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Education Television The Almighty Buck Technology

PBS Bets $3 Million That Monkeys Are Better CS Preschool Teachers Than Rabbits (edsurge.com) 82

theodp writes: EdSurge reports that a new PBS show will teach preschoolers how to think like computers. Marisa Wolsky, an executive producer at WGBH Boston, believes television can be a way to teach Computational Thinking. She is in the first stages of creating an animated television show called Monkeying Around [$3,000,000 NSF award] that uses four monkeys to teach the subject. Why monkeys? EdSurge explains, "Initially, Wolsky said her team wanted to use rabbits to teach the kids, but after realizing the animal would need to use its hands, they decided to go with monkeys [Rabbits historically enjoyed success teaching the 3 R's]." In a press release announcing the new pre-K show, WGBH cited "a great deal of national interest in computer science and coding," adding that "it is never too early to start." WGBH is not the only PBS station that's bullish on CS. According to an NSF Award Abstract, "Twin Cities PBS (TPT), the National Girls Collaborative (NGC) and [tech-bankrolled] Code.org will lead Code: SciGirls! Media to Engage Girls in Computing Pathways, a three-year [$2.63 million] project designed to engage 8-13 year-old girls in coding through transmedia programming which inspires and prepares them for future computer science studies and career paths [...] Drawing on narrative transportation theory and character identification theory, TPT will commission two exploratory knowledge-building studies to investigate: To what extent and how do the narrative formats of the Code: SciGirls! online media affect girls' interest, beliefs, and behavioral intent towards coding and code-related careers?" And Code Trip, a PBS series touted by Microsoft that aired in 2016 [$200,000 NSF award], explored computer science opportunities for young people by, as Microsoft explained, following "three students traveling around the country to speak with leaders including Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, and Hadi Partovi, entrepreneur and cofounder of Code.org."
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PBS Bets $3 Million That Monkeys Are Better CS Preschool Teachers Than Rabbits

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  • Really??? (Score:5, Funny)

    by jasnw ( 1913892 ) on Monday July 03, 2017 @06:50PM (#54738555)
    Code Monkeys? (Sorry, couldn't let that pass.)
  • by Anonymous Coward

    You can't be against racism etc. and think "coding for girls" is moral. Let's stop excluding groups of human beings m'kay?

  • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Monday July 03, 2017 @07:04PM (#54738645) Homepage

    PBS Bets $3 Million That Monkeys Are Better CS Preschool Teachers Than Rabbits

    Rabbits and monkeys have shit all to do with the actual story here. Which monkey did you pay to approve that headline?

    • When I saw the headline, I was gonna go with the bunnies. I mean, the monkeys are going to bite somebody, and fap everywhere.

      Then I read the summary and made a solemn vow never to click any slashdot link again. This was a bridge too far into horseshitland. I haven't rage-quit or anything, but my loyalty is probably negative at this point.

      And without even considering the effect on the children of using Elizebeth Holmes as a role model. Hitler can be a role model too, it just depends what role you want to mod

    • It is theodp trying to convince you that the gubmint is wasting money trying to teach kids CS, by belittling their efforts. He thinks that teaching kids CS is going to flood the job market and they are going to take his job. No I am NOT kidding.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Elizabeth Holmes? Just like Gates and Jobs are role models for computer people; namely, skip the code and follow the money.

  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Monday July 03, 2017 @07:20PM (#54738721)

    And here I would have thought humans would make the best CS preschool teachers. Ah, well. No doubt they're saving a fortune on salaries. Before you know it, they'll be taking our software development jobs too.

    • These are characters in a show - kids are probably more interested in watching a TV show with monkeys than one with humans.

  • The story and summary I don't find very interesting, what I do find really interesting is the massive leap from a $200k educational show to a $3M educational show that seems like it will be seen my few people and help even fewer. I know they are kind of unrelated but even so that seems like a lot of money for a few episodes teaching kids to code, you'd be far better off shipping iPads loaded with Playgrounds to underprivileged females across the country and giving them four months of free online face to fa

    • by godrik ( 1287354 )

      Which grant are you talking about. There are two grants presented here. One is targeted at early childhood development, the other is targeted at pre-teen girls.
      Both will develop some kind of video content. But that is not the only thing that they will do, there are other components that need to be developed. The prior $200k grant you talk about is essentially to make a documentary, this is quite cheap to do. The two grants here develop new material from scratch, which is harder than follow people around wit

      • The prior $200k grant you talk about is essentially to make a documentary, this is quite cheap to do.

