In the last couple of years there’s been a noticeable push for developing programming and computer science skills in childhood education. In a blog post on MiddleWeb: All About the Middle Grades, Mark Gerl, writes about his experience at Computer Science Education Week. His post gets at the interconnectedness of programming languages, gaming, and student writing, through the importance of storytelling. He writes, “What makes a great game so engaging is that it tells a fantastic story.” Gerl clearly sees the powerful relationship between the digital and the cultural: “We will need programmers and inventors, engineers and scientists to create these bold new frontiers. We will also need writers, poets, artists and dreamers to imagine those worlds first.”
This summer, MindShift has rolled out its Guide to Games and Learning, a multi-part series by Jordan Shapiro looking at the increasingly important role games and gaming have on learning, from literacy to math. In Part 1, “Tapping Into the Potential of Games and Uninhibited Play for Learning,” Shapiro writes, “All games facilitate some kind of learning. Even games that are not meant to be educational teach kids something — even if it’s just the rules of the game. The learning is so effective that it deserves our attention.” The overall aim of this series is to provide theoretical and practical approaches to incorporating games in your classroom.
What drew me to this series was coming across Part 6, “Making Games: The Ultimate Project-Based Learning,” which peaked my own interest in experiential learning. While I’m not a “gamer,” I did grow up on first-generation Nintendo (while I never saved the princess, I’m happy to brag about my Tetris skills). So it’s fascinating to come across gamemaking platforms for kids like Gamestar Mechanic and Scratch.
In Part 10, “Games Can Advance Education: A Conversation With James Paul Gee,” Gee states, “Video games are complex systems composed of rules that interact. Gamers must think like a designer and form hypotheses about how the rules interact so they can accomplish goals and even bring about emergent results. Thinking like a designer in order to understand systems is a core 21st Century skill.” This leads me to wonder how games and gaming, and even project-based learning, can enhance, and perhaps revolutionize, the writing classroom. What assumptions about learning and writing are challenged with learning through games?
The world recently lost Yuri Kochiyama, human rights activist and survivor of U.S. sanctioned Japanese internment camps. In a recent blog post on Edutopia, José Vilson writes in her memory in reminding us that we all play a part in the betterment of the human experience. He writes, “We need to consistently talk about what would help people feel included, whether in our school or in our lives.”
His suggestions for doing so are fairly straightforward, yet in practice much more difficult. His first suggestion is to “keep both ears open.” By this he means to listen to what are friends and colleagues are saying and taking time to process their communication before responding. Being heard is powerful, but so is being able to hear. The next suggestion Vilson offers is “diversity of thought and experience.” He argues that diversity is more than just the obvious, but also includes the experiences we bring to each project, classroom, and situation we encounter.
Vilson’s final suggestion is “voice is an agency.” Here he brings this piece back to the powerful activist work of Yuri Kochiyama, who used her voice to advocate for the civil rights of Japanese Americans, and all those oppressed by systems of power and privilege.
There are hundreds of languages spoken around the world, but some of the most unintuitive forms of communication are not meant to be uttered; rather, they live exclusively online. Programming languages, to the novice viewer, appear to be more like mystical incantations instead of functional code. Fortunately for those who can discern these lines of tags, commands, and echo loops, a fortuitous and lucrative future awaits.
And some programmers are not interested in relying on conventional languages. Get acquainted with D, a new programming language that’s catching on in a big way. How big? Facebook is beginning to implement D into their already-written C++.
Let the typing begin.