coding

Coding – how to kickstart the kids

I was about 8 years old, in front of a Commodore 64 and a book from the NY public library on coding in BASIC. It was addictive – drawing shapes, sorting numbers, making images appear and disappear. While that was many decades (but not too many) ago, coding is still a powerful tool in the hands of kids. It intuitively appeals to kids because beneath all the drama, kids like logic. Things need to make sense and have a step-by-step approach. Also admit it, the ‘smartest guy’ in office is the one who can program a macro on Microsoft Excel!

Very recently Mark Zuckerberg launched TechPrep, a program that “aims to help parents, guardians and learners explore programming, the jobs available to programmers and the skills required to become one.” TechPrep claim that by 2020, there will be 1,000,000 programming jobs. But it’s not about coding for a living only.

Coding is a wonderful way to stimulate the young mind and channelize screen time. Get them to be Creators and love the world of Logic. What do kids learn as they create interactive animations, games and art? As per MIT, the creators of Scratch:

  1. they learn computational ideas such as iteration and conditionals and mathematical concepts such as coordinates, variables, and random numbers.
  2. they also learn about the process of design. Typically, a student will start with an idea, create a working prototype, experiment with it, debug it when things go wrong, get feedback from others, then revise and redesign it.
  3. they gain 21st century learning skills and develop a deeper level of fluency with digital technology.

There are already a host of resources available to kickstart young ones. My daughter and I checked out the top few tools.

Coding Tools

Code.org

coding - code.orgThe fine print first – “Engineers from Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter helped create these materials”. So the quality expectation is set pretty high. Code.org uses the concept of visual blocks that allow the child to build the code with easy to understand segments. The actual code stays ‘under the hood’ but is easily accessible and can be seen and read so that your child also understands how the visual blocks translate to real code.

Code.org uses role models (that American kids will relate to more easily) so kids hear 2-3 snippets like an athlete talking about coding. The lessons use characters all kids know and love – Angry Birds trying to catch the pigs teach you functions like REPEAT and IF-ELSE and the Frozen girls skating on ice teach you pixels and degrees and LOOP functions by making snowflake patterns.
To make Elsa skate this pattern:
coding - elsa1
you use the blocks like this:
coding-logic blocks
and the code under the hood is like this:
 coding-under the hood

Turtle Academy

coding- turtlesThis one teaches programming by allowing you to create shapes using the LOGO language. The site contains a client side learning environment and a compiler for the Logo Programming language. Made by three brothers in Israel, they drew inspiration from Khan Academy and Codecademy – to make programming easy to learn and simple to use for kids. It starts with basic commands like FORWARD, TURN, etc and has a series of free lessons. The Turtle (little mascot and cursor) can be used to create lovely shapes and designs. There are simple tutorials on shapes, colours, setting variables, creating loops and lists. LOGO is what my 10-year-old is learning at school so she was able to connect to it quickly and try the commands she knew. There is also a page of user-made programs, designs and drawings, for kids to try out or learn from. The whole site is free and you are welcome to donate towards their educational mission!
 coding - logo
“Thanks to our generous supporters and volunteers, what started as 3 brothers vision has been translated to 9 languages and has 20430 registered users around the world who did no less than 10585 programs and all for FREE.”

Hopscotch

coding - hopscotchThis is an app for the iPad. It is similar to Code.org in that it provides the tools to use visual blocks and build the code. Built by young teachers and coders with a simple mission to enable kids to code, as a creative expression of their imagination. Programming teaches you to never give up, to solve new problems and to explore new worlds.

The app is beautifully designed and young learners will quickly using the detailed section wise menu and visual blocks approach. I asked my 10-year-old to make a house with a welcome sign and she had this up and running in about 30 minutes. She did have some prior practice on code.org. Check out the video of her results.

Scratch

coding - scratchCreated at MIT, Scratch is for the 8+ age group and the Scratch Jr app (iOS and Android) is for the 5-7 year olds.  This has a similar visual blocks approach and lets kids program to create games and projects.
For this one, I sought help from my good friend Aparna, who has a wonderful blog at Life as a Mom. I saw her Facebook post on trying Scratch so I asked her for a ‘guest note’!
“We received a Lego WeDo set as a gift, and embarked on trying it out today. First hit – we easily found online instructions for the Alligator that my 7-year-old wanted to make. Once the cute figure was ready, we realized that making it move (open and close its mouth) was another mini-project altogether! Though WeDo software is available for purchase separately, I found with a bit of help from Google that the Scratch environment (free to download) would sync with the WeDo kit and do the job as well. It’s available for Linux, Windows and Mac, so I am planning to let my kids try it out on the Windows desktop after my initial run with the Mac version. My 10-year-old later told me that she has come across the environment at school as well, so she would probably find it much easier to try her hand at the programs. The commands are quite intuitive, but the drag and drop interface might take some getting used to, especially for younger children. After a few minutes of work, to see that alligator opening and closing its mouth was a lovely sight!” – Thanks Aparna!
Check out this cute video:
We thought we would choose one tool as the best experience but frankly all of them are great. Am sure there are more such tools out there so just get your kids on the coding high. Let them unleash their creative side – be it simple designs, repetitive actions or complex games and apps. You just keep saying – Well Done!
To talk to the author over the phone, click here.

3 thoughts on “Coding – how to kickstart the kids

  1. 8 years – that was an early start for our younger days Subha :). Thanks for sharing these great tips for kids to have fun with coding, I’m going to check them out soon and will let you know how it went!

  2. Hi Subha, came across your article, read it & loved the info. I will share this with my daughter (10y) too..Hope to engage in some coding fun :). Thanks for writing.

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