Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Sep 25, 2015 in Stuff You Should Know

Teaching Toddlers to Code?

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced an overhaul of his city’s public school system. One of these initiatives includes learning the fundamentals of computer science. This move reflects a larger trend of considering coding (using a computer language to create software and applications) a “fundamental literacy.” This means breaking down the basics and teaching the subject earlier and consistently throughout a student’s school career.

Nearly half of the cost of the New York City initiative will be provided by corporate sponsorships (often by a technology or related company like AT&T) or private foundations. The initiative will also involve working with small tech companies that create software to assist kids in learning the fundamentals of computer programming. One such company is codeSpark. They have a product that allows younger and younger children to participate because it does not require reading. Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. There are child advocates that advise against excessive exposure to technology at such a young age, saying that it can intensify symptoms of ADHD and OCD.

What Do You Think? U.S. House of Representatives majority leader Eric Cantor has said, “Becoming literate in code is as essential to being literate in language and math.” Do some research into the pros and cons of this issue and determine if you agree or disagree with that statement.

Advances in Editing DNA Leads to Bigger Questions

DNA sequencing gel used in genetics.

Close-up view of DNA sequencing gel used in genetics. Credit: Rafe Swan/Getty Images.

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is a British organization that is responsible for regulating all experiments involving human embryos in the United Kingdom. Earlier this month, British scientists asked the HFEA for permission to “edit the DNA” in human embryos. This means that they wish to use a new technology called Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR), which allows scientists to make specific changes in a human egg, sperm or embryo.

But the use of CRISPR has generated a great deal of controversy. Supporters believe that this technology can lead to major breakthroughs in treating disease and eliminating debilitating genetic defects. Those opposed generally fear the unknown risks that this practice could create, like an unintended consequence of introducing a new disease or genetic defect. It also raises ethical dilemmas such as the creation of “designer babies,” where parents can pick and choose the traits of their unborn children or, a “genetically engineered human race.” Those in the middle think that there should be restrictions on how the technology can be used until more time has been spent studying potential effects.

Dig Deeper If HFEA grants its permission, the U.K. will not be the first to edit DNA. Chinese scientists at Sun Yat-sen University used CRISPR earlier this year. Find out a few specifics of that experiment and note at least one positive and negative reaction from scientific community.

Standing With Ahmed

Earlier this month, a 14-year-old high school freshman named Ahmed Mohamed was arrested near Dallas, Texas for bringing a homemade clock to his school. Mohamed, an avid electronics buff, built the device at home and brought it to school to show to his teacher. Through a series of misunderstandings, people thought Ahmed had brought a homemade bomb to school. He was handcuffed and transported to a juvenile detention center for questioning. A spokesperson for the school district said the information given to the public was unbalanced but declined to give details, citing student privacy.

News of the boy’s arrest ignited a wave of criticism against the school. A number of individuals and organizations have expressed support of the student, including President Obama who invited him to the White House, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where Mohamed hopes to attend some day. Other notable support came from NASA, Google, and Space Camp USA. But not all of the attention was positive. Political commentator, Bill Maher, for example, said that while the boy deserved an apology, the device did not look like a traditional clock and that people should consider that perspective.

Dig Deeper The police chief of Irving (the city located within Dallas) called the incident a “naïve accident.” Do some research and find out what he meant by that. See if you can find news of similar incidents around the country. What do the incidents have in common and what can be learned from the incident.