Teen typing in code during Unity Class at TechWise Academy

What is Computer Programming?

This is the first question we ask at every Day of Code – the start of our Foundations classes: “What is computer programming?”

Teen typing in code during Unity Class at TechWise AcademyThe answers from students vary from “the language computers can understand” to “I don’t know.” We’re really not looking for a right or wrong answer, but we want to know where our students are beginning their journey with us.

Computer programming is…

Computer programming is the practice of providing instructions for a computer to follow. That is essentially it. Programmers use different languages to make it easy for computers to follow. And we’re not talking “English” or “French.” You’ve probably heard of fancy names like PHP, C# (C Sharp), C++, HTML, etc.

Who’s smarter – a computer or person?

Computers don’t know what to do without our help. People give computers commands on what we need them to do. Programmers tell computers what they’re capable of doing and users tell computers what they need them to do. It’s a pretty neat relationship. In a way, users are at the mercy of a programmer anticipating the actions of a user. A computer is the tool to carry that out.

Computers are really good at carrying out tasks much quicker than people. Math is an obvious one, but if you need to do hundreds of calculations in a matter of seconds – a computer is really good at that. Better than any of us will ever be.

Why we ask the question?

We ask this question not just to see where our students’ level of knowledge lies. We ask because we want the students to start thinking about what they will tell the computer to do. This is a great ice breaker because in our classes, or at home, we want the students to explore their imagination and try to create something new.

Even in elementary school – our students become programmers. And that’s pretty neat.

HTML Code and Code Editor

Why Programming is Important for Future Generations

HTML Code and Code Editor

Image Credit: Pexels on Pixabay.com. Protected under CC0 Creative Commons.

There is a lot of debate going on about the future of coding and programming. TechCrunch believes the future is fewer people writing code, and mega-giant corporations like Google are building tools like Project Bloks to help developers, designers, and researchers build tangible programming experiences for kids.

About Programmatic Problem Solving

We view the future is programmatic problem solving – not writing code. Not every child who comes through our classes wants to be a programmer or computer science engineer. Programmatic problem solving is cross discipline, and this is the real value of learning how to code. It teaches you to take logical steps in developing solutions to complex problems.

A child learns how to:

  • break down complicated problems into simple steps
  • solve problems one step at a time rather than everything at once (which is how most real-word problems are solved)
  • not fear making mistakes as mistakes often lead to new and better solutions.

Learning to Write Code

Learning to write code, or learning coding practices, is an important educational tool to build on programmatic problem solving. It is not only fun, but it also helps a student understand how technology works and communicates.

For a young student, learning to code can be as essential and exciting as learning how to read. Not every person who learns to read becomes an author. Not every person who learns to cook becomes a professional chef. But you can argue these essential skills help shape the student’s knowledge of his or her capabilities and understanding of the world.

Learning to code, and programmatic problem solving that comes with it, can help a student with every discipline or future career. Our hope is our efforts can prepare each student for the world of the future which is becoming more and more dependent on technology.

Rubik's Cube - Problem Solving - Photo from Pixabay.com - Author Pexels

What Programming Teaches About Problem Solving

Problems are rarely solved on the first try. The more complicated they become, the more trial and error takes place. Programming teaches kids that problem solving is a process not a destination. It’s a life skill that can carry over to any future profession or simply dealing with life’s challenges.

Debug code, debug life

Rubik's Cube - Problem Solving - Photo from Pixabay.com - Author Pexels

Image Credit: Pexels. Protected under Creative Commons CC0.

A valuable process computer programmers learn is debugging. It’s an iterative process through your program to learn what it’s doing and find where issues may lie. It’s really a glorified name for trial and error.

Teaching kids how to debug early on sets them up for the more complicated challenges computer programming and life can present. Is your game character not interacting with an object they way you want? Do the numbers not add up? Or does the whole thing freeze?

Debugging code teaches young programmers it’s okay not to succeed on the first or 50th try. What’s important is through each iteration of your process you get closer to the goal. They learn to not fear mistakes.

Solving complicated problems

Solving any complicated problem is rarely done through a straight line. Complicated problems require solving one problem and then the next. Complicated computer programs involve multiple variables, objects, and other moving parts to produce a final result. Sometimes those moving parts will require you to fix something small to get the big result.

Teaching loops in computer programming allows us to bring these principles to our students. We help students manually work through the entire process of the problem. It produces more lines of code, and it helps them see a pattern and see how the pattern solves little problems along the way. Finally, they can translate the pattern into a loop which accomplishes the same goal in less lines of code. Many times they include some form of debugging somewhere in the middle.

Kids get problem solving

The most exciting part of teaching our students problem solving through computer programming is watching that “aha!” moment. When they start asking, “What if?” we start seeing creative outcomes from their work.

I can’t help but wonder what other problems they’ll solve in the future once they learn the process and never fear making mistakes.