…programming should be used as a means to introduce kids to ways of thinking and problem solving that will be useful to them in many different spheres of human endeavor. If in the process they get hooked to computer science and end up in careers involving programming, that would not be a very shabby outcome, either!
Shuchi Grover said this in a post about Computational Thinking, Programming…and the Google App Inventor on SmartBean (read other highlights).
I sat down Sunday morning to read that piece (which I found through my handy Google alert for “computational thinking”) and it reminded me of something I’d almost completely forgotten about:
In summer 2000 — before eighth grade — I attended IMACS (no relation to Apple) for a few weeks. IMACS, short for the Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science, offered STEM-related activities in a day-camp format for different age groups.
My faint memories from IMACS include programming some rudimentary commands to control a robot, working with simple electronic circuitry to illuminate small light bulbs and completing various logic/reasoning questions.
So why did I, as 13-year-old who was mainly interested in writing, do this? Honestly, I don’t remember exactly beyond these two basic reasons:
- My good friend Chris was going to attend
- I’d had some technical inclinations since elementary school
You see, Chris and I had been aftercare aids at Country Isles. Yes, we sometimes clutched clipboards and walkie-talkies as we deposited toys in classrooms. But we also assisted with tech and AV — even Winterfest in 1997 (I will never forget what it’s like to be a 10-year-old running cables and duct-taping down wires for a school-wide singing show. Oh, and what ever happened to MiniDiscs?).
Earlier in elementary school when people would ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would say, “A scientist and inventor.” Surely, even a few years after such a notion, that too factored into my decision to attend IMACS.
My larger point in recapping all this history is that earlier interests, such as from childhood, can stick with us as we grow up and it’s never too late to start appreciating other areas.
Honestly, math was my least favorite subject in high school. I used to think journalists and math didn’t mix. I was young(er) and wrong. In the year or so since I graduated college, I wish I had done at least one stats class (in addition to psychology, but that’s for another post).
So why am I now fascinated by computational thinking and programming? My passion for journalism and how the fields relate, sure. But it’s also clear that my earlier interest and experiences, even one as limited as IMACS, play some role. (I also always have to credit Daniel Bachhuber specifically on the computational thinking front because he shared the first things I read/listened to on that topic.)
All of this is not to say you can’t develop a tech inclination later in life. You certainly can. What I am saying is how it’s helpful to evaluate what and who might have influenced you — and what comes of that.
Case in point, yesterday I talked my sister through setting up a blog on WordPress.com. I didn’t succeed earlier in the summer in getting her to host her own cooking blog, but in June she did buy her domain. What changed yesterday? I don’t know. We were just video IM chatting and it happened. Michelle, a rising college sophomore interested in finance and business (she digs math), is now set up to be a creator — not just a consumer.
Even if she never sets up her own hosted blog, never touches a line of code or never goes any further, it has — thus far — certainly been worth my brotherly nudging. And, to borrow from Grover, it wouldn’t be too shabby if she did.
What were some of your most noteworthy technical influences? Where did those influences lead?
Correction: The opening quote, originally attributed to Charles Profitt, has been updated to reflect the actual source — Shuchi Grover.