Why Do We Encourage K12 Students To Learn More About Computing?

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History shows that the computer as a production tool for society was around many years before educators began to recognize and explore its potential in the teaching/learning process. The World War was the reason for the former, and the growing need to bring an understanding of a changing world to our children was for the latter.

10457406_10152847698531779_6968733047245452938_oFifty years ago, in the early 60’s, first efforts were begun to harness the potential of digital computing in the schooling process. Teams of educators and scientists began exploring the use of the computer to provide students with drill-and-practice learning in the basic skills of arithmetic and reading.


Don Bitzer with first plasma dispay tube, the foreunner of todays’ computer screens


Some notable efforts in those early days were the PLATO project by Don Bitzer at the University of Illinois, and the Suppes and Atkinson’s Computer-assisted Instruction (CAI) experiments at Stanford University. Other leaders picked up on their findings and implemented them in local K12 schools. Sylvia Charp, Director of Technology for the Philadelphia Schools, piloted a Philco-Ford computer system for students back in the late sixties.


Early efforts were built on the theory that computers could be used to deliver instruction–specifically for acquiring the basic skills. The content area was chosen for two reasons: computers then were well-suited for the task, and students without this mastery of basic skills could not advance successfully in K12.


Teletype days1Mid-1960’s many K12 educators saw the promise of a more affordable solution– timesharing. Users could connect via long distance telephone to remote giant computers. This new computing programming language called BASIC, developed at Dartmouth College is currently celebrating a 50th yr anniversary of their work.

These early K12 uses of computer were often known as Computer-Assisted Learning and commonly used to encompass the many computer uses that found their way into K12 classrooms. Soon, the question was raised among educators: Should computing itself be a subject in our school curriculum?

There were many answers, so the movement of computers into K12 education expanded. The 70’s and early 80’s brought new concerns about students needing to be “computer literate.” Teachers made the case for including or excluding a set of new courses on what they titled “Computer Literacy.”

images-5From the 80s’ to early 90’s there was much new focus on using computer technology to diagnose and remediate students with limited skills. The medical notion of diagnosis and remediation crept into computer classrooms. Systems solely for this purpose were invented and installed in schools. Jostens Learning in San Diego and Computer Curriculum Corporation (CCC) in San Francisco were two of the early pioneers. They did indeed help some learners, but more personalization was needed.

Even so, many educators were concerned about how these systems would try to “reform” schooling by replacing teachers and turning schools into “sterile learning factories.” One leading computer educator was heard to say, in response, “Any teacher who can be replaced by a computer, should be.”

images-6The 90’s later brought the world of the Internet to K12. It was called the World Wide Web (WWW). Futurists made promises for delivering more powerful “learning solutions” to teachers and students. They now could use the Internet to become WWW explorers of more relevant information on virtually any topic and instantaneously, too.

Now we find ourselves newly empowered, connected cyber-citizens in this new century of more powerful and smaller learning devices. Students have now become collaborating information networkers who can show that they know.

In just 50 years there now exists a growing set of dedicated K12 educators and students who believe that the computer is a valuable tool for learning more and better. Many believe that today there is a great opportunity for us to integrate this promising new technology into K12 learning and see more learners learning more.

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Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.

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