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Your Kid Should Drop Out of High School and Make $250K as a Programmer…. Sure.

My personal opinion is that the Park City School District should go into damage control mode, per recent meetings on their Kearns Campus Rebuild, the likely decision to move Treasure Mountain to Ecker Hill, and realigning grades. Their current proposals seem rushed, not thought out, have conflicts of interest, and are opposed by citizens at every meeting. Yet, as one might expect, they can’t seem to help themselves.

In today’s Park Record and on KPCW, we witnessed the full onslaught of the idea that all Park City elementary kids should learn to “code.” Yes, your kid could create the next Facebook!!! If you watched the movie The Social Network you may not be quite as excited about that concept. That said, you have to feel the rush of excitement that your child, in 17 years, could be working for MySpace.

First, I want to note that I am biased. I develop software for a living. However, that also provides me a background that I feel makes me competent to enter into this discussion. Let’s start with a Park Record quote by Ari Ioannides, CEO and founder of Emerald Data Solutions, who appears to be the guy who will be implementing this plan at Park City Schools:

It seems like the language of code is everywhere. I mean, it permeates our society probably close to how much English does. It is a second language of the world, and people who can’t speak it can’t adequately function, I don’t think, in the new economy.Ari Ionides

Now let’s look at some basic code related to an “iphone app” that prints out the words Hello World on screen:

  1. // First program example
  2. #import <Foundation/Foundation.h>
  3. int main (int argc, const char * argv[])
  4. {
  5. NSAutoreleasePool *pool = [[NSAutoreleasePool alloc] init];
  6. NSLog (@"Hello, World!");
  7. [pool drain];
  8. return 0;
  9. }

I’m sure all of my Realtor friends completely understand this “coding” line for line — at least the successful ones. I’m sure my developer friends probably use this type of “language” every day when they are planning and negotiating the next deal.

The point is that “coding” sounds great, and sexy, and money making, and… I suppose in some circles it sounds cool (not in my High School). Yet, it’s no different than any other profession. At times it is fun and other times it’s a drag. It’s for some people but not for most (like any job).

I’m frankly afraid that the School District is being taken advantage of — not in some sort of money making scheme but in a “mind-share” sort of way. Those of us in IT often see technology as an absolute SOLUTION and that is validated by success stories like Bill GatesSergey Brin, and Mark Zuckerberg. We think that if we can only get others into this fabulous realm we are in, they will experience a better life.

Yet, I keep coming back to what the Park City School District often repeats. They are RESEARCHED FOCUSED. Yet, I’ve tried to find research that substantiates that teaching a Kindergartner the Basic programming language has any sort of positive impact later in life. I can’t find it.

That leads me to the obvious conclusion… The School District thinks this SOUNDS GOOD and therefore they’ll proceed with it without any regard to cost or impact.

Perhaps the better question, brought up by a friend of mine, is what are they planning on taking away from the curriculum to teach “coding” to our elementary school students?

I almost don’t want to bring up the interview of Mr. Ioannides (the person behind this initiative) on KPCW this morning. I don’t think it could be described as anything other than a sh*tshow. Yet, I think statements from Mr Ioannides, Grant Smith (Technology Coordinator for Avondale Arizona Elementary Schools who are doing this program), and the answers to KPCW’s Leslie Thatcher’s questions were instructive. So, let’s go for it. We’ll begin with an opening comment from Mr Ioannides about why he wanted to do this:

Mr. Ioannides: I had no desire to help rich white kids learn how to code. This is, to me, to help underprivileged student Because its the fastest way to get successful. But Park City stepped up [and we are going forward].

Leslie Thatcher: So what’s going to happen? We have the curriculum?

Mr. Ioannides: We have the curriculum. Well, it’s technically a curriculum guide. It’s 200 pages. But it’s not really a curriculum.

Leslie Thatcher: So Grant, your district [Avondale Arizona] is already running this?

Grant Smith: Right, so we just finished our first year teaching all of our students from kindergarten to eighth grade teaching them every day. We replace our tech speciality classes and we used resources that were out there already. As Arie said, this isn’t difficult to do. We didn’t spend any extra money on it. But we are kind of cowboys out there and doing our own thing. That’s why we wrote this curriculum so we could stay true to ourselves. [We hope this become a national curriculum].

Leslie Thatcher: Grant, why do you think its something important that we teach?

