Maybe we should teach cooking before coding?

There is a strong push to get computer science into schools. We need engineers, stat. Computing is a growing industry and we expect it to continue to grow. Doesn’t it make sense to get kids into coding as soon as possible?

I love the vision, and I have been teaching computing in various forms to my own kids. I think that we have a long way to go on the implementations though, and I am keen to see what systems we will put in place for these kids.

Knowing computer science is a great skill to invest in, as are the side effects around creativity and empowerment when you make something. The best teaching doesn’t silo a topic, but rather brings a context and tie in a variety of learning. This strengthens the understanding and allows multiple avenues to trigger each other.

How about cooking?

What if there is something else that has similar side effects and is also very practical? A skill that everyone will hopefully use in their life (unless we seed that role to delivery services and cooking professionals…. which I hope isn’t the future!)?

Cooking is a great example that is a fantastic learning tool. I was talking to a neighborhood friend who had just had a fantastic experience with his daughter taking a class. He explained the positives:

  • The kids can be treated as full adults from day one
  • They use the same tools (“wooah we get to use knives and fire!”)
  • The “hello world” project does something useful. You can eat it!
  • The feedback is clear (does it taste and/or look good?)
  • You can start doing quickly, and can gain knowledge over time
  • You work in a team, with a concrete outcome
  • You can teach adjacent topics easily (“Why do we put salt in the water? Oh! that changes the boiling point….”)
  • God forbid we teach nutrition to our youth!
  • It is incredibly hands on, with all senses being used (great for learning!)
  • You can be really proud of your work
  • You make a meal at home and you are a hero!
  • You can run experiments easily
  • You can add your own personality
  • There is a fantastic learning curve where you can progress but each step of the way is useful
  • Everyone has a lab at home (the kitchen).

We do need more engineers and I understand why leading VCs, entrepreneurs, and CEOs of tech companies in New York were pushing for this. I long for a revolution in the education system that offers a step change in learning experience.

For loops?

We need to iterate quickly on what we actually teach our kids, and what tools do we use. I cringe a little when I see the basics of loops and conditionals. Is that the best way to go about this?

I have had the best success when someone wants to make something, and they what they learn is a necessary evil to get that thing done. Having my 9 year old sit down and go through basic programming was OK, but get him talking about the mod that he could make for Minecraft and his eyes lit up!

“Wait, I could do that??”

Video games are probably a pretty darn good vector for this (one of many). Unreal engine has tools that keep getting easier. There are various research projects out there such as Kodu and Project Spark from Microsoft.

Building a rich curriculum is really tough, and anyone who is working away on that has my utmost respect.

Before I write my next bit of code though, I should probably make myself a meal. Unfortunately though, I never had “home economics” in my school. At this point, I wish I could swap some of my other classes for these!

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