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Edutopia.org - Ask kids what Facebook is for, and they'll tell you it's there to help them make friends. And, on the surface anyway, that's what it looks like. Of course, anyone who has poked a bit deeper or thought a bit longer about it understands that people programming Facebook aren't sitting around wondering how to foster more enduring relationships for little Johnny, Janey and their friends, but rather how to monetize their social graphs -- the trail of data the site is busy accumulating about Johnny and Janey every second of the day and night.

After all, our kids aren't Facebook's customers; they're the product. The real customers are the advertisers and market researchers paying for their attention and user data. But it's difficult for them or us to see any of this and respond appropriately if we don’t know anything about the digital environment in which all this is taking place. That’s why -- as an educator, media theorist and parent -- I have become dedicated to getting kids code literate.

Digital World Ownership

As I see it, code literacy is a requirement for participation in a digital world. When we acquired language, we didn't just learn how to listen, but also how to speak. When we acquired text, we didn't just learn how to read, but also how to write. Now that we have computers, we are learning to use them but not how toprogram them. When we are not code literate, we must accept the devices and software we use with whatever limitations and agendas their creators have built into them. How many times have you altered the content of a lesson or a presentation because you couldn't figure out how to make the technology work the way you wanted? And have you ever considered that the software's limitations may be less a function of the underlying technology than that of the corporation that developed it? Would you even know where to begin distinguishing between the two?

This puts us and our kids -- who will be living in a more digital world than our own -- at a terrible disadvantage. They are spending an increasing amount of their time in digital environments where the rules have been written by others. Just being familiar with how code works would help them navigate this terrain, understand its limitations and determine whether those limits are there because the technology demands it -- or simply because some company wants it that way. Code literate kids stop accepting the applications and websites they use at face value, and begin to engage critically and purposefully with them instead.

Otherwise, they may as well be at the circus or a magic show.

More generally, knowing something about programming makes us competitive as individuals, companies and a nation. The rest of the world is learning code. Their schools teach it, their companies are filled with employees who get it, and their militaries are staffed by programmers -- not just gamers with joysticks. According to the generals I've spoken with, we are less than a generation away from losing our technological superiority on the cyber battlefield, which should concern a nation depending so heavily on drones for security and electronic trading as an industry.

Finally, learning code -- and doing so in a social context -- familiarizes people with the values of a digital society: the commons, collaboration and sharing. These are replacing the industrial age values of secrecy or the hoarding of knowledge. Learning how software is developed and how the ecosystem of computer technology really works helps us understand the new models through which we'll be working and living as a society. It's a new kind of teamwork, and one that's under-emphasized in our testing-based school systems.

Codeacademy

To build my own code literacy, I decided to take free classes through the online website Codecademy.com, and ended up liking it so much that I'm now working with them to provide free courses for kids to learn to code. The lessons I've learned along the way are of value to parents and teachers looking to grow more code literate young people.

1. Learning by Doing

One of Codecademy's key insights was that programming is best taught by doing. Where literature might best be taught through books, coding is best taught in an interactive environment. So instead of just giving students text to read or videos to watch, Codecademy invites them to learn to code by actually making code. Every online lesson involves writing lines of code in an interactive window within the web browser, and then hitting the "run" button and watching those lines actually work. Instant payoff, and an "intrinsic reward."

2. A Stake in the Outcome

Code also makes much more sense to people when it is tied to a real project. People need reasons for learning one skill or another. When students are working to devise a computer adventure game, all of a sudden abstract mathematical functions become immediately relevant.

3. Benefits of Interaction

Finally, while badges and point scores are great for motivating students in the short run, social connections to a real group of cohorts probably matter more for the long haul. Codecademy's first strides in that direction, simple forums, allow users to seek out help from others when they're stuck in a lesson. Meanwhile, those who are mastering a skill find it really sinks in when they have the opportunity to explain things to someone encountering it for the first time. Just as research has shown a heterogeneous classroom benefits those on both ends of the aptitude spectrum, interaction between more and less experienced code learners benefits both.

After-School Adventures

The greatest challenge so far, at least from my end, has been figuring out ways to get these interactive lessons into the schools that need them. Between curriculum standards, overworked faculty and legal restrictions on inviting minors to use websites, it's an uphill battle. To help with these challenges, Codecademy has unveiled an after-school program through which any parent or teacher can teach code to a self-selecting group of interested students.

Codecademy.com/afterschool is basically "Codecademy in a box." It's a year of interactive lesson tracks, specially assembled for an after-school group or club run by an adult with no programming experience. In the fall semester, kids make a website by learning HTML and CSS. In the spring, they build an adventure game by learning Javascript. The beauty of the model is that the adult supervising all this needn't know anything about code in advance. The course materials let you know everything you need to stay a week ahead of the kids, and the rest of the online community is there to help you out if you get stuck.

When I learned about the after-school program, I was compelled to tweet, "No Excuses." That's about the best I can say it. The obstacles to code literacy are getting smaller every day, while the liabilities for ignorance are only getting more profound.

What steps are you taking to bring code literacy into your classroom?

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The gates were up, training facilities were open and NFL players went back to work.

Now, they need to get ready for the season in a hurry.

After a lockout that lasted 4½ months ended Monday July 25, 2011 with an agreement between the NFL and its players, teams’ facilities were buzzing with activity. Players all around the league were allowed back in to meet with coaches, work out, take physicals and receive playbooks.

Teams were also allowed to sign their drafted players and undrafted free agents, and negotiate with free agents in what will likely be a flurry of activity unlike what the league has ever seen.

