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Tim Cook crashes coding party, calls for fundamental changes in education

Apple’s new Upper East Side store on Madison Avenue in New York City has been many things since it was a bank. Six months ago, the classically styled building, with its vaulted ceiling and pale marble columns, became an Apple Store and today its second floor, which is below ground and still houses the bank’s vault, is a makeshift school and temporary way station for Apple CEO Tim Cook. Cook’s arrival on Wednesday is perfectly timed to coincide with an Hour of Code session with 18 students from the city’s PS 57 James Weldon Johnson Leadership Academy, a public school in East Harlem. The hour-long session is part of Computer Science Education Week’s Hour of Code program, which is sponsored by the non-profit organization Apple actually kicks a global Hour of code program at all its retail stores on Thursday.

No one from the school or even in the Apple Store knew Cook was coming. The students, eight- and nine-year-olds, were focused on the task at hand. Minutes before Cook’s arrival, an Apple instructor named PJ had explained to the students who were seated around two signature wooden Apple tables that they would be learning how to program a game using coding blocks, as opposed to actual code. The children listened attentively as PJ walked them through the ground rules, which included listening quietly when asked, working with their neighbors when necessary and having fun. For many of the children, this was their first experience with programming. “I was limited in my knowledge of what we’d be doing,” PS 57 third-grade teacher Joann Kahn told me. “I’m excited for my students. It opens their eyes to other possibilities and shows them that there’s more to do with iPads than just watch YouTube videos.”

Working with and the daylong Hour of Code represents its most aggressive push yet. To do what? Cook told me he wants “to see coding be a required course like social studies, English, and mathematics in every public school curriculum.” Had Cook and Apple been talking to school districts and education leaders about that idea? “Sure, I think there is lots of interest. Sometimes education doesn’t move as fast as any of us would like, but I think there are a lot of great teachers out there and a lot of great people out there who really want to improve the quality of education.”

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