Computer games do not a programmer make

You may think that today’s kids, who are practically born with computers in their fat little baby fists and who instinctively know how to play any computer game you put in front of them, must naturally understand computers and will make great technology wizards when they grow up.

Think again.

According to Dr. Valerie Barr, Professor of Computer Science at Union College- Schenectady, NY, most K-12 students — despite their familiarity with computers — have not thought deeply about the problem of data representation inside the computer, and how to convert non-numeric information into data that a computer can understand.  Furthermore, experience with computer games does not help students think and represent problems in a way that computers can solve.

Dr. Barr came to these conclusions after running a session on computer science for the STEP students (Science and Technology Entry Program) at Union College’s Kenney Community Center. She asked the students, who ranged in age from 7th to 12th graders, to think about how computers are already in their lives and the sort of problems that computers could solve. Her goal was to try to get the students to think about problems that are not obviously numeric in nature.

While Dr. Barr found that these students were a little vague about the types of problems that computers will solve in the future, they had done some thinking about computers and user interfaces. And many of the students had some familiarity with programming languages.

To learn more,  read Dr. Barr’s blog on her “very local snapshot” of CS education.