If Coding is the New Literacy, How Do We Close the Opportunity Gap?

Learning to code is a new literacy – as important as reading, writing, and math – but, how do we close the opportunity gap between those who have access and those who don’t?

In the 1983 Education Leadership article Equity in Computer Education, John P. Lipkin shed light on how “microcomputers are widening the gap between rich schools and poor ones.” He wrote:

One of the outstanding implications of the new information technology is that poor people are the last to receives its benefits, and those who lack the prerequisite skills of reading, writing, and computation are handicapped in attaining computer literacy. Thus, the economically and educationally disadvantaged are prime candidates to join the ranks of this new category of disadvantaged—the computer nonliterate.

Lipkin points out the findings of Daniel Watt in Education for Citizenship in Computer-Based Society:

Affluent students are thus learning to tell the computer what to do while less affluent students are learning to do what the computer tells them.

And, over 20 years later, things haven’t changed. Harold Wenglinsky’s research findings in Using Technology Wisely: The Keys to Success in Schools confirmed Watt’s earlier observation:

Students of color and low socioeconomic status predominately use technology for drill and practice and not for higher order thinking skills.

And, yet – again – things haven’t changed in 2014 in regards to how children of color and less affluent students interact with technology. Advanced Placement (AP) computer science courses “‘are more prevalent in suburban and private schools than in urban, poor schools,'” according to Barbara Ericson, the director of computing outreach and a senior research scientist at Georgia Institute for Technology, in an interview with Education Week. In Mississippi alone, where the African American population is 37%, there was no African-American AP computer science test-taker.

Students of color and low socioeconomic status predominately use technology for drill and practice and not for higher order thinking skills.
Research findings of Harold Wenglinsky

Mother Jones reports in We Can Code It! Why Computer Literacy is Key to Winning the 21st Century that “the children of the privileged” are learning to code and employing computational thinking. This thirst to code has prompted some parents to hire coding tutors, as Mark Zuckerberg’s parents did when he was in middle school. The demand for coding tutors has increased, with New York City alone seeing a doubling “each of the past two year[s].”


An example of playing and coding with Scratch.

According to Mark Guzdial, a professor of interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, “Coding is absolutely a question of literacy. Those who don’t have access to this kind of education are going to be missing a core skill.”

And, Mitchel Resnick, MIT Professor of Learning Research and head of the Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten group, agrees: “Coding is the new literacy. Just as writing helps you organize your thinking and express your ideas, the same is true for coding.”

Today, coding and computer programming are considered necessary skills for everyone. Even Harvard Business School has caught the coding bug for plans are underway to add a computer science elective as the “changing nature of the workforce” includes coding for MBAs.

But, if coding is the new literacy, what happens to children of color and those from low socioeconomic status if, as mentioned above, they are exposed to only responding to a “drill and kill” (lower order critical thinking) use of technology instead of creating and coding (higher order critical thinking)?

How can these children prepare for the 1.4 million jobs to be created by 2020, with more than 70 percent involving computing? What initiatives must be undertaken to increase more children of color to take computer science AP courses? How can this opportunity gap be closed?

Fortunately, there are some forward-thinking programs and organizations to increase access to the new literacy of coding as schools, libraries, and community organizations offer coding camps, certifications, and hackathons.

Listed below are only a few of many resources to advance coding skills and computational thinking. For a much more exhaustive list (300+), see the Kapor Center for Social Impact report Coding Nation and its companion, Coding Landscape Database, to keep abreast of happenings in your area and online.

  • Digital Youth Network  “is a project that supports organizations, educators and researchers in learning best practices to help develop our youths’ technical, creative, and analytical skills.”
  • Black Girls CODE ”introduces computer-coding lessons to young girls from underrepresented communities in programming languages such as Scratch or Ruby on Rails.”
  • Level Playing Field is “committed to eliminating the barriers faced by unrepresented people of color.”
  • CompuGirls is a “culturally relevant technology program for adolescent (grades 8-12) girls from under-resourced school districts in the Greater Phoenix area and in Colorado.”
  • GirlDevelop provides “affordable and accessible programs to women who want to learn software development through mentorship and hands-on instruction.”
  • The Code-to-Learn Foundation “promotes computational fluency for everyone..and supports projects that engage young people in learning through coding, enabling them to develop as creative thinkers, designers, and innovators.”

