That's what drove Bueno to write a children's book aimed at teaching some of the concepts of computer science -- without ever mentioning computers. "Lauren Ipsum" is a whimsical story about a little girl who gets lost in a forest and has a series of adventures in which she learns about problem-solving and other ways of thinking as she finds her way home.
Bueno initially self-published the book, selling it on Amazon and other sites
and donating about 1,000 copies to teachers and children's groups. That led to him being honored last month by an Obama administration program, Champions of Change, for helping encourage women and minorities to enter tech fields. A
A self-taught programmer, Bueno learned to tinker as a boy by helping out in his father's TV repair shop. He spoke about his goals for the book in this interview, which was edited for length and clarity.
Q: Why did you write this book?
A: People tend to think that scientific progress is all about discovering new facts and raising the boundaries of human knowledge, but it's equally about discovering new ways to understand and explain things we already know. It's about turning the previously hard things into child's play. That's the other half of progress.
If you open a child's math book, you're going to see all these boring facts about zero and negative numbers and the square root of two. Every single one of those boring facts was once one of the weirdest, most difficult problems in the world.
When we as a society get serious about teaching this stuff to children, that's how we know that we actually nailed it and can move on to something more important.
Q: What got you thinking about that?
A: I have six nieces and nephews who were 9 years old (when he started the book). I thought about what I was doing when I was 9. And I thought if my dad can teach me how to fix a TV when I'm 10, how can I teach the next generation what I do when they're 10?
Q: So what's the book about?
A: It's about a little girl who is very impatient and gets herself into trouble, and the only way to get herself out of trouble is to think it through, and she learns you can solve problems on your own. If I say it's a children's novel about computer science, that's like a pink giraffe wearing a tutu. But it teaches the concepts of computer science in a way that's nonthreatening, through analogies and stories.
Q: Should every child know how to code?
A: There's a difference between computer science and programming. Computer science is thinking about how to do things. Programming is the art of explaining how to do things to a computer. You can't have one without the other, but there's an intersection between problem-solving in computer science and that bugbear of education, critical thinking.
People ask: "How do you teach problem-solving skills?" Well, what do you think programmers do
all day? They solve problems. They figure out novel ways to fix things. That's what I'm trying to teach in the book.
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