Teaching coding in Canadian schools: How do the provinces measure up? 

As Canada’s tech industry grows, people with coding skills are in increasingly higher demand, which means young people entering the workforce are concentrating more on computers and how to master the code and manipulate the data they run on. A 2016 study by the Information and Communications Technology Council predicts 182,000 skilled information and communications technology (ICT) workers will be needed in 2019, with another 36,000 required in 2020. Caroline Burgess, a STEM education and career consultant in Hamilton, Ont., says a bidding war has erupted amongst companies searching for computer-savvy employees. She says coding has become an “essential skill.” Morgan Rodwell, a chemical engineer with the Alberta firm Fluor, said that’s true of his industry. “You can’t just rely on a bunch of computer scientists, who understand how the computer works, but don’t understand the domain and the problem you’re really trying to solve outside the code,” he said. Burgess argues that to set children up for success, coding should be taught early in Canadian schools along with core curriculum such as math, English and science. So, how is coding taught in Canadian schools? Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and BC: Making coding mandatory As of August 2017, coding is already a mandatory part of the curriculum in Nova Scotia up to Grade 6.  In a statement, the education ministry says primary to Grade 3 students “use floor robots to learn sequencing and programming,” while students from grades 4 to 6 work with “invention kits.” A spokesperson for the ministry says coding is optional through grades 7 to 12, as the province works to further renew its curriculum with coding in mind. There are also activities like the Hour of Code that allow students to take part in maker-spaces and robotic competitions, which is a program that New Brunswick also participates in. In a statement, a spokesperson for New Brunswick’s education ministry said coding has been made mandatory as part of its Middle School Technology Education course for Grades 6 to 8. Outside of those grades, the province has introduced it as an elective. Students can also take part in a “virtual co-op” with information and communications technology (ICT) businesses that have partnered with the government. “We are providing training to interested teachers to foster more technology-related teaching, including the use of coding, in all areas of instruction,” said Kelly Cormier, communications officer with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. The B.C. government has also announced plans to make coding mandatory in schools across the province. That decision was made in 2016, by the then-Liberal government led by Christy Clark. In June 2016, the ministry provided school districts with a $6-million injection to “support coding and curriculum implementation.” The current NDP government plans to keep that promise, saying it plans to introduce coding as a core part of the curriculum in the 2018-19 school year for students in Grades 6 to 9. “The skills coding teaches can be used in almost any field and basic coding can be the launch pad to a career in the tech sector,” a spokesperson from the B.C. Education Ministry said in a statement. Alberta and Manitoba: Looking at their options Alberta Education Minister David Eggen said in a statement the ministry is meeting with Albertans on the topic and has also sat down with researchers to discuss the importance of “including coding in the curriculum.” “We know that the world is changing and just like critical thinking, computational thinking prepares students to address real-world problems and provides more economic opportunities after graduation,” the statement read. Manitoba, meanwhile, has said it is “studying the approach taken in other provinces.” In the meantime, it is examining the effects of a pilot program called Coding Quest, which was launched in cooperation with The Learning Partnership, to create a more “systematic approach to teaching coding in elementary schools.” Four provinces are taking part, including Ontario. The superintendent of education at Pembina Trails School division in Manitoba, which is one of the school boards included in the pilot, suggested his students have become more engaged in their own learning after being taught these skills. “We believe strongly in giving our students an advantage – a leg up, if you will – on advancements, on innovation, on creativity,” Ted Fransen said, “and coding is something that, I believe, every student should have at least a rudimentary awareness or knowledge of, because we live in a digital society – and their real world is digital.” Ontario and Saskatchewan: an optional part of the curriculum Ontario and Saskatchewan have both included coding as an optional part of the curriculum to varying degrees. Ontario said in a statement that as of August 2017, coding is not a mandatory part of the curriculum but that teachers are encouraged to “use information and technology tools in their teaching practice.” It says resources are available to teachers and that the Teach Ontario program is there to help educators find “innovative ways” to engage with students through coding and programming. High school students also have the option to take computer science classes that include lessons on engineering and programming. Susan Nedelcov-Anderson, executive director of the Student Achievement and Supports Branch of Saskatchewan’s Education Ministry, said in her province, teachers of all levels are encouraged to go beyond the curriculum. “Teachers have a flexibility to incorporate a variety of instructional techniques and a variety of resources,” Nedelcov-Anderson said. “So, definitely coding, bringing in robots, would be an example of the flexibility that exists.” She says computer science classes, which include coding as part of the lesson plan, are optional for high school students but that they have “not had any conversations about mandatory coding in Saskatchewan.” Global News reached out to the governments of Quebec and The Northwest Territories but did not receive a response by publication time. Read the original article here

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STARCRAFT Source Code Discovered, Fan Rewarded for Returning It To Blizzard

Blizzard has showered a fan in rewards after the return of a lost gold master source code disc for the original 1998 StarCraft. As spotted by Kotaku, Reddit user Khemist49 had purchased a “Box of Blizzard stuff” off eBay which happened to contain a disc marked “StarCraft Gold Master Source Code”. Unsure what to do with the seemingly valuable object, he turned to Reddit for answers and, after having some users request the code be made freely available or to sell it, was contacted by Blizzard’s legal team.