        It takes nearly as much effort as developing a handful of episodes to teach what they are trying to teach, although I grant the idea they have is novel... A documentary would in fact be harder to make, and involve a lot more on-location shooting which is more expensive and involves a lot of travel expense.

        I would give that the analytical one might need a bit more money for animating monkeys, but come on, $2.

        • by godrik ( 1287354 )

          It takes nearly as much effort as developing a handful of episodes to teach what they are trying to teach, although I grant the idea they have is novel... A documentary would in fact be harder to make, and involve a lot more on-location shooting which is more expensive and involves a lot of travel expense.

          No, a documentary is way cheaper.
          They were filming trips and interviews. There is little planning, there is little design in this. You identify people to interview, you send the interviewers there followed by a camera crew. Later you mount and you are about done. You are probably done shooting within two/three weeks, with probably an other two/three weeks of editing.
          This require little no post hoc analysis. Essentially, in 2 month you are done.

          Compare that to educational material. You need professional acto

  • Their so-called "coding" games for teen girls are incredibly demeaning and probably chase away a lot more girls than they attract. It would be much more appropriate for pre-schoolers.

  • It was reported recently that Colorado school districts are short somewhat more than 3,000 teachers for next school year. Would rabbits or monkeys fill the void? Assuming the requirements are reduced for getting a teaching license in Colorado, this may be a solution. As a side note, whenever the legislature seems to have a problem balancing the next year's budget the first thing that comes out of the governor's and legislators' mouths it to cut funding for education. No wonder there's a shortage of teachers
    • I can understand the shortage. Who wants to go into a field where you are expected to be a social worker, cop, parent, and everything else; and when you actually do your job get parents who complain their snowflake didn't get an A and it's your fault even if all their snowflake did was goof off? No wonder when teachers are surveyed they say they'd retire tomorrow if they could and actively encourage kids not to go into teaching. I was lucky to go to school When teachers could actually do their job and chall
      • Right on!

        One other problem is the way teachers are evaluated. Much of the success of students, like it or not, is the home life of the children as well as the economic status of that home. Teachers in are evaluated based on how their students perform on multiple guess tests and when those children in less affluent areas do less and well the teacher is faulted resulting in negative performance evaluations. Whether this affects their pay or not the psychological impact is such that the teachers get out of
      • by mentil ( 1748130 )

        The GIFT doesn't only apply online. Public-facing employees get to act as a sounding board for every fool/nutcase who feels slighted by anything even tangentially related to their job. No matter what the curriculum or teaching method are, someone will still complain that it's wrong. (Philosophy + politics) * 'for the children' = clusterfuck.

  • Every individual German household is forced by "law" (Germans love laws) to cough up 17.50€ a month for crap public content like this, even if they do not subscribe to, have access or own a TV capable of reviving it. Had this monkey-rabbt nonsense been produced in Germany, then the animals would likely have alread had the opportunity to fly to the Moon and back, and anyone unwilling to pay for it would have their bank accounts confiscated or spend at least 61 days in jail for not paying their "TV Lice
    • Germany doesn't have a space program, that was just another movie about space nazis.

      I doubt you're German, you sound exactly like an American "tax protester." Almost certainly an idiot American visiting Germany. Do us a favor: stay there. (my apologies to Germany if you do)

  • Stupid CS ideas. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sit1963nz ( 934837 ) on Monday July 03, 2017 @07:58PM (#54738893)
    If they are going to teach a "language" at this level is should be French, German, Chinese, Spanish etc etc .

    These are the years where natural language processing develops as well as fine motor skills. Its where the brain learns about distance, and the physics of the world, i.e. throwing a ball to hit a target, jumping over things, etc etc etc
    From natural language comes social integration, developing the understanding of acceptable behaviour , team work, sharing, play, friends, etc etc.

    When kids hit 10 or so they should have enough of a grasp of language, mathematics, 3d space, geometry, numbers, size , abstract ideas and hopefully the start of critical thinking of being able to analyse a situation and make some sense of it.

