The Privilege of Coding with President Obama
By Jacob Sonenshine
The organization Code.org has targeted two world leaders in their latest effort to promote computer science as a field that should be in school’s core curriculum. ‘Hour of Code,’ the organizations latest initiative, took to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office on December 8th and President Obama’s office in 2014, to teach the leaders how to code.
It was not computer science professionals that taught these leaders how to code. Instead, high school students sat one on one with the politicians.
Fourteen year-old Adrianna Mitchell, a student at American History High School in New Jersey, sat with President Obama in the White House, and taught him to code Java Script.
Code.org personally chose the ninth-grader for Obama’s hour of coding. The founder of Code.org, Hadi Partovi, met with Mitchell and her peers. According to Mitchell, he asked questions to see “which one of us would answer the questions and had good answers.” She added, “they wanted me to teach the president how to code.”
What exactly did Mitchell teach President Obama? She focused on ‘blocking,’ or using chunks of data, expressed through visual blocks, to code information into a digital production. Coding normally uses written data, such as a URL, to input information while blocking consolidates that written information into visual rectangles. Mitchell taught President Obama to write the information into the blocks, before sequencing the blocks into the appropriate format. When the president completed the assignment, a cartoon figure had emerged on the screen.
The president does not necessarily need to code but wanted to learn the skill as it has become increasingly necessary in this age of digitization. Mitchell recalled the president saying, “this could be a useful thing.”
Due to the usefulness of coding, Mitchell’s school has woven it into their curriculum. “I can use it to make up new things, like games,” said Mitchell. She said that she uses coding in her physics class to put together kinematic equations, which measure the motion of objects; namely displacement, velocity, and acceleration.
Mitchell also said that coding is used for machines and even robots, although she doubts it could help her in the job market. However, she did say that coding could improve the performance of a bank. “The machine shows the money, right?” she offered, “…they [computer experts working for a bank] probably have to put in some type of equation for the money to come out.” She continued demonstrating her digital expertise, and said that “the money doesn’t come out by reading your mind.”
President Obama urged Adrianna and her peers to use coding in their everyday lives.
Mitchell said her math teacher creates coding games that engage students. She said that after some games, students “want to keep coding.” She continued, “I think that it will become a core curriculum.” She believes “public schools will put it into their curriculum,” because “kids enjoy it.” #