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Coding as a (second) Language


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Coding, like language study, has cognitive advantages. Learning a system of signs, symbols and rules used to communicate improves thinking by challenging the brain to recognize, negotiate meaning and master different language patterns. Multilingual people are more adept at switching between communication structures. Unfortunately, few high schools and far fewer middle and elementary schools offer courses in computer programming. Some educators are considering a programming language as fulfilling the requirement for a “second language.” Why teach coding outside a computer science class? Should it count as a “second language?” How is a programming language comparable to a spoken language? What should we be teaching as coding?

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Coding as a (second) Language

  1. 1. Coding as a (second) Language Ken Ronkowitz | NJIT
  2. 2. Learning about code, like learning about grammar, is about understanding how a system of communication works below the surface. v This is not about becoming a programmer.
  3. 3. Why teach coding outside a computer science class? Computer Science, Meet Humanities
  4. 4. • A new major at Stanford University is called CS+X. • Its goal is to put students in a middle ground, between computer science and any of 14 disciplines in the humanities, including history, art, and classics. And it reduces the number of required hours that students would normally take in a double major in those subjects. • CS+Music major includes courses like "Psychophysics and Music Cognition," which examines the neuroscience of music. • Students in other CS+X majors may study natural-language processing or learn to create visualizations that analyze the ancient world.
  5. 5. Cognitive Advantages Learning any system of signs, symbols and rules used to communicate improves thinking by challenging the brain to: • recognize & negotiate meaning • working within structures & rules • master different language patterns – In linguistics, code-switching occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages, or language varieties, in the context of a single conversation.
  6. 6. Cognitive Advantages • Memorizing rules and learning new vocabulary strengthens overall memory. (Multilingual people are better at remembering lists or sequences.) • Language study & coding force a focus on knowing important information & excluding extraneous information (“beautiful” language, code, equations)
  7. 7. Engineering in 9th Grade Like engineering & other STEAM subjects, part of the appeal of coding is the hands-on, real-world applications (and job prospects) - but learning to think like an engineer could be useful no matter what students decide to pursue. Photo: Science Leadership Academy (Philadelphia) - all 9th graders take a one-semester introduction-to-engineering course in this project-based, inquiry-centered school.
  8. 8. Should it count as a “second language?”
  9. 9. Being that I am married to a teacher of French, it would be dangerous for me to recommend that coding counts as fulfilling a second language requirement! I believe computer languages should supplement both English & world language classes - and STEM courses too.
  10. 10. The Code as a Second Language National Initiative Tech professionals & software engineers introduce students to coding in after-school classes, Coding Jams etc.
  11. 11. How is a programming language comparable to a spoken language?
  12. 12. Conditional sentences in English have at least 2 clauses: IF & THEN THEN clauses present the results IF I save $1000 by the end of the month, then I can book a vacation.
  13. 13. The need to proofread (debug) and revise
  14. 14. Insert the word ONLY anywhere in this sentence (syntax) and you change its meaning (That’s semantics) She told him that she loved him. You would understand “the dog my homework ate” but a computer would not...
  15. 15. NATURAL LANGUAGE PROCESSING – syntax/semantics interface & models of language analysis, interpretation & generation
  16. 16. HUMAN LANGUAGE TECHNOLOGY – large scale (Google search, Siri & speech…) COMPUTATIONAL LINGUISTICS – Grew out of early Machine Translation efforts – mechanized linguistic theories
  17. 17. What should we be teaching as coding?
  18. 18. JAVA is the most popular programming language The AP computer science exam uses a Java subset • Classic object-oriented program • One of the most frequently used languages in teaching. • Community is enormous • Lots of documentation • and you can introduce Java concepts via Minecraft
  19. 19. MODS for MINECRAFT makes things a bit more beginner-friendly Remember LOGO?
  20. 20. ^ language arts & humanities Needs to be included in the ARTS of STEAM
  21. 21. Not everyone loves STEM…
  22. 22. Ken Ronkowitz @ronkowitz