[Edu-sig] Programming in High School

Vern Ceder vceder at canterburyschool.org
Mon Dec 8 20:37:34 CET 2008

David MacQuigg wrote:
> Kirby,
> This is very well written appeal, but in this mailing list, you may
> be preaching to the choir.  What I would like to see is a discussion
> of *why* there is not more teaching of programming in high school.  I
> can't seem to get an answer from the few high-school teachers and
> students I have asked. I suspect it has something to do with
> requiring all kids to have their own computers, not wanting the rich
> to have an advantage over the poor, etc.  I've thought about teaching
> high school myself, but the bureaucracy seems overwhelming.


I am the tech director and programming teacher at an independent school
in the poor, benighted Midwest that Kirby mentions ;) (Indiana, to be
exact). We teach Scratch programming and Lego robotics in the elementary
grades, Python and a little Alice in middle school, and Java, Python and
a little C in the high school. We don't require our kids to program at
home - they have plenty of chances to work on things at school. Now mind
you, most of our kids DO have machines at home, but only a tiny fraction
(the hardcore) bother to install Python or Java on them. And here in
Indiana, we have enough Linux computers in schools (some 150,000 as of
the start of this year) that even poor schools COULD have the access.

OTOH, as an independent school, we don't have layers of bureaucracy to
deal with, so we can pursue what we value. Teachers (and even
administrators) in the public sector don't have that ability. I've done
training sessions and day-long workshops for teachers in the state (and
in the Chicago suburbs), and here are the reasons I see that more
schools don't offer programming:

1) Lack of qualified staff. Sadly a graduate with a teaching certificate
(as required by the state) usually doesn't have anything like the
background to teach programming, let alone do the sorts of things that
Kirby has experimented with.

2) Numbers - at my school, 6-10 kids in AP Programming is considered a
good year. In the public schools around town, in a short-sighted drive
for efficiency, (but see item 1 above also) administration routinely
kills any elective that can't get 3 times that.

3) The whole "integration" trend in tech in education - 15 years ago it
was assumed that as technology became ubiquitous we wouldn't have to
teach it, any more than you need to know about electricity to turn on a
light. Of course, that analogy was bogus on both ends, but schools have
moved in that direction anyway, killing what little programming they did
have. Only now (and only very slowly) are they realizing that their
students are the poorer for it.

These factors (and others of course) combined with the many layers of
bureaucracy create a negative feedback loop that is next to impossible
for students, teachers or even parents to beat. In fact, I've talked to
state education officials that nearly despair of making any headway in
some of our schools.

This time for sure!
    -Bullwinkle J. Moose
Vern Ceder, Director of Technology
Canterbury School, 3210 Smith Road, Ft Wayne, IN 46804
vceder at canterburyschool.org; 260-436-0746; FAX: 260-436-5137

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