What is happening in your school and community to close the opportunity gap in learning the new literacy of coding? How are your school principals, district administrators, and policymakers assuring that all students learn this new literacy? Please share your thoughts and stories.

Oh, and, if you would like to learn more about what coding is all about, watch Dr. Mitchel Resnick’s engaging TEDTalk below.

Running the Digital River of Learning with You,

Emily Vickery

“Coding isn’t just for computer whizzes, says Mitch Resnick of MIT Media Lab — it’s for everyone. In a fun, demo-filled talk Resnick outlines the benefits of teaching kids to code, so they can do more than just ‘read’ new technologies — but also create them.”


Emerging Trends in Today’s Libraries

Librarians lead the way in maker programs, coding, robotics, and 3D printing.

As noted in this earlier post, the roles of librarians are shifting by creating, among other things, participatory learning spaces, maker programs, and 3D printing access.

The American Library Association’s (ALA) 2014 Digital Inclusion Survey documents these changing roles, as reflected in the following emerging trends as libraries expand services:

  • STEM maker spaces (16.8 percent)
  • Social media training (45.8 percent)
  • Wireless printing (33 percent)
  • 3D printing (2 percent)
  • Hosting hackathons (2 percent)
  • Hosting coding and application development events (2 percent)

In a ALA press release, it was noted:

Creation and making activities already are transforming what is possible for communities through libraries. At the Johnson County Library in Kansas, for instance, a library patron printed a mechanical hand for a family friend. High school student Mason Wilde loaded needed blueprints onto library computers and used the library’s 3D printer to create the necessary parts. Wilde then decided to start a nonprofit to make 3D prosthetics for other children, and he is now considering a career in the biomedical field.

“‘Creating is becoming a new digital competency, and libraries are building and expanding their programs and services to meet these changing community needs,’” said Ann Joslin, President of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies. Joslin also is the state librarian in Idaho, which currently has a pilot program underway to support library maker activities and encourage the use of new technologies and tools.

“Creating is becoming a new digital competency.”
Ann Joslin, President of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies

In the School Library Journal, read about the growth of maker spaces in Meet the Makers: Can a DIY Movement Revolutionize How We Learn?; Not Your Mama’s Library Program; and Low Tech, High Gains: Starting a Maker Program Is Easier Than You Think. These articles attest to how librarians lead students in undertaking tinkering, making, coding, and robotics in participatory learning spaces.

How is your library supporting the maker movement, coding, and robotics? What tips would you provide to someone beginning a maker movement in her library?

Running the Digital River of Learning with You,


Coding to Learn: Momentum Grows Beyond “Tech” Classes

Coding to learn continues to grow in popularity and seen as a necessary skill – for everyone, not just “techies.”


Fueled by projected STEM job growth of 9 million between 2012 and 2022 , the call for students to code has been growing over the past few years. Last fall, the non-profit Code.org announced “a nationwide campaign calling on every K-12 student in America to join an ‘Hour of Code.’ The initiative asked schools, teachers, and parents across the country to help introduce more than 10 million students of all ages to computer programming during Computer Science Education Week.”
According to Computer Science Education Week, over 39 million have “tried the Hour of Code.”

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 11.31.39 AM

And, where coding isn’t taught in school, community organizations, such as Mozilla’s HIVE Learning Network, are springing up and linking schools with community non-profits, and parents are hiring “coding” tutors so their children can dive into the worlds of HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and Python.

The craze for coding to learn is not only a phenomena for the young and old in the U.S., but students worldwide are learning the basics of coding for schools are adding the fun to the curriculum.

The United Kingdom now requires every student learn to code, beginning at age five as demand grows for “’computational thinking’”: the ability to formulate problems in such a way that they can be tackled by computers.

“According to Adam Enbar, founder of New York’s Flatiron School, which offers 12-week, $12,000 programs to turn novices into developers, said, ’Not everyone needs to be Shakespeare, just as not everyone needs to be an amazing developer,’ he says. ‘But…we’re entering a world where every job if not already, will be technical,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

And, if every job will be technical, Harvard Business School has caught the coding bug for plans are underway to add a computer science elective as the “changing nature of the workforce” includes coding for MBAs.

