Hint: It’s math!
I was thinking about that again today. Unity is the game engine that claims to be used by over a million developers. That may be true – it seems like everyone I ran into at the Serious Play conference was using Unity, and we do, too.
Unity is great and there are an enormous number of assets you can purchase that make it easier to create games. That being said, at the first step in learning Unity, you are told that to locate your object in this three-dimensional space you set the X, Y and Z values. The default for these is the origin (0,0,0).
If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably the kind of person to whom that is immediately obvious. You’ve looked at charts a thousand times, you know exactly what an X and Y axis are, that the origin is the point at X=0, Y= 0 and it is not much effort at all for you to conceive of a Z axis and generalize from two-dimensional space to three dimensions.
When one of the most basic tutorials begins with discussing a plane, even if you didn’t remember much about geometry, you probably would recognize that as a two-dimensional space.
Concepts like scale and rotation depend on mathematics.
I’ve been trying to think of examples of programming that didn’t use much math. I did come up with one – you could create an application using PHP, MySQL, HTML and CSS to enter data into a database via forms and create simple reports. Not sure how many kids would be interested in that – I don’t find it all that interesting myself and I love programming.
My point is that if we don’t teach kids math, they are going to be limited in the types of coding they can do. Even areas like gaming, where you might think math isn’t so necessary, depend heavily on a level of mathematics that the average American student struggles with.
Now, if people who are promoting teaching kids to code see it as one way to motivate students to learn more math, then I think they might have some success.
On the other hand, overlooking the fact that students will need math is setting them up for failure.
So, that’s why the proposal I’m working on now is to develop games to teach students geometry, statistics, measurement and data. I hope that then, there will be a larger pool of young people prepared to learn to code.