The value of teaching computing

Yesterday I was lucky enough to visit the Google Montreal offices. We got a tour, ate a delicious lunch and then took part in a Chrome hackathon, where we looked at writing a Chrome app. Along with myself were 7 other educators, and some of these people had never written a line of JavaScript in their lives.

The fascinating discussion that came out of this experience of sitting around a table, hacking together code, with Google engineers helping, was that students don’t know how to problem solve, they don’t know how to choose their best work, and they aren’t critical thinkers. My suggestion was that here in Quebec we should be integrating Computing into the curriculum, here is why:

    1. Computing encompasses many disciplines –
      • Coding
      • Testing
      • Logic processes
      • Creative arts
      • Math
      • Logic
    2. Coding introduces the concepts of language to students, it highlights the need for correct punctuation, the need for writing discipline, and for creativity. It also requires that you comment your code, so that others can follow along. Thus, encouraging critical thinking and reflection on one’s work.
    3. No matter how much we try, getting students to apply the Math that they learn in high school is extremely difficult, but through coding and the teaching of computing we can get students to apply a number of concepts which they don’t use elsewhere. The use of arrays and greater than or less than can be applied simply and quickly.
    4. Computing encourages creative thinking. We are always pushing the boundaries of what is possible when we are creating applications, websites and more. Those who are creating blogs with their class are already implementing computing in their classes, and they are encouraging creative thinking, but imagine giving the students a problem, and then giving them the skills that they need to solve the problem, but they can create whatever implementation that they want to solve it.
    5. Computing requires that students continually develop their ideas, problem solve (to find out why their code doesn’t work) and use reference materials (similar to a dictionary).

So how can we encourage students to embrace computing and what do we need to do to introduce it? Here are my favourites and they are easy for people to pick up:

Kodu ( –

Kodu is a free application from Microsoft Research and Microsoft Fuse. It allows users who have a PC or an XBox to create games and program them by using a simple click and action interface. Students get to see the actions that they can apply to their world and their characters, and they quickly learn the idea of coding and procedures.

Scratch ( –

Scratch is a free program from MIT which allows you to create simple applications which tell stories, animations and simple games. Everything is done through dragging blocks around which is a quick, easy and intuitive introduction to code. As you move through the idea of variables is introduced and you can do some pretty amazing things.

AppInventor ( –

This is another free online application from MIT which helps you to create Android applications by using an interface which is very similar to the one that we find in Scratch. Once you are done developing you can move your application across to your phone, to see your app in action and actually use it.

Lego Mindstorms & Lego WeDo –

These are expensive options, but students can program a robot in either C# or using the block based interface. The possibilities are endless and they can create amazing things out of lego.

Do you see the value of computing in education? What do you think about using it to encourage students to critically reflect on their work and develop problem solving skills? Let me know!




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