As the 2014 Hour of Code challenge offered by Code.org draws near (Dec. 8-12), I wanted to spend a little time with the history of what has gotten us to the place we are in today. To many educators, the ideas of edtech and coding in schools still seems far off and mysterious. However, the innovators who embrace these ideas are incorporating them into learning experiences and seeing children become inspired and motivated by code.
From 1980 to 2003, technology moved forward, but what moved backward? Examined through the lens of two thinkers: Seymour Papert and Why the Lucky Stiff
Why the Lucky Stiff (_why) was “a prolific writer, cartoonist, artist, and computer programmer notable for his work with the Ruby programming language” (Wikipedia). Seymour Papert was a mathematician and professor at MIT. He was one of the creators of the Logo programming language (remember the turtle?) and author of the 1980 book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas (and others).
Papert and _why are indeed very different types of thinkers. Papert was a scholar, rooted in academia and with time logged collaborating with constructivist learning theorist Jean Piaget. _why was a self-proclaimed “freelance professor”, who created art, code, and everything in between as tools for social provocation and advocacy. I refer to them both in the past tense because while both are still alive, neither are actively engaged in the contemporary public conversation. Their work and legacies are what live on and serve as inspiration.
In 2003, _why wrote an essay titled: The Little Coder’s Predicament, specifically calling to task all the companies who have systematically been adding layers of features, regulation and security to their technology. These anti-piracy measures had resulted in a societal distancing from the understanding of code, and a lack of ability to access actual code.
…I’m thinking a toy language for consoles and desktops alike could be monumental…
…You’ve got to be able to write a single line of code and see a result. We need some instant results to give absolute beginners confidence…
…Tinkering with hardware is learning. Lobotomizing and renovating is meaningful, magical. On behalf of those who prefer to code, I make these wishes. Not to take away jobs from the Phillips screwdriver…. (2003 essay)
In my post on the Logo, I share that Papert advocated for his dream of children being able to program. He called for easy and accessible tools almost 20 years before _why’s plea. In his essay, _why reminisced about the era of being able to program directly from your Commodore 64, or Atari 800 (which was the very same era that Papert was working on Logo with his MIT team). So what happened between Papert’s call for accessibility in 1980 and _why’s call for accessibility in 2003?
Advancement. Piracy. Fear.
Innovation has driven a more user-friendly experience. However, the more user-friendly the experience, the deeper the code becomes buried. Companies are creating better and better tools, and protecting them more and more fiercely. The more protections, the harder the code is to access. Everything in technology has gotten faster, better, closer, more useable, more understandable…except the code. In the 2003 environment in which _why wrote his article, there were many barriers to children getting involved in coding because it was so hard to get to the code and be able to play with it.
Fast forward to June of 2009 Continue reading