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Computer Science Education Week's time has come

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Dubbed the “home screen,” televisions started trickling into American homes in the 1940s, albeit very slowly. Indeed, by 1948, there were still only 102,000 sets in the whole United States—and two-thirds of those were in the New York area.

In those days, too, phones came with dials and calls were made with the help of an operator who came on the line and said, “Number, please.” And I should know, as those were my kid days.

As for computers, even as late as 1955, there were only 250 computers being used in the whole world, and they were big, very big. Too big, in fact, to fit in a normal-sized room . . .

Fast forward to today’s digital world of smartphones in every pocket or purse, books read on tablets, and games played electronically—even Monopoly. In a word, we’ve come a long way, with thanks to a number of such visionaries as Grace Brewster Murray, who believed that to do what we’d always been doing would leave us standing in place.

Though not a household name, she is credited with much of our computer-wise progress.

Grace Murray was born on December 9, 1906 and grew up in New York City. Ultimately, she graduated from Vassar College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in math and physics and then went on to teach there. Eventually, she earned her doctorate in math from Yale University—no small feat for a woman in her day--married Vincent Foster Hopper, and became a rear admiral in the navy, too.

But that’s not all. Hopper also became “a leader in the field of software development concepts and contributed to the transition from primitive programming techniques to the use of sophisticated computers.” In fact, she was only the third person to program the Mark I computer while at Cruft Laboratory and that was only for starters.

And because of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper’s outstanding contributions to computer science and her December 9 birthdate, Computer Science Education Week is celebrated each year from December 9 to the 15th. It’s also why girls, 5 to 18, will be joining together to learn and demonstrate computer coding at a free event at the Baldwin School in Montgomery County on Tuesday, December 17, 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Meanwhile, this year the Computer Science Teachers Association is encouraging millions of students to participate in an hour of computer coding, with hopes that they’ll sign up for more in-depth computer science studies.

To that end, the Computer Science Education Week website is hosting a number of hour-long tutorials—some compatible with tablets and smartphones, others not requiring any kind of device whatsoever. All your child has to do is sign up.

Then there’s Code.org’s hope that “every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer programming” and that computer science be part of a 21st century curriculum, right there along with the other science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects being promoted nowadays by none other than the federal government.

Its stated goals:

  • Bringing computer science classes to every K-12 school in the United States, especially in urban and rural neighborhoods.
  • Demonstrating the successful use of online curriculum in public school classrooms.
  • Changing policies in all 50 states to categorize computer science as part of the math/science “core” curriculum.
  • Harnessing the collective power of the tech community to celebrate and grow computer science education worldwide.
  • To increase the representation of women and students of color in the field of computer science.

To achieve such ends, the organization is collaborating with Computing in the Core, a non-profit advocacy group of corporations, scientific societies, and other non-profits.

But does all this matter? You bet. As another visionary, Steve Jobs, once said, “Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.”

And that about says it all.

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