Is Teaching Coding in the Classroom Still Relevant with ChatGPT in the Mix?

The development of ChatGPT, a large language model trained by OpenAI, in the mix, some teachers may wonder if teaching coding is still relevant. After all, with AI becoming more advanced, won’t it replace many coding roles, or even our understanding of coding?

The answer is yes, absolutely, and this is not even something we can predict. But teaching coding – at least the way we do in elementary school – is still relevant, and it will continue to be so in some form at least in the near future. AI may replace many coding roles, but it may also create new ones that require human input and expertise. Because coding is more than just a set of technical skills; it teaches students valuable problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity skills that are transferable to many other areas of life.

Less Focus on Coding Languages

As AI advances, we may see changes in the way we approach coding. For example, there may be a greater emphasis on teaching students to work with pre-existing machine learning models rather than developing their own algorithms from scratch.

Currently, ChatGPT can generate code based on text input prompts. For example, you can ask it for code snippets and even very simple program code in a variety of coding languages. I asked it about this and it responded:

“I am not specifically designed to perform natural language coding or programming. However, there are natural language programming tools and frameworks available that enable developers to write code in human-like language. These tools use natural language processing (NLP) techniques to translate human language into machine-readable code. While these tools are not yet widely used, they represent an interesting area of development in the field of programming and could have significant implications for how we approach coding in the future.”

Why is this important to coding in the classroom? Natural language coding is a form of programming that uses human-like language to write code instead of traditional programming syntax. With natural language coding, programmers can write code in a way that is similar to how they would write instructions to another person.

For example, instead of writing code using traditional syntax like “if (x > 5) { do something },” natural language coding might allow programmers to write “if x is greater than 5, then do something.”

Natural language coding is designed to make programming more accessible to people who may not have a background in programming. And as this advances, it may replace traditional coding languages. We aren’t at that stage, but we very well may be soon or in the near future.

That said, teachers shouldn’t cancel all of their Scratch and lessons – yet! In fact, I’d argue that more gamified coding programs and block coding tools are a better focus then getting hung up on the specific syntax. Not only are they more “fun,” but the skills are transferable.

Focus on Transferable Skills

So what should teachers focus on specifically when teaching coding in the era of AI? Most importantly, teachers should emphasize the problem-solving and critical thinking skills that coding requires. We should encourage students to think deeply about the problems they are trying to solve and to approach them in creative and innovative ways. We should also teach students about the ethical implications of AI and machine learning.

When teaching coding in the classroom teachers should focus mainly on:

  • Problem-solving: Encourage students to approach coding challenges systematically and to think creatively about possible solutions.
  • Logical thinking: Teach students to use logical thinking to break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts.
  • Collaboration: Students can work together to solve coding challenges and to share their knowledge and expertise with one another.
  • Creativity: Students should be encouraged to think “outside the box” and create projects for entertainment and enjoyment, too.
  • Algorithmic Thinking: Students should know how create step-by-step procedures for solving problems.
  • Debugging & Troubleshooting: Teach students how to identify and fix errors in a systematic way.
  • Computational Thinking: Help students develop an understanding of how computers and algorithms work.
  • Ethical considerations: Students should be given opportunities to discuss the ethical implications of AI and machine learning and how their code can impact society and the world around them.

Think more “project based learning” and “processed-based” assessment vs. mastery on one particular programming language. A student highly engaged in your Minecraft coding lesson may not need the specifics of the tech in the future but they will have develop the interest and the experience that can be applied to any “coding” project regardless of the form the code takes.

I may not use printshop anymore to make giant banners to hang in my parents’ basement, but I’m over here still designing stuff on the computer. The programs change, the job description changes, and even the whole industry changes, but the fundamentals of what makes someone “good” at technology won’t change.

So sure, teaching coding is still relevant and necessary, even in the age of AI. While we may see changes in the way we approach coding, the problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity skills it teaches will continue to be essential for our students’ future success. As teachers, we must stay up-to-date with the latest developments in technology and continue to adapt our teaching methods to prepare our students for the world ahead as best we can.


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