GitHub’s “Coding As the New Literacy” Roundtable: Q&A With Panelist Bennett Brown, PLTW Director of Instruction, Computer Science

On Sept. 4, code host GitHub held at its San Francisco headquarters a roundtable focused on the topic “Coding As the New Literacy.” Featured speakers included Mozilla Science Lab’s Kaitlin Thaney, Google Summer of Code’s Carol Smith, UC Berkeley’s Armando Fox, and Palantir’s Ari Gesher, with PLTW’s own Bennett Brown, director of instruction, computer science, rounding out the panel.

For Brown’s take on the event, check out the Q&A below.

Project Lead The Way: What is the purpose and significance of events such as the “Coding As the New Literacy” roundtable?

Bennett Brown: The labor shortage in computing is in the media spotlight right now. A lot of people are asking, “What needs to be done at the K-12 level to prepare students to compete for these jobs, to succeed in the global economy?” Events like the Coding Literacy Roundtable help frame the message for the public and help people understand what solutions are known to be scalable.

PLTW: Why do we need greater programming/coding literacy in the United States?

BB: The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 1.4 million jobs for computing specialists opening by attrition or growth by 2018 with only 0.4 million Americans able to fill those jobs – including upcoming two- and four-year post-secondary graduates. An increasing portion of jobs in other fields are also requiring computational expertise. From manufacturing to advertising, entertainment, and education, people who have computing skills have an edge. Programming, designing and using algorithms, collecting and analyzing data, and communicating with simulations – these are all computational thinking skills that are in greater demand than supply.

PLTW: How can greater programming/coding literacy be attained?

BB: Problem-based learning is a great model for learning how to code. Most people can think of something they wish their computer or tablet did. Good curriculum structures those open-ended problems so that the student selects a problem that is accessible, and the teacher scaffolds the learning that is necessary for the student to be successful.

PLTW: What key messages did you hope to impress upon other members of the roundtable and attendees at the event?

BB: Every student deserves the opportunity to learn to code. There are over 37,000 high schools in America. Only about 10 percent of high schools offer computer science, so most students get shut out. Every school needs a teacher who is comfortable teaching computer science. It is an equity issue.

Every elementary school should offer computer science. We know that students form ideas about their interests and abilities as early as second grade. To reach girls and other students who are underrepresented in computer science, we need to engage students when they are young.