Blizzard naturally requested that he return the disc due to the “intellectual property and trade secrets” that it contained and once again Khemist49 turned to Reddit to express his confusion after seeking legal advice. Torn between having paid for and done nothing wrong in acquiring the disc and his potential legal obligations, he decided to send the disc back to Blizzard, just in case. The multi-billion dollar game company decided to reward Khemist49 by sending him a free copy of its popular FPS Overwatch, and $250 USD in Blizzard store credit. Khemist49 assumed that this was the end of this unusual event – until a week later he received a phone call from a Blizzard employee.  “He wanted to thank me for returning their disc (which was in fact stolen).” Khemist49 explains in his follow up Reddit post “He then asked me if i have ever heard of BlizzCon. I said well, yeah of course but it’s impossible for me to go, i live in the east coast, and the badges are always sold out before you can refresh the page lol. He said well, the reason we are calling you is to invite you to Blizzcon, all expenses paid, and we would love to take you out for drinks.” To top it all off, two days later he also received a box of Diablo and Overwatch themed merchandise for his troubles. Blizzard has confirmed the events and stated that it “wanted to show an appropriate level of appreciation to the player for doing the right thing, not just from Blizzard, but on behalf of the large and active community of players who still enjoy StarCraft today”. The recovery of the StarCraft source code comes at an interesting time for Blizzard, with the original StarCraft and its expansion not only made free to download last month but also being remastered later this year. 

Why Girls Are Less Interested In Computer Science: Classrooms Are Too ‘Geeky’

Despite billions of dollars in outreach programs designed to lure women into computer programming, and companies mandating that more women be hired, most females would rather go into something involving people. Yet a new survey of 270 high school students concludes that three times as many girls would interested in enrolling in a computer science class if the classroom was redesigned to be less “geeky” and more inviting. So we can knock Barbie dolls and pink clothes, but they are appealing to the market that is rather than the market some academics would like it to be. The notion that women and men are the same has become passe. “Our findings show that classroom design matters — it can transmit stereotypes to high school students about who belongs and who doesn’t in computer science,” said lead author Allison Master, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning&Brain Sciences (I-LABS). “This is the earliest age we’ve looked at to study stereotypes about computer science. It’s a key age group for recruitment into this field, because girls in their later adolescence are starting to focus on their career options and aspirations.” In the study, high school boys and girls (aged 14 to 18 years) completed questions about:

  • Their interest in enrolling in a computer science class
  • Their sense of belonging in a computer science class
  • How much they thought they personally “fit” the computer science stereotype

Then, the UW team showed the students photos of two different computer science classrooms decorated with objects that represented either the “geeky” computer science stereotype, including computer parts and “Star Trek” posters, or a non-stereotypical classroom containing items such as art and nature pictures. Students had to say which classroom they preferred, and then answered questions about their interest in enrolling in a computer science course and their thoughts and feelings about computer science and stereotypes. Girls (68 percent) were more likely than boys (48 percent) to prefer the non-stereotypical classroom. And girls were almost three times more likely to say they would be interested in enrolling in a computer science course if the classroom looked like the non-stereotypical one. Boys didn’t prefer one classroom’s physical environment over the other, and how the classroom looked didn’t change boys’ level of interest in computer science. “Stereotypes make girls feel like they don’t fit with computer science,” Master said. “That’s a barrier that isn’t there for boys. Girls have to worry about an extra level of belonging that boys don’t have to grapple with.” Previously they reported that inaccurate negative cultural stereotypes about computer science deterred college-age women from the field and that altering stereotypes can increase girls’ interest. The researchers say that changing computer science stereotypes to make more students feel welcome in high school classrooms would help recruit more girls to the field, which has one of the lowest percentages of women among STEM fields. “Our new study suggests that if schools and teachers feel they can’t recruit girls into their computer science classes,” Master said, “they should make sure that the classrooms avoid stereotypes and communicate to students that everyone is welcome and belongs.” Read the entire article here