Coding is quickly becoming less of an extracurricular and more like a life skill — one that may someday lead to a good job.
Walking out of A-Game Sportsplex in CoolSprings, a kid of about 10 was immersed in his iPad while his dad hurried him along. “Put the Minecraft away, Sean!” the dad said hurriedly, through clenched teeth, trying to move his family through the front doors crowded with hockey kids. Sean didn’t hear him. He was too busily absorbed by his pièce de résistance. Dad’s anxiety aside, as well as Sean’s ambivalence to his Dad’s plight, plenty of tech whizzes would have been delighted by the scenario. Minecraft and other games that require logic for outcome provide the underlying roots of what comes next … here it comes … coding.
What the heck is coding and why does my kid need to learn it, you ask? It’s enough to make a typical parent’s head spin, but to be clear, “coding” is the simple form for telling a computer what to do whereas “programming,” is advanced, incredibly in-depth … and, well, the stuff that Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook is famous for.
Keeping it Real
“‘Coding’ can mean something as simple as creating a hyperlink,” says Alison Rinner, aka Ms. Biz, founder of Ms. Biz Youth Entrepreneurs in Nashville. “Whereas ‘programming’ is a list of sequenced instructions enabling something to work, like a computer … coding can be a tiny list of instructions that animate an object — a fun activity for a kid,” she adds. But it IS the beginning principle that can eventually lead to more advanced work, aka, programming … and plenty of tech companies want more kids to get into it. That’s why Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and other tech biggies have donated millions to code.org — an online company aimed at getting computer programming into schools across the nation.
But let’s back up. After all, we’re just raising kids here.
The best way to describe computer code is as a digital language. Think about that for a second. Being able to “speak” to a computer is what we’re talking about, and you need to learn the language to do it. Getting a computer to do something by itself may sound bewildering at first, but for kids native to technology, the thought doesn’t hang them up like it does adults, especially when learning code is framed in what they love most — fun.
Rinner, a former local middle school teacher-turned-entrepreneur who likes to teach kids about creating and marketing their own businesses, offered coding camps this past summer. Next month, she will offer and has coding workshops and Saturday classes called “Code & Create” taught by two long-time local educators formerly with the Adventure Science Center — Becky Fox Mathews and Sharon Mendonsa. Along with Rinner, the teachers believe in hands-on experiential learning and they aim to make coding relevant to what interests kids.
With technology advancing at a rapid pace, the truth is, all aspects of our kids’ lives will be connected to computers when they’re older whether its on their home thermostat or their car’s computer phone.
“Kids need to learn coding because they need to understand the world they live in, which is a digital world,” says Rinner. In her “Code & Create” workshops, kids use the popular software called Scratch, created by Massachusetts Institute of Technology developers. They learn simple drag and drop basics and more. Scratch, which kids can download for free on their own, is like building with Lego blocks. The “blocks,” each with a line of code, snap together on screen. The user plays with the blocks, building structures like a Lego structure, tinkering and exploring with it.
Minecraft Heads Up
Kids galore spend a lot of time immersed in Minecraft these days, creating their own universes through the use of many tools. Because of the exorbitant time spent on the game, its creators partnered with a group called ThoughtSTEM who designed a new educational add-on for Minecraft called LearnToMod (available next month). LearnToMod allows kids to write code to do special things like create bows that shoot arrows to open new portals and more. The creators hope that with the kids’ interest in coding they may hunger for more and become interested in what comes next, i.e. programming.
The Coding Movement
The word on learning to code is spreading at rapid speeds. Code.org — the organization that trains teachers to offer more advanced curriculums, and for younger students — reports that 20,000 teachers from kindergarten through twelfth grade have introduced coding lessons in the past two years. Coding is taught in Tennessee’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) schools (see stemschool.com/schools/tennessee), and some high schools offers programming as electives and clubs, but it’s not currently a part of our public school curricula.
Big cities across the country are angling to get ahead of the national curve in offering computer programming in schools: according to the New York Times, Chicago’s public school system hopes to have computer science as a graduation requirement at all of its 187 high schools in five years and to have the instruction in 25 percent of other schools. New York City public schools have trained 60 teachers in computer programming for this year’s fall classes in 40 high schools, in part to prepare kids for college. Meanwhile, Rinner thinks it may be best for kids to start at younger ages.
“Learning to code involves a process called ‘computational thinking,’ which is: 1) breaking down a task into a series of steps; 2) problem-solving, testing and evaluating; and 3) revising to achieve a unique solution. Even toddlers go through this process as their brains develop. Yes — it’s best to start young,” she says, “because computational thinking teaches problem solving!”
Ms. Biz Code & Create
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