    THIS is when CS should start, when their brains are able to actually deal with the concepts in a meaningful way.

    ANYTHING a preschooler learns about computers will be irrelevant by the time they are adults, however the social skills and natural language skills they develop are there for life.

    Peoples abilities develop in a certain order (for the majority) and if we want to optimise their learning experience and understanding we MUST work in with Nature.
    This "teach CS at preschool" has nothing to do with learning, its all about money, those that make the curriculum and the resources will make a lot of money until the ideology looses out to reality. They know in advance the idea is stupid and will be a failure, but who cares the money is whats important.
    • FWIW Alan Kay has had a lot of success teaching programming to second graders (using LOGO).
      And I've seen 5-year-olds do some surprising things with Scratch.
      • And Bach was writing music by that age too.
        so what
        The majority of kids are better off without CS at that age.
    • ANYTHING a preschooler learns about computers will be irrelevant by the time they are adults, however the social skills and natural language skills they develop are there for life.

      I wasn't quite a preschooler but I started coding and 'hacking' around in elementary school. That stuff has stuck with me and evolved over time.

      I probably couldn't write a valid line of HyperCard these days but it doesn't mean that the learning was wasted.

      • All valid learning is useful (to a greater or less extent)

        The point I am making is that appropriate learning which matches the development of the brain is the most productive and cost effective.
    • You either didn't have a computer when you were young, or you did and are too dim to have done anything with it.

      • There was no such thing as computers in schools when I went through.

        What we had was rugby, tennis, swimming, building huts in the bush, making dams in the stream, board games, out on horses with a .22 shooting rabbits, fishing, i.e. exploring the physical world.
        We had Mechano, hammer and nails, marbles, knuckle bones, books, lots and lots of books, chemistry set, making electromagnets from scrap wire, piano practice, "tanks" made from cotton reels, making models using mould and plaster of paris, tie dyin
        • So I wasn't just right, I had you thoroughly pegged. You not only don't know what you're talking about, you've mythologized your own limited experience as some sort of ideal.

          I also played in the woods unsupervised and did dangerous things as a child. It isn't necessary. It doesn't make you special.

          There are children much smarter than you, and they can handle basic CS concepts as early as pre-school. Don't hold them back because you're insecure.

    • by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

      When kids hit 10 or so they should have enough of a grasp of language, mathematics, 3d space, geometry, numbers, size , abstract ideas and hopefully the start of critical thinking of being able to analyse a situation and make some sense of it.

      I've taught computing to 9 year olds, 14 year olds and 15 year olds. These were the average-ability class. We didn't do the kinds of things you're imagining (I think you're assuming that they will be taught the same stuff that you remember doing when you were 10). We did robot turtle graphics at age 9 with physical robots, and LOGO turtle graphics at age 14.

      I saw *LOTS* of value coming already at age 9. They were learning algorithmic thinking in a good solid way, that reinforced the algorithms that kids use

      • So, the age I was talking about is close to being the same as yours. you said 9, I said 10, neither age is preschool

        Before that the kids are far better of learning the things their developing minds should be learning, and its not CS.

        The first computer I used was a TRS-80 Model 1 , and that was after I had left school, and the people who initially developed home computers, the internet, cellphones and all the wonderful tech we have today would all be older than me.

        Steve Wozniak is 66
        Steve Jobs would
        • by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

          So, the age I was talking about is close to being the same as yours. you said 9, I said 10, neither age is preschool

          True, but you justified your claim of 10 year minimum by listing the skills that people acquire around 10 years of age:

          language, mathematics, 3d space, geometry, numbers, size , abstract ideas and hopefully the start of critical thinking

          I justified the usefulness of teaching computing to younger kids with an entirely different skillset, skills which are developed since toddlerhood. My only personal experience datapoint was of teaching computer science to 9 year olds (which is why I gave the example) but now that my oldest child is 3 I'm already seeing her have a bunch of these skills:

          algorithmic thinking, control, power, data not a mystery

          • Yes there are always exceptions, but that does not mean your rules should apply to everyone.

            With large groups of people the best you can apply is generalisations, the specific only apply to an individual.

