Notes for Brendan I. Koerner “Reading', Writin' and Ruby on Rails: Let's Teach Our Kids to Code”

Key concepts: computational thinking, declarative memory, procedural memory.


Related theorists: Ian Bogost, J. Paul Gibson, Alan Kay, Katherine Malabou, Seymour Papert, Douglas Rushkoff.


Gibson shocked by ineptness of students in basic computer science in late 1990s.

Gibson success teaching Java to children using game design puzzles.

(29-30) J. Paul Gibson began to teach programming classes for teens out of frustration. A computer scientist at the National University of Ireland, he had by 1998 become shocked at the ineptness of his students. . . . By the early 2000s, Gibson was using game-design puzzles to teach rudimentary Java to 8- and 9-year-olds. His success with that age group made him wonder: How young is too young to begin coding?

Latest round of educational research suggests early neural plasticity ideal for learning languages of all kinds, with goal of lifelong fluency in code.

(30) What those parents likely don't realize is that the same neural mechanisms that make kids sponges for Mandarin likely also make them highly receptive to computer languages. Kindergartners cannot become C++ ninjas, but they can certainly start to develop the skills that will eventually cement lifelong fluency in code. And encouraging that fluency should be a priority for American schools, because it is code, not Mandarin, that will be the true lingua franca of the future.

Failure of Logo a consequence of teaching method; compare to scholarship.

Computers in school transformed from exploratory tools to become library aids; children taught nebulous set of computer skills rather than programming.

(30) But Logo seldom delivered on its lofty promise. The main problem was not the language itself but the lackluster way in which it was taught: Many instructors simply plopped students in front of computers for one hour a week and hoped for the best. The resulting disillusionment coincided with the emergence of media that transformed school computers from exploratory tools into library aids. . . . Programming vanished from elementary schools for decades, even as computer science became an ever more popular pursuit at the collegiate level. A cultural consensus seemed to spring up: Kids should be taught a nebulous set of “computer skills,” but programing—well, that was for grown-ups.

Brain research suggests procedural memory diminishes with age in favor of declarative memory; relate to Malabou as likely cultural influence.

(32) The evidence is beginning to suggest that as brains age, their capacity for procedural memory diminishes in favor of “declarative” memory, which we use to amass facts.

Procedural learning assumed to be crucial to learning programming, although claim that learning programming has not been well researched; tie to Bogost procedural rhetoric.

(32) No one seems to have researched precisely how programming languages are learned, but there is every reason to believe that they're best absorbed by students primed to form procedural memories.

Demand for software developers overrides demand for Mandarin and other foreign language skills. And predicted to increase 30 percent by 2020.

(32) Demand for software developers already far outstrips supply, and it's expected to increase 30 percent by 2020—more than double the average for all other jobs.

Suggestion that learning programming helps with general problem solving with abstract thinking, dubbed computational thinking, as early bilingualism has positive benefits later in life; again relate to early research.

Rushkoff observation that ignorance of programming akin to relying on others to drive us around, including striated WALL-E conveyances: makes sense for aircraft but not automobiles; Engelbart bulldozer mentioned by Chun?

Our interactions in 50 years will be with machines as well, spending extreme old age in virtual realities, so we should work to be competent operators of our own future as well as encouraging our children to be so, by learning and practicing lifelong programming, lest we devolve to equivalents of the WALL-E characters, both the lazy humans driven around by the industrious machines, whether cute or imperial (imperial humans having flourished under less intelligent, slower, more costly, less capable computing machinery that nonetheless gave them extreme competitive advantage over other groups), evil inmixing in both groups in various forms.

(32) Just as early bilingualism is thought to bring about cognitive benefits later in life, early exposure to coding shows signs of improving what educators call “computational thinking”--the ability to solve problems with abstract thinking. . . . As the media theorist Douglas Rushkoff has observed, to ignore programming is akin to relying on others to drive us around instead of learning to drive ourselves. The majority of our interactions in 50 years won't be with monolingual humans from Asia; they'll be with machines. So let's teach our kids to tell them what to do, rather than the other way around.


Koerner, Brendan I. “Reading', Writin' and Ruby on Rails: Let's Teach Our Kids to Code.” Wired Oct. 2013. 29-32. Print.