Grant Smith: So, we teach all of our kids to code because it fulfills our district’s mission to develop thinkers, problem solvers, and communicators. It’s just an added bonus to us that it could bring our kids out of poverty… Why we really teach it is when you have to break a problem down and then construct a solution for it you have to know how to think logically and you have to know the problem solving process. So, now with Google you don’t need to memorize facts like you used to. Everything is on the Internet. What we need to do is analyze the information and make solutions that nobody has come up with before. So, solutions that we can’t Google like we have self driving cars. We have holograms. We have jobs and technology that are coming out of nowhere that we can’t keep up with but if we teach our kids Code, the underlying language, they’ll be useful in the workforce.

Leslie Thatcher: What can a kindergartner learn about coding?

Grant Smith: We have the view that learning to code is just like another language. We think teaching them this separate language is something to learn at a younger age so it gives you something to build on.

Mr. Ioannides: If I told you an education system neglected to teach the pervasive language what would you say about that? And you would say it’s a travesty. It is shocking. You can’t go a minute without touching technology and interacting with code. Yet the fact that we are graduating students in reading and writing music, which is just as easy to do, is horrible. As a coder, I can pick up almost any piece of code and read through it. We need to be teaching this language. Coders that know just basic Javascript can make $150,000 a year without a college education. I know a programmer who makes $250,000 a year and doesn’t have a high school diploma.

Leslie Thatcher: [Asks question about the business side of Mr Ioannides company”]

Mr. Ioannides: We aren’t asking for any money here. It is being run through the Park City Educational Foundation. Once we pilot here, it will be run through an inner city school and validate the findings. Then we will give it away. We are also working with Sundance Film Makers to tell the story.

Leslie thatcher: Certainly you can give away the curriculum but you have to have the people in pace to teach it.

Grant Smith: What we did was retrained our teachers. A good teacher is a good teacher no matter where you put them. Our teachers consists of a PE teacher, a 2nd grade teacher, and an art teacher. We use the grandmother strategy. If you don’t know what the answer is [to a question] so you would say, “I don’t know what the answer is to that question, can you go figure it out?” In that way, the teacher is no longer the expert in the room. It’s fostering project based learning. Children work with themselves and their peers to figure it out. That’s a great model…It’s student paced. A kindergarten student and a 4th grade student could be working on the same project depending on how fast they go.

Mr. Ioannides: We are teaching the ABC’s of the language in the first two levels and anyone could teach it. Leslie, you could do it. Just like you could teach them how to read, anyone could do it. These teachers don’t have to be coders [to teach].

Grant Smith: The good thing is that the state legislatures haven’t designed any standards. This is easy to do. We don’t have to write to any particular rules. What’s the end result? We have to teach them how to code. That’s the great thing, because we can do what we want because there is no testing. At the same time, there is no teacher preparation because there is no testing.

The interview then continued but that was the gist.

So, what do I take from this interview?

  • If you don’t know how to program you can’t function in the current world.
  • Kids shouldn’t memorize facts.
  • Reading and writing music is easy.
  • Your kids should drop out of elementary school, middle school, high school and program Javascript and make $250,000.
  • I should stop writing this blog and focus on Javascript and make $250,000 per year.
  • You should stop doing whatever it is you do and focus on computer programming and Javascript to make $250,000 a year (unless you already make $250,000 a year… then can I come over for dinner?).
  • Your kids, too, can be useful in the workforce.
  • Your kid’s current teacher will teach them to code.
  • If you’re a teacher, you’ll find it easy to teach all your kids to code.
  • There are no standards.
  • Your donations during Live PC Give PC are probably paying for this.

Wow. That seems like a well thought out plan to me.

You may say, “Parkrag, it’s easy to criticize but harder to do. What will you do with your kids to make sure they are up to date on technology?”

Good question. I’ll try to expose them to all disciplines. Logic without understanding people is useless. I’ll try to expose them to graphic design. Unless a program is user friendly it is unusable. When they are in 7th grade, I’ll see if they have any interest in programming. By that time they may actually understand the concept of a variable. If they show interest, I’ll buy them a book. That way they actually understand what this means:

for i = 1 to 100

print i


Then, I’ll let them decide. Perhaps they’ll decide to be a plumber. You can’t outsource that to India at $10 an hour.



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