            Young children are effectively programmed to imitate their parents, to seek praise from their parents, learned behaviour is a vital survival tactic. So if you have a strong interest in IT and CS then its natural for your child to also take an interest.

            But look at the people who have made a huge differ
            • by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

              Yes there are always exceptions

              I'm not talking exceptions at all. Only average generalities.

              And I stick with my age 10, for the majority of kids that is when they should have the skills, knowledge and thinking skills to get the most benefit from CS.

              You have a particular notion of what skills and benefits are associated with CS, and I fully agree that your set of skills and benefits will work best around age 10 (maybe later).

              I have a different notion of what skills and benefits are associated with computing in school. I think it keys off a set of skills that are much more fundamental and early skills than the ones you do. I think its benefits are more broad-ranging than you do. That's why I t

              • And I am just suggesting that at different ages the kids would benefit MORE by learning/doing other things that match their physical and intellectual development rather than doing CS.

                Will they learn CS at age 3, yes, but that age is where real language skills develop, children 3-8 will find it easier to learn a 2nd/3rd language at that age than any other, and having a 2nd language is shown to have life long benefits.
    • by CODiNE ( 27417 )

      I have a memory of what might be my first childhood exposure to computers. This was in the second grade, once or twice our class was marched up to the computer lab and did stuff on Apple 2s. I can't really say if it had a large impact on me, but I do remember exactly what we did. We copied line by line some sort of BASIC code that caused an x character to move around the screen and do circles. I vaguely recall not understanding how the circles worked.

      Perhaps it instilled a sense of wonder and curiosity as i

  • Turtles!

    But they don't have hands. Really! It's an animated show FFS. Draw them some hands.

    • Give them a break, you can't expect educators making childrens cartoons to have seen Bugs Bunny or Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

      How would they possibly know you could do such a thing?!

      • It was actually a reference to the turtle in Logo.

        • You should either include words that mean what you mean, or else just not comment trying to explain yourself afterwards. Just stick with what you actually said, which didn't draw any of that into the conversation, or reference it in any way.

  • by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Monday July 03, 2017 @09:04PM (#54739145) Journal
    1. Teach math. Test for math skills.
    2. Teach science. Test for science skills.
    3. Have computers in the school that work and can be used to do programming with.
    4. Have a computer at home so the students can keep learning.
    5. Use the test results to really support the students who can study to program computers.
    6. Offer computer classes of more interest to the other students at their own pace. Arts, music, sport education, photography, easy to understand business maths. Working with apps and the internet classes.
    Support the very gifted and smart students with more math and computer programming. Teach the other students skills they can use at university and in some later vocational training.
    If only some nation had done that with all their skilled, bright, average and other students over a decade? The results could be copied all over the USA?
    Give every student a computer class at school, access to a working computer and a computer at home.
    Lessons that work on both computers and the entire nation will be computer ready in a generation?
    With the next generation following with upgraded hardware and software. Then all new teachers will be totally computer literate decades later.
    Sounds like nation building and a low cost pathway to becoming a computer super power. Given that the best students will then set up local computer factories, employ locals and produce computer parts, code software, export hardware and code new national OS every year?
    Super computer factories all over the nation in a generation exporting to the world with full employment?
    The UK tried that with the BBC micro. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
    Schools full of new computers. Network computers. Educational computer software was used. Maths and science for all schools.
    The result a generation later? A bit like the results of all that new science spending in the 1950s in the USA.
    The UK started importing Microsoft OS, Microsoft OS ready games, MS applications and other nations fun console hardware. A few game companies with some staff got rich.
    The next generation would be ready to write code for UK computers and start a UK computer industry that would export to the world?
    More Microsoft games, consoles and surfing the internet to US sites. Later US apps on a US OS using hardware from production lines outside the UK.
    But everyone in the UK got to see and use a computer over the decades? The generations of skills workers should have been ready to design their own apps and sell to the world years later?