K12 is catching on to the importance of computer science. According to Education Week, “Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now have policies in place that allow computer science to count as a mathematics or science credit, rather than as an elective, in high schools—and that number is on the rise. Wisconsin, Alabama, and Maryland have adopted such policies since December, and Idaho has a legislative measure awaiting final action.”

Some are branching out beyond the traditional computer science course. Keep a keen eye on on the progressive Beaver County Day School. According to Mashable, Beaver County Day School became the first school in the nation to implement computer programming into all of its classes.

“The school isn’t launching mandatory programming courses into the schedule, exactly, but is instead having its teachers introduce coding (ideally, in the most organic ways possible) into their respective subjects. Calculation-heavy courses such as math and science, as well as humanities such as English, Spanish and history — even theater and music — will all be getting a coded upgrade.”

Beaver’s head Peter Hutton believes “‘the current curriculum — which any American who has gone to school in the last century is familiar with — is blatantly outdated…Do schools need to change? Absolutely,” he says. ‘”

“We’re still preparing our kids to go to work in 1988. Certainly not 2020.”
Peter Hutton

While coding to learn resources grow each day, below is a sampling of how teachers are coding to learn with students, and it isn’t just in STEM courses but casts the net wide across content areas.

Take some time to explore these resources and spark interest at your school to participate in Hour of Code.

How are you coding to learn in your classes? Is coding to learn shifting your learning organization from the traditional model? What are your ideas for participating in Hour of Code?

Designs for Deeper Learning

While rethinking the design of classrooms and libraries isn’t new, there is a growing interest in how to transition from traditional, factory-model schools to designing participatory learning spaces to serve today’s students best, as noted in an earlier post.

In his paper Campfires in Cyberspace, futurist and philosopher Dr. David Thornburg uses primordial metaphors and analogies to “clarify the role of various processes and environments” to consider when “creating an educational system geared for leaners and educators.”

He outlines how “learning takes place in four spaces, only a few of which are honored in most schools. [He] offers a new theory for educational systems based on four primordial learning spaces: campfires (information), watering holes (conversation), caves (concept), and life (context).”

It is appropriate to take these same four considerations for educational systems and apply them to “rethinking” the use of space and time in schools, eventually leading to an empowering curriculum, participatory pedagogy, and meaningful assessments.

In a Tweet [10:18 AM – 16 Jul 2014], Digital Strategist and Designer David Jakes noted the following:

Screen Shot 2014-07-27 at 5.19.30 PM

So, yes. There is a caution. As the use of space and time is redesigned, we must make certain that traditional, industrial systems of learning not, as David observed, ”tack on” approaches, such as a Makerspace, Genius Hour, and project-based learning, without deep and thoughtful changes in TWTHABD (The Way Things Have Always Been Done).

How has the use of space and time in your learning organization prompted deep change? How did you overcome TWTHABD? Does your learning organization support learning around campfires, watering holds, and caves? How has your learning organization overcome “tacking on” to the traditional?

Please share your story.

Running the Digital River of Learning with You,


Book “The Alliance” and Lessons for Learning Organzations

Personal branding and Tours of Duty? Can learning organizations learn lessons from the book The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age, which calls for a bold, new blueprint of conducting business?


We realize that lifetime employment in one organization is a thing of the past, especially considering the average U. S. worker median tenure in a current job to be 4.4 years, a trend which is perhaps silently influenced by the invisible “second economy.”

But, whatScreen Shot 2014-07-20 at 2.23.39 PM would happen in learning organizations if we capitalize on a bold, new blueprint of conducting business? Imagine the shift of hierarchical power play giving way to Tours of Duty, networking, and branding based on the mutual benefit of employer and employee? Those are a few founding principles found in the book The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age by Reid Hoffman, co-founder and chairman of LInkedin, Ben Casnocha, entrepreneur and author, and Chris Yeh, writer and investor.

