Teaching kids to code
I believe that kids need to learn computer science as a major part of their education. The future growth in the mobile internet pretty much guarantees them work, they may even find the lack of computer science knowledge detrimental to their future.
The growth is pretty insane so even a basic understanding of programming will create opportunities for kids. Steve Jobs knew this 20 years ago but only now are things beginning to change, more so in the US than in the UK.
The problem is, programming is hard. It’s even harder to make programming fast and quick to grasp because there’s stuff that you just need to know before you can progress and with attention spans of children you need to do something cool and relevant. I’m discovering all of this since introducing my daughter to the basics of programming and the web.
I’ve started with Code.org, which is great. Not only do they provide free online lessons aimed at children but they also show inspirational videos with a variety of relevant speakers, many of which are women and girls. The concepts are taught through simple code blocks controlling either Angry Birds characters or Plants vs Zombies so she can quickly see how it’s relevant to things she likes.
Together we have registered her own domain and have started to build a website which she planned on paper and I’m coding up with her. I’m not entirely sure how to progress from there. It’s hard to know what’s going to be relevant to kids. Websites probably don’t mean very much now that so much content is consumed through mobile devices. The services children are most exposed to are generally app based. Most kids in the UK will have their first smartphone at 11, when they go to Secondary school. Some even have smartphones in year 6 of primary.
It’s a good starting point, HTML and CSS are very obvious and an easy introduction to actual programming rather than just marking up. Familiarity with syntax helps a lot, but beyond where we are now I’m not sure how to progress. Building basic programmes I guess but that doesn’t sound as much fun as it was when computers were totally new and exciting rather than so commonplace kids don’t really grasp what it is they hold in their hands.
So the problem still stands, how can we approach teaching kids this essential skill, whilst keeping it fun and relevant?
A definition of liberal arts – “The liberal arts are those subjects or skills that in classical antiquity were considered essential for a free person to know in order to take an active part in civic life, something that included participating in public debate, defending oneself in court, serving on juries, and most importantly, military service.”