    Placing lots of new computer in average schools does not create a nation of super computer experts.
    People still want to become lawyers, veterinarians, doctors, pilots, plumbers, to do something with arts or sports, design or build or just take care of things in a home if they are allowed to select their own education.
    They use a computer to do things but the OS, apps, software might be written by a select few experts.
    The hardware and networks are even more complex and need even better experts.
    Who created that skill level? Nations who teach math and science and who still test and grade on merit. Put funding back into university level educations after years of testing. Talk to employers. Do they want people who can use a computer?
    How many staff really need to know who to program a computer, create an OS given a very bespoke imported closed source application controls the hardware and software and always has to due to legal or really complex hardware issues?
    Rick a just in time production line or harvest or expensive raw materials? That kind of work needs expert design, not an entire workforce that could program an educational computer a decade ago.
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Monday July 03, 2017 @09:31PM (#54739217)

    You must complete the programming assignment in the allotted time to unlock the classroom door. After that time has expired, the tiger cage will automatically unlock.

    For extra credit, identify the faulty NTP server that the cage lock is using.

  • By the time today's pre-K kids enter the workforce, traditional programming could be a niche activity relegated to kernel and device driver developers. It's not unlikely that the majority of application development will instead be focused on directing various machine learning activities, which could require skills closer to those of a manager of human employees than math and logic.

    Thankfully, I'll probably be retired by then.

    • Bullshit. Programming today is very similar to programming 30 years ago. With the end of moores law that isn't likely to change.
      • And in 1899, driving horses and buggies was about the same as it was in 1869.

        Moore's law doesn't have much to do with it. Improved software techniques and/or new types of circuits built on the current silicon processes will likely enable enough progress in machine learning to eventually transform most software development out of the realm of the of low-level logic steps.

        • No it won't. There haven't been "improved software techniques" in 30 years. There won't be "new types of circuits" coming. You don't gt it: Moore's Law is dead. Progress in computing has stopped.
          • Right... It looks like you should get out of this industry and get a job flipping burgers if you think that has a better future.

    • By the time today's pre-K kids enter the workforce, traditional programming could be a niche activity relegated to kernel and device driver developers. It's not unlikely that the majority of application development will instead be focused on directing various machine learning activities, which could require skills closer to those of a manager of human employees than math and logic.

      There is a difference between teaching programming versus concepts. The former teaches you how to use a current tool, that will be outmoded in the future versus how to solve a problem which lets you use whatever is the current tool to do so.

      Thankfully, I'll probably be retired by then.

      And this generation will have to make enough to support your retirement benefits; a scary thought.

      • My point is, in the future the tools used in software development may not even use the same concepts that have always been used up to this point. As opposed to coding up detailed procedural steps, it may instead resemble writing documentation and training material for human readers, so focusing on traditional reading and writing skills may be a better use of time than learning today's computer languages.

        I'm not sure why you felt the need to tack on an apparent pointless insult.

        • My point is, in the future the tools used in software development may not even use the same concepts that have always been used up to this point. As opposed to coding up detailed procedural steps, it may instead resemble writing documentation and training material for human readers, so focusing on traditional reading and writing skills may be a better use of time than learning today's computer languages.

          I'm not sure why you felt the need to tack on an apparent pointless insult.

          Good point; and I agree with your focus on traditional skills. I was pointing out if you understand fundamental concepts you can apply them in a changing environment versus learning a specific skill that may not be valuable in the future. My retirement comment wasn't meant as a gratuitous insult, but rather a comment on how today's education impacts all of us and reflects a comment I have often heard from teachers. The humor didn't come across, unfortunately; sorry about that...

  • Oh theodp, still worried kids are going to take your jerb?
  • Rabbits historically enjoyed success teaching the 3 R's

    Reading, Reproducing and Reproducing?

  • This show could get interesting... Holmes in every passing year has gotten more bug-eyed and crazy. Maybe she'll crap in her hand and fling it at the kids.
  • Show Will Teach Preschoolers How To Think Like Computers...

    Well, we can't figure out how to get computers to think like humans, so let's see if we can train humans to think like computers... what could go wrong?

    Whoever came up with that is as confused as an economist about how science works.

  • I present to you the wonderful animated series "Cat Sh*t One". Admittedly the rabbits are lovable Special Operations trained killers (and the evil camels are their foe) .. but they do a great job of handling weapons, binoculars, hand grenades and the like.

    https://www.facebook.com/CatSh... [facebook.com]

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    And from an earlier war:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

Imagination is more important than knowledge. -- Albert Einstein

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