In a world driven by technology, there has been an emerging movement devoted to teaching kids how to program early on. As mentioned in my last post, teaching kids computer science in K-8 education has many benefits. But one problem is that there aren’t many tools out there that are able to teach computer science effectively for young students at affordable prices. The Wyss educational robotics team at Harvard sought to solve this problem.
Technology has such a ubiquitous role in the world that kids are starting to use it at the age of two. These are, or rather will be, the so-called Digital Natives. These infant natives teach their grandparents how to use their iPads and iPhones with ease. This demonstrates how plastic the brain is during early stages of development. And if they are capable of using and teaching technology, kids are capable of understanding technology. Yet for many students, their first experiences in formal computer science classes begin in high school – if they’re lucky. So why do we open up the world of technology to kids at such an early age but not enable them to truly learn about it for years? It would be beneficial to education and society for schools to implement computer science curricula in K-8 education.
For most students, computer science means lots of high-level coding, screens with black backgrounds and green text, and an esoteric subject. When students hear the term computer science, many think about programming languages – Java, C++, Python to name a few. However, what those students are really thinking about is computer programming, an extension and application of computer science. Computer science uses code and programming languages and different numerical systems, but computer science itself is the study of logic, efficiency, and problem solving. With that, it is worth examining what the world of computer science truly encompasses and what purposes it serves to study computer science.
As mentioned in a previous post by Maria Kechagia, “Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) is software released under a license that allows developers to: 1) access the software’s source code, 2) use the software for free, and 3) develop derived works based on software’s previous releases.” FLOSS software is very versatile and can be used for a variety of purposes. One such purpose is education and institutional learning, a world in which software and technology is prevalent. However, at the present day institutions of learning (i.e., from high school up to university) mostly use commercial software such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop. Meanwhile, open source software such as OpenOffice, GIMP, and Linux offer the same capabilities as their commercial counterparts, yet are not employed as much. Weighing the options, it becomes clear that educational institutions should move to using more FLOSS software. Why? Let’s review the benefits for students.
It is colloquially referred to as the “achievement gap”, the disparity in success among certain groups of students in education. For STEM education, that achievement gap is extremely evident, yet it goes unchecked. Whether comparing genders or races, there is a huge disparity in performance in computing areas. This disparity is unhealthy, especially in a society where computing continues to grow more and more prevalent. And, for society to keep progressing, it must not leave behind entire segments of its population.