Sunday, May 29, 2016

Coding, NGSS, and cultural madness

“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad."
"How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.” 

Aside from coding (and more on that in a minute), pretty much everything about computers and their use impedes the spirit of the Next Generation Science Standards.

If the goal of the NGSS standards is to create scientific thinking in a child, then the child must be immersed in the natural world, swimming in the sea of sensations outside of our artificial universe of screens.

Everything on a screen is reduced to pixels and sampling, following algorithms--the foundation of reality in a machine is defined by humans.

The natural world cannot be captured intact by the models we create.

An impossible being that visited me one evening.

Coding for schoolchildren matters. It helps develop a working sense of logic and presents interesting challenges for young brains. I could say the same for solving Sudoku problems or learning to use a slide rule. All of these have value for similar reasons.

What separates coding from other exercises is the potential for a child to see the machine for what it is; to develop a feel the algorithms beneath the life we now impose on humans, to expose its artificiality.

If a child gets that, she just might see the cultural delusions that limit her ability to see the universe around her.

Still, in a world where we have become the gods, where artifice becomes reality, a child may never know what she's missing when she no longer notices the earth around her. And maybe that's the point--a child less distracted by reality will be that much more compliant when she's sitting in her corporate cubicle.

Science starts with the mud between a child's toes.


Joshua M. Rosenberg said...

Love your blog and have followed for years. What do you make of arguments that science is changing as computation is increasingly used to do science? What if simulation is increasingly a / the context for science practice?

doyle said...

Dear Joshua,

These are great questions!

No doubt science is changing--contemporary biology's gains would not have happened without the power of computers.

I think (and I need more time for a more nuanced answer) that so long as the simulation model is dependent on what we observe, and adjusted as data flow in, "we" (the complex of human/machine) are still practicing a conventional form of science, but I'm not sure, since our subsequent behavior is often modified by this process. But I suppose this has always been true--no one's ever seen an electron, and its existence is as much a model created by our play with gadgetry/machines as it is in nature (if the two can even be separated).

My fear is that we are not being clear to students what the foundations are--a kid who mumbles something about DNA taught via a textbook knows no more about it than the wild crow I chat with on lazy June afternoons.

BraveNewWhirl said...

Thank you for your blog! My question may be a bit off topic so I apologize. I teach in California so we are just beginning to roll the next gen curriculum out. It seems quite frustrating at times and I worry students won't have a solid science foundation by the end of it all. Many districts have no hard copy resources for teachers or students. How can kids with no internet at home, and sometimes at school, fully digest curriculum? Thoughts, advice, or anything you have to offer would be much appreciated!

doyle said...

Dear BraveNewWhirl,

If you look at the specifics of NGSS, well, anything committees make often lose something in the soup of words they create. If you look at the bigger picture, though, NGSS purport to be about teaching science, as science, and that's what I'll run wit.

Isaac Newton, John Dalton, Madame Curie, Albert Einstein and so many others had no internet.

It's not the internet that is going to make this work, it's our senses and our ability to reason. I guess it comes down to what a "solid science foundation" means.