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Countdown to the DML Competition Winners' Showcase: Day 46 with Maker Kids and Programming Literacy

Robert Nay, an 8th grader from Utah, is in the news for knocking Angry Birds: Seasons out of top spot on the App Store's top free app list with his new game, Bubble Ball. Like Jack Hanson, the 13-year-old Game Changer winner we sent to meet President Obama, Nay is enjoying the door-opening that goes with gaming.

According to VentureBeat, Nay launched his physics-based game December 29, 2010, and since then, it has been downloaded 1.5 million times.

Most articles about Nay don't mention where he learned to program, only that he learned Lua and Coronda SDK to design his game. I suspect, though, that Nay learned how to program on his own at home (his mom helped him design the game levels) One reason we old timers are so excited by Nay's success is because programming is not a 21st century literacy taught in most schools. It is refreshing to see a kid do well on a playing field largely dominated by teams of grown-ups, not least because programming tends to be taught more miss than hit. It reminded me of Mark Prensky's well-said Programming is the New Literacy article from several years ago, in which he wrote: 

"At an early age, many young people learn the HTML language of Web pages and often branch out into its more powerful sister languages, such as XML and PHP. Other kids are learning programming languages like Game Maker, Flash, and Scratch, plus scripting language, graphics tools, and even C++, in order to build games. They learn them occasionally in school, but mostly on their own, after school, or in specialized summer camps. Why? First, because they realize it gives them the power to express themselves in the language of their own times, and second -- and perhaps even more importantly -- because they find it fun."

If Nay did not learn to program in school, Prensky may be right about why: "Most teachers, even many of our best math and science instructors, do not possess the necessary skills, even rudimentary ones. Most of the tools (and even the concept of programming) were developed long after these teachers were born or schooled."

It could take a while before programming is taught early and in every school. In the meantime, it helps that we have Scratch (a 2010 DML Competition Winner), so that kids can learn to develop, among other things, their own apps (such as 2010 DML Competition Winners Youth AppLab and Mobile Action Lab, two projects that encourage youth to design and program). It also helps that kids will learn what they want to know, and need to know, regardless of what schools teach. With just a limited amount of programming literacy, our networked world is a giant playground for the makers and do-it-yourself learners among us. Still, what a head-start students would get if they all learned at least basic programming in school. We would eventually take 8th graders like Nay for granted, expecting them to be able to program as well as they read and write. When that happens, it will be the 3-year-olds that make headlines for their digital creations.


Countdown to the 2010 DML Competition Showcase features Where Are They Now? updates on the 2008, 2009, and 2010 winners. The 2010 DML Competition winners will showcase their projects at the Designing Learning Futures DML Conference on March 4, 2011 in Long Beach, California.


Visit our DML Countdown page to view more updates from featured projects.


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