Little Fish / Big Pond / Why Coding

This post bugged me. I could go on and on about why. I think I found it disturbing because I agree with some of the points, but there is something fundamentally wrong about the whole post. Something that I think is hard to see unless you know your students and how to appeal to them.

I’m currently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s David & Golaith which is about perceived underdogs compared to who is most likely to actually be successful. There is a chapter where Gladwell compares students pursuing STEM degrees in the top, middle, lowest thirds  based on SAT scores at Hartwick College, a small college in New York, to the top, middle, lowest thirds of students at Harvard. Even the lowest third at Harvard scored better on the SAT then then top third of students at Hartwick. The interesting thing is that the top third in both schools were equally as likely to complete their degrees, similarly the middle & bottom thirds had the same likelihood of completing a STEM degree from either  school.

The reason being that students perception of their ability is a large factor in their success (also, standardized testing doesn’t measure anything meaningful). Students are more like to be successful as a “top” student at a “lower” school then as a “low” student at a “top” school, because they will see themselves as being “smart”. Parents are setting their child up for struggle when they encourage their teenager to go to the most selective schools.

This is obvious to me after being in a classroom for 10 years, but I couldn’t verbalize my thinking until reading this chapter.

So, what is the “Big Deal” about coding? 2 things:

1) Students currently value technology and it is mysterious to them. Their parents don’t know how to code (mostly) they have seen all the recent movies where some fancy smart hacker guy saves the day. They know the stories about Mark Zukerburg & they use Snapchat and have heard about Evan Speigel’s recent offer. There’s momentum here. It’s new & its exciting & there is a lot of potential to turn it into a career. More importantly, they think that only really smart people can code. Logically, in their minds, this means if they can code, then they must be really smart. Then, if they are really smart they will feel capable of completing a college degree which leads to a greater willingness to apply and increased likelihood of their completion.

2) It has great educational value. Coding is one of many ways to expose students to logical reasoning, to break a task down into small, manageable pieces, problem solving. It provides immediate feedback, teaches persistence, and how to learn from failure…All of the critical elements of being successful. I could go on & on, but you have probably heard all of the hoopla here.

So my big problem with the article linked in the beginning of this post is that it focuses on coding. Coding is just the vehicle. I agree that it won’t always be, but right now it is a tool that I can use to convince my students that they can be successful and their perception of themselves is what creates their future.


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