Almost fifty million people have tried an hour of code. That is amazing! If you have not yet discovered code.org, then that figure alone should give you some idea of it’s growing popularity and impact on children, parents and teachers. There are many learn-to-code sites out there, but this one has combines popular culture, celebrity names and of course video games. It’s really easy for kids to learn with a visual interface, that is not unlike Scratch – but it’s not exactly learning to program. Mr9 described it as being like “one of those hacking mini-games inside a game where you have to stop and line things up before it starts again”. I think that’s a good description — it puts programming on the agenda, but as I’ll discuss, it’s not clear why so many celebrities and influencers are involved or whether or not young kids needs to be inducted into the idea of ‘getting a job in coding’. Regardless of your opinion on the motivation for Code.org — it’s symbolic of big-money being able to reach a vast audience and increasingly get people to perform work at an every younger age. That to me is a big deal — regardless of the percentage that eventually learn to code.
There are quotes from many people in industry and celebdom in the site, so clearly a whole bunch of people think that this site is worth supporting.
It does have a commercial and political agenda which cannot be discounted, a modern reality of childhood of course. The site is not a resource for teachers, but in many ways another reform to American Education awash with mega-brands whispering in political ears about how bad teachers are.
The coder community is also a little skeptical of code.org, one commenter in SlashDot said “I’ve never seen a programmer who had to be encouraged to program. Mostly, I’m interested in the people you can’t get to stop programming.” Others pointed out that Racket (formerly Scheme) and other languages such as Ruby or Python are more useful if children wanted to actually learn to program over be given the impression they are programmng. They also point out that these (more complex) languages can turn kids off programming. This to me is largely due to funding — where code.org has plenty of it, many of the language sites (esp OER have a history of far less funding) which begs the question, what it the reason for a new site at all? Why not invest in those which have been around for ages?
The more skeptical are arguing that homogenized UX gives kids a false impression of the complexity or reality of being a programmer in a globalised world which is in a race to the bottom when it comes to salaries these days. In short, it’s training them for low end production-line work in STEM, not exploring the edges of what is possible.
I’ve also read comments that kids should also be encouraged to play inside a computer’s brain, such as messing about with emacs would give them a greater insight into how the user can be the master. I think this is a great idea — having kids learn to pull machines apart and hack them might be a future-skill, given the ‘black boxing’ that commercial agendas are increasingly attempting.
I think that in addition to learning to code with Frozen themes, schools should also be investing in teaching kids how to create animation, 3D and other visual tools that power so much of entertainment and media these days. That isn’t happening — and code.org does present a view that learning complext things can be reduced to browser-ware.
It’s an interesting site for many reasons — to me it’s does have the commercial patterns that has seen Jamie Oliver churn out endless books on 20 min dinner, 10 min dinners etc – and as a computing teacher, I don’t think this adds some missing dimension to how I’d teach kids to program — but it does get people talking about programming and ‘talking about’ is the super-convector of the Internet now. Unless people are talking about you — then you are invisible. Hello? Hello?