Broncos owner Pat Bowlen​ issued a statement Monday afternoon thanking fans for their patience throughout the duration of the lockout. “Although the offseason was unsettling for everyone, this agreement will ensure the continued growth and prosperity of this league well into the future,” said Bowlen, co-chair of the league’s Management Council Executive Committee. “I am thrilled that it is finally time to turn our attention back to the game that all of us love.”

NFL Back To Work After Lockout

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Cincinnati Bengals safety Rico Murray puts on his helmet at the start of their second practice at NFL football training camp, Sunday, July 31, 2011, in Georgetown, Ky. (AP Photo/Al Behrman) #

NFL Back To Work After Lockout

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Employees and volunteers for the Miami Dolphins, including one dressed as former coach Don Shula, stand on a downtown Miami street corner Monday, July 25, 2011. NFL players voted to OK a final deal Monday, days after the owners approved a tentative agreement, and the sides finally managed to put an end to the 4Ë -month lockout, the longest work stoppage in league history. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter) #

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New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws during NFL football training camp in Foxborough, Mass., Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) #

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Philadelphia Eagles running back Noel Devine puts his hands up to catch the ball during NFL football training camp at Lehigh University, Friday, July 29, 2011, in Bethlehem, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) #

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Detroit Lions punter Nick Harris kicks during practice at NFL football training camp in Allen Park, Mich., Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) #

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Gwynne Chapin, foreground right, hands an ice cream cone to Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Bryan Hall (68) from her truck as his teammates wait in line for their orders following NFL football training camp Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011, in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) #

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Houston Texans' Mario Williams cools off during the first day of NFL football training camp Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) #

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Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler looks to a throw during NFL football training camp Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011, at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) #

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Tennessee Titans wide receiver O. J. Murdock reaches for a pass around a goal post pad during a drill at NFL football training camp on Saturday, July 30, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) #

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Houston Texans running back Steve Slaton's gloves cover his eyes while catching a pass during NFL football training camp, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) #

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An unidentified Miami Dolphins fan waits for the start of NFL football training camp in Miami, Monday, Aug. 1, 2011. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter) #

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Green Bay Packers' Chastin West (11) and Green Bay Packers' Jordy Nelson catch balls during NFL football training camp Sunday, July 31, 2011, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) #

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Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (15) throws during training camp at the Denver Broncos football training facility in Englewood, Colo., on Monday, Aug. 1, 2011.(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey) #

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Buffalo Bills fan Joe Hart dressed as "Superfan" walks to an NFL football training camp in Pittsford, N.Y., Sunday, July 31, 2011. (AP Photo/David Duprey) #

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Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Jorrick Calvin holds on to four balls that he caught as he watches for the next one to during a catching drill at the NFL football team's training camp at Lehigh University on Thursday, July 28, 2011, in Bethlehem, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) #

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New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez wipes his brow while signing autographs after an NFL football training camp in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, July 31, 2011. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) #

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Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald hangs on to the football during drills during afternoon practice at Cardinals NFL football training camp Sunday, July 31, 2011, in Flagstaff, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) #

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Denver Broncos Knowshon Moreno (27) gets in extra work catching passes from the jugs machine after the morning session at camp August 1, 2011 at Dove Valley. John Leyba, The Denver Post #

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Tennessee Titans guard Ryan Durand knocks down a blocking dummy during NFL football training camp on Saturday, July 30, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. Watching at right is wide receiver Nate Washington (85). (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) #

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Unrestricted free agent Nick Barnett wears his Superbowl ring while talking with Buffalo Bills coaches during an NFL football training camp in Pittsford, N.Y., Sunday, July 31, 2011. (AP Photo/David Duprey) #

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Mary Steinkraus, from Germantown, Wis., watches the Cleveland Browns practice at the NFL football team's training camp in Berea, Ohio, Sunday, July 31, 2011. Steinkraus is the aunt of Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan) #

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Oakland Raiders defensive tackle John Henderson, left, has his helmet adjusted during NFL football training camp in Napa, Calif., Saturday, July 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) #

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Adrian Clayborn, left, and tackle Derek Hardman, right, work out for the first day in pads during NFL football training camp Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco) #

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Kansas City Chiefs fan Natalie Canon, 9, poses for a photograph by a Chiefs mannequin during the team's NFL football training camp in St Joseph, Mo., Friday, July 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner) #

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Denver Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton is all smiles as he stretches with the team during practice. The first day of Bronco's Training camp took place today July 28, 2011 at the team's headquarters at Dove Valley. Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post #

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Detroit Lions receiver Rashied Davis (82) watches as teammate Stefan Logan, left, walks on his hands during a break in practice at NFL football training camp in Allen Park, Mich., Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) #

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Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Keenan Clayton, left, gets a head butt and an ear full from defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, right, during the morning session of NFL football training camp at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. on Monday, August 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz) #

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Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno (27) catches a pass during training camp at the Denver Broncos football training facility in Englewood, Colo., on Monday, Aug. 1, 2011.(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey) #

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Denver Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow is mobbed by media after practice. The first day of Bronco's Training camp took place today July 28, 2011 at the team's headquarters at Dove Valley. Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post #

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Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt works out during NFL football training camp Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) #

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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton signs autographs after practice at the NFL football team's training camp in Spartanburg, S.C., Sunday, July 31, 2011. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) #

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St. Louis Rams full back Brit Miller participates in a drill during NFL football training camp Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, at the team's training facility in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) #

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Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley removes his cleats after the NFL football team's training camp practice on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) #

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Houston Texans wide receiver Jeff Maehl, left, is tripped up by cornerback Antwaun Molden (28) after catching a pass during the first day of their NFL football training camp Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) #

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Tennessee Titans quarterback Paul Ratliff plays with his son Johnny, 21 months, and Elle, 2, back right, after NFL football training camp Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) #

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Houston Texans players run to a practice field during NFL football training camp, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) #

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