"Don’t Just Play on Your Phone, Program It"

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This week is Computer Science Education Week, or “CSEdWeek,” an annual campaign highlighting the importance of learning computer science. CSEdWeek is held in recognition of the birthday of computer science pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, widely known for popularizing the idea of “debugging” a computer—a phrase inspired by her team’s removal of an actual moth from a relay in a Harvard Mark II computer in 1947. (Its remains can be found in the group’s log book at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.) This year, non-profit group Code.org is driving CSEdWeek activities in more than 150 countries around the world and sponsoring an “Hour of Code” campaign that encourages all students to devote an hour this week to getting a taste of computer programming.

The ability to write computer software—to code—is an important skill. It moves people from being consumers of technology to creators of it. An understanding of coding helps people learn new strategies for solving problems and harness the power of computers to realize their own visions, whatever they may be. Everyone—scientists, fashion designers, doctors, journalists, lawyers, musicians, students—can benefit from a greater understanding of how to use computing.

Computer literacy is important for success in today’s digital economy, yet many American schools still view computer science education as an exotic elective. Only a handful of states allow computer science courses to count as math or science credits toward high school graduation requirements. AP Computer Science is taught in just 10% of our high schools, whereas the UK recently added computer science to its curriculum, teaching CS to all students from ages 5 to 17. China teaches all of its students one year of computer science. The CS 10K Initiative, supported by the National Science Foundation, is working to build curricula and course materials to support educators’ needs so they can more effectively teach computer science.

Take some time this week to introduce yourself to computer science. Many companies, schools, and non-profit organizations—including Khan Academy, Codecademy, MIT’s Scratch and AppInventor projects, and Code.org itself—are making free, hour-long coding tutorials available. We suspect you will find coding fun, creative, and intellectually challenging. With a little practice you too will be able to create your own games, websites, and applications.

For some extra inspiration, see above for a message from President Obama on the importance of computer science in America, as well as Code.org’s celebrity-packed CSEdWeek kickoff video.

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Mark DeLoura is a Senior Advisor for Digital Media at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy and Randy Paris is a Confidential Assistant at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy


Also, be sure to check out NASA's Hour of Code message from the International Space Station

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Related Topics: Education, Technology
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