Anyone connected to ICT and education is familiar with the word “code” – and recently “Teach the kids to code” is all the rage. It usually implies that we should teach kids the fundamentals of computer programming. (In this post I’m going to use the word “kids” as a code word for “learner of any age”.)
But if you think about it, we also teach kids to code, as in reading and writing, all their lives, all the time. Let’s explore this thought a little:
Most kids love exploring the idea of speaking and writing messages in code. (Did you ever try Pig-Latin? Idday ouyay everway ytray Igpay Atinlay? ) Can you decode the sample of pig-latin in this audio file?
Look at the links below to refresh your memory about simple codes. (sedoc elpmis tuoba yromem ruoy hserfer ot woleb sknil eht ta kooL) Perhaps you would like to practice with Sherlock Holme’s Adventure of the Dancing Men.
Visit the links below for more digital ways of honing your coding skills:
Security and historical codes
Although the stories of codes used during World War II are fascinating parts of history (Navajo code breakers, and Bletchly Manor come to mind), Morse code is a more useful and easily learned “real” code. Can you decode the sample of Morse code in this audio file?
Teach the kids to code!
Teaching kids to code has literally become child’s play. Coding is thinking and planning in order to make things happen, and most people can do that, and indeed, spend their days doing it constantly in one form or another. Look at articles linked below for more thoughts about why formal coding is an important part of any education:
“Coding isn’t just for computer whizzes,” says Mitch Resnick of MIT Media Lab, “it’s for everyone.” Watch this 2013 TEDx video in which Resnick outlines the benefits of teaching kids to code, so they can do more than just “read” new technologies.
On his webpage, David C. Zentgraf writes to us all about why anyone who reads and writes on a computer – even if it is only emails – needs to know some code background. “A computer cannot store “letters”, “numbers”, “pictures” or anything else. The only thing it can store and work with are bits. A bit can only have two values:
0 or whatever else you want to call these two values. Since a computer works with electricity, an “actual” bit is a blip of electricity that either is or isn’t there. For humans, this is usually represented using
0 …To use bits to represent anything at all besides bits, we need rules. We need to convert a sequence of bits into something like letters, numbers and pictures using an encoding scheme, or encoding for short.” His article is long, and interesting. I urge you to get a cup of tea, and at least skim it, bookmark it, and go back to again another time.
Encoding and decoding – as in “reading and writing”
Encoding and decoding are the building blocks of reading. Words, visuals, media – whatever your brain needs to understand and/or produce. “Decoding means translating written words into the sounds and meanings of spoken words (often silently). Encoding, or spelling, is the reverse process. The skills used in encoding are usually developed alongside decoding skills and reflect similar learning.” (Read more about the nuts and bolts of encoding and decoding language in the first link below).
On his web page, Kosarra writes about encoding and decoding data in charts, but his diagram describes the process in any medium. Writing about making charts from data, Kosarra says “When a program draws a bar chart, it calculates the length of the bars from the numbers it’s supposed to represent. When it draws a pie chart, it calculates angles. When it draws a scatterplot, it looks at two numbers for each data point and turns those into coordinates to draw a shape. We understand the encoding part very well. There’s nothing mysterious about how a chart comes about, it’s a mechanical process.” He then describes the process of decoding various chart styles. “When it comes to decoding, things get a lot messier. What do we decode? We like to assume that decoding just reverses the encoding: we read the values from the visualization. But not only don’t we do that, we do many other things that are surprisingly poorly understood.” That happens with reading and writing words, too.
After all this, have you thought a little about where, what and how you consciously and unconsciously use code?