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Local HS Students, Tech Moguls Give Thumbs Up To Coding Bill

SAIL High School junior Ram Moore is the lead programmer for the OctoPiRates

Computer coders have found a champion in Florida Senator Jeremy Ring. Ring, a former yahoo executive, believes coding is an art, rather than a science.  He’s putting forth an idea to allow Florida students to choose coding in order to fulfill a foreign language requirement for college.

Florida students don’t have to take a foreign language to graduate from a public high school. But the state’s public university system does require at least two years of study in another language. And Margate Democratic Senator Jeremy Ring, says why not broaden the language offerings? Instead of the usual suspects, like French or Spanish, why not something like Python? Or C++?

“Whether you’re going into politics, sales, it doesn’t really matter. You need to have a technology understanding in order to compete in life and in a professional environment. I’ve always believed, and stronger than ever now, that computer coding and technology is really more of a liberal art than a stem," said Ring. 

Credit LHatter / WFSUNews
The 3D printer is creating a piece to add to the robot

Code runs the world.  It’s what computers runs on. How TV’s operate. And at Leon County’s SAIL High School, it’s hopefully the ticket to a big win in an upcoming robotics competition. Technology teacher Jasun Burdick and junior Ram Moore, along with a dozen other students, make up the OctoPiRates robotics Club. It’s held after school hours.

The group’s 3-D printer is whirring away as it turns PVC pipe into a red, Lego-like piece that will be added on to the robot the students are building.

The vehicle, with its eight lime-green rubber wheels, square-framed steel structure and vertical scooping arm, has been designed to roll, climb and grab as part of an upcoming competition. The OctoPiRates are in the final days before their project gets packed up and sealed off to compete. There’s not a class dedicated solely to coding. And many of the OctoPiRates, like Ram, are self-taught.

“I mostly learned on my own, and I took AP Computer science, and from there, I taught myself some other higher level skills," he said.


Sen. Jeremy Ring's SB 468 would require the state education commissioner to designate a coding course that would be in place by the start of the 2018-19 school year.

The proposal is also getting kudos from Silicon Valley.  Microsoft Chairman, John Thompson says coding has become a skill that’s becoming increasingly necessary for students to have, and he asks, what’s wrong with letting kids try it out?

The OctoPiRates' robot is almost ready for competition.
Credit LHatter / WFSUNews
The OctoPiRates' robot is almost ready for competition.

“If you had a chance to take coding and coding triggered a thought in your mind that I can do this and do it well, and it has the long term consequences of a career in technology which, right now, are some of the highest paying careers in our country, why wouldn’t you do that? I think that’s a great idea.”

But it’s not all props for coding in Florida. Many people acknowledge the need for coding. But what they don’t like is the idea it could replace what many consider another necessary skill: knowing another language. Linda Markley, with the Florida Foreign Language Association, says the benefits of bilingualism shouldn’t be ignored.  She argues coding isn’t the same as a world language.

“There Florida Bureau of Language market statistics for 2023 projects for new job openings, says over 300,000 will require world language skills, as opposed to 48,000 for computer coding.”

But Sail High School OctoPiRate Alexander Olson says not only is coding relevant, it’s vital.

“It really is a whole other language," he said. "I would have rather have learned something like this back when I was in middle than learning Spanish for two years, that I’ve already forgot half of, and that was only 2-3 years ago. This would have stuck with me a lot longer and is something I’m interested in.”       

And Senator Ring insists it’s not an either-or proposition. He says coding isn’t about creating new engineers, it’s an essential skill people need to have to navigate changing technologies. And he argues if Florida is serious about its foreign languages, it needs to start kids out at a younger age in immersion programs. But until then, Ring believes there’s room for both.   

The Florida House and Senate chambers could approve the bill next week.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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