurs when the students do the creating than when they are just being quizzed.
ENGLISH: Have students write a script for a play or a TV show as a creative writing assignment. With code that story can be transformed into something animated, visual, and interactive. It can allow other students to “play” the story as a choose-your-own-adventure game. And the creation process greatly deepens the learning.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE: Instead of having students memorize rules for verb conjugation written out on paper, have them code a program that conjugates verbs automatically. They need to build all the logic and rules of conjugation into the program – including any exceptions. And when they are done they will never forget because they created something instead of merely memorizing.
My point with these examples is that none of these are about creating games and none are specifically coding lessons. They are all ways that students with the fundamental digital literacy of coding can improve their learning experience in any class.
“Software is eating the world” means that every business, even those that are not “technology businesses”, must use technology to improve they way they deliver their products and services.
“Coding in schools is eating education” means that in every class, even those that appear to have no connection to technology, coding will be used to empower students to learn in more robust and effective ways – through creation and exploration.
What’s next for coding in schools?
Andreesen said, “People in the U.S. and around the world lack the education and skills required to participate in the great new companies coming out of the software revolution. This is a tragedy since every company I work with is absolutely starved for talent. There’s no way through this problem other than education, and we have a long way to go.”
Yes, we have a long way to go. With this announcement we are finally on our way.
Instead of trying to figure out if we have room in our schools’ schedules for coding, or how we can find time to teach kids to code when they already have so many others subjects and all these tests to take, we must instead begin to see coding as the answer for how we improve learning itself within schools.
Progressive education, the maker movement, constructivism, project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, experiential learning, critical thinking, individualized instruction. If you are interested in any of these paradigms, then providing all students with the digital literacy of coding and the tools to code in school is the key to engaging students and making school a more powerful learning environment.
The movement has been taking off for years, and this is just the latest giant step forward.
Today’s announcement takes place in a New York City where the foundations of a learn-to-code movement have been being built for years. Since being founded in 2013, CSNYC (one of the organizations behind today’s announcement) has reached over 10,000 students in over 100 schools in NYC. Girls Who Code, founded here in NYC in 2012, has already brought coding to 4,000 girls across the country and is aiming for 1 million girls by 2020. The CodeBrooklyn movement from the Brooklyn Borough President’s office is aiming to run an Hour of Code in all 500 Brooklyn schools this fall. Codesters, which I founded in 2014, is in 20 NYC DOE schools and 75 Girls Who Code clubs and will reach over 5,000 students this year. And there are many other organizations like TEALSScriptEdBootstrapScratchEdSEP, and CStuy here in NYC and across the country that are working to make coding in schools a reality.
Today’s announcement is a huge moment. It represents the tipping point in the movement to get coding into schools.
Coding in schools is eating education and I am thrilled to be part of it.

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