While organizations cannot innovate if everyone acts as a free agent, the authors contend there is another pattern to growth (Check out their slideshow here.): “Stop thinking of employees as families or free agents” but, rather, regard them as “allies on a Tour of Duty.” The relationship between employee and employer is based on how each can add value to the other, thus, building trust. In this symbiotic relationship, the individual, while building personal brand, focuses on the organization’s success, while the organization increases the individual’s market value.

While the authors admit that the phrase “Tour of Duty” may have military implications and it isn’t a perfect analogy, there is a shared characteristic: “honorably accomplishing a specific, finite mission…with a realistic time horizon.”

Because roles and responsibilities vary, the authors outline three Tours of Duty: Rotational; Foundational; and Transformational. (For more information on the Tours of Duty, click here.) “The tour of duty approach relieves the pressure on you [organization or business] and your employees alike because it builds trust incrementally. Everyone commits in smaller steps and the relationship deepens as each side proves itself.”

The agreement between employee and employer within each Tour of Duty sets out specific growth goals for each. One example: “Over the next 18 months you will develop excellent negotiation skills.”  (Avoiding vagueness, such as gaining “valuable experience,” is key.)

But, what is one important turnkey in this model? The authors acknowledge the benefit of honest conversation and ask a potential employee: What do you want to do once you leave employment here?

There. The elephant in the room is acknowledged and provides the basis for building the symbiotic relationship of trust and success for both parties through Tours of Duty, building value of the organization and the independent individual.

And, even when an employee leaves the organization, the value continues as networks and “know how” remain within reach of the organization, which is able to tap into the web of connections it helped the individual create. (The alumni always stay in touch.)

Wow. I wonder how this upfront frankness about career goals and schools helping their employees grow to transform an organization would pan out. While there are numerous reasons teachers leave the classroom, would these honest conversations help stem the tide of 38% of teachers quitting because of dissatisfaction with administration or the 14% who leave after one year? Are industrial-style schools and slow-moving bureaucracies ready for this truthful conversation with themselves and others, including teachers, students, and parents?

There are some transformational movements taking hold, such as the Center for Teaching Quality’s work on building a new brand of teacher leadership through teacherpreneurs, and Connected Educators Month, to strengthen teacher learning networks and the connections the authors believe valuable. But, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to incubate ideas using this new approach to acknowledge and nurture talent in the networked age? Aren’t there implications not only for teachers but students as well?

I’m game for a discussion. Are you? Interested in a book study? Let’s connect! 

Running the Digital River of Learning with You,


Sylvia Martinez: Maker Movement in Schools

Pay attention as the Maker Movement brings authentic learning to the classroom.

Here, Sylvia Martinez, co-author of Invent to Learn and long dedicated to student-centered, authentic learning, discusses the Maker Movement and its application in schools.


What are you undertaking in your school with the Maker Movement? How are you rearranging time and space in your school to undertake authentic learning in a Maker Space?

Always Learning from Librarians (or is it Databrarians?)

I always learn from librarians: masters of organization, jugglers of information, and searchers of the new.

As noted in the October 17, 2013 Library Journal, the Databrarian is emerging, expanding the traditional role to include new titles and responsibilities such as emerging technologies specialist, user experience designer, digital content management, digital learning librarian, and social media manager.

There is no doubt that databriarins were in full swing at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) this year at the Digital Age Library Playground. (Presenter email addresses and Twitter names are listed! So, you can reach out to them, as I have been doing.)

Sessions ranged from flipping and coding to creating Makerspaces and generating QR Codes; these databriarians were a whirl of action and learning.

The session GeniusCon asked a question of students: If you could change one thing about your school, what would *YOU* do?

Co-founders of GeniusCon Matthew Winner (@MatthewWinner) and Sherry Gick (@libraryfanatic) presented on “how kids from K to college shared their big ideas and how their genius is changing the world.” Matthew and Sherry shared their GeniusCon story – “an event in which students from around the world shared their big ideas to affect social change,” according to The Digital Shift. Wow! More schools should be doing this!

Learn more about GeniusCon in the School Library Journal article With “GeniusCon” Project, Students Connect and Problem Solve and follow their hashtag #geniuscon on Twitter.

What have you learned from librarians? Do you have a databrarian in your school?