Walking out of a store, 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 kids. Dad’s anxiety aside, 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: coding.
Easier for kids to understand than many parents, what the heck exactly IS coding and why does my kid need to learn it, you ask? Simply put, “coding” is the language used 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. You’ve got to start somewhere … and the beginning is code.
Keeping it Real
“For many, coding and programming are synonyms,” says Jean Bolte, Outreach Coordinator at iSPACE, The STEM Learning Place. iSPACE offers both in-school and after-school programs that use hands-on learning experiences to teach kids from Kindergarten through high school the power of programming and how to develop skills to use that power. “For the more discerning, the difference is that a coder is converting the logic and objectives of a program into computer code.” Coding 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.
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 it’s on their home thermostat or their car’s computer phone.
“Technology is such an integral part of their daily lives that kids today are veracious users of code,” says Bolte. “The more they understand the uses, concepts and logic, the more prepared they will be to create and utilize technology to its fullest potential.”
Toby Foote of Classroom Antics Tech Camps says, “Writing a computer program is the equivalent of solving a problem using structured logic. When we learn how to write a computer program, we are learning how to use logic and how to problem solve. This process trains our brains how to rationally solve problems using data.” So along with learning about coding, kids are developing the necessary skills to become better problem-solvers, something they can use in all areas of their lives.
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, although they’re not yet developmentally ready to understand the concepts and principals behind computer programming, according to Foote. “It isn’t until around age 7, children begin to understand logic-based thinking and troubleshooting techniques, which is required for basic computer programming.” Foote says that computer programming is prevalent in most of Classroom Antic’s technology camps.
“For example,” he says, “our Video Game Design Tech Camps are about using computer programming to create interactive, multi-level, multi-character video games. Our LEGO Robotics Tech Camps teach how to build and program robots to move. And, of course, our Computer Programming Tech Camp teaches how to use programming to create multi-dimensional, interactive, multi-media computer programs using formal programming techniques. We use a hands-on approach to show kids that they can do more than play games they love; they can actually learn to make games for themselves to share with friends and family.”
Minecraft Heads Up
Minecraft creators have partnered with a group called ThoughtSTEM who designed a new educational add-on for Minecraft called LearnToMod. 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.
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 classes in 40 high schools, in part to prepare kids for college. In Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, some schools offer programming as electives and after-school clubs, while local libraries are increasing their offerings to kids as well.
Local Coding Groups, Events & Resources
Learn more about coding with these resources and events!
Code.org — A national non-profit dedicated to bring computer science to schools and their students. The web site offers a searchable database of area programs, both public and private.
Classroom Antics — Offering educational summer camps for ages 7 – 13 in video game design, LEGO robotics, stop-motion, animation and computer programming throughout Greater Cincinnati. Call 800-595-3776 or visit classroomantics.com.
iD Tech Camps – Encourage the awesome in your child! At iD Tech Camps, students ages 7 – 17 can learn to code, design video games, mod Minecraft, engineer robots, model 3D characters, build websites, print 3D models, and more. Campers meet new friends, learn awesome STEM skills, and gain self-confidence. Held at Xavier University and over 150 locations nationwide. Visit idtech.com/locations/ohio-summer-camps/cincinnati/id-tech-xavier-university/.
iSPACE, Inc. — Offering a range of programs in computer science, robotics and more, including summer camps for students of varying ages, including children as young as Kindergarten. Located at 3254 E. Kemper Road. Call 513-612-5703 or visit ispacescience.org.
Teen Tech Club — Teens will design a virtual Rube Goldberg machine online on Jan. 6 at 6 p.m. at the Clifton Branch Library (351 Ludlow Ave.; 513-369-4447; cincinnatilibrary.org)
Engineering for Kids — Ages 4 – 14 in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties can explore STEM education and take part in fun activities like creating their own video game or building a rocket during workshops, camps, classes, even birthday parties. Call 859-630-3268 or visit engineeringforkids.com/location/nky.
Boone County Public Library — The Florence Branch Library (7425 U.S. 42, Florence) will host a Minecraft program for grades 3 – 5 in February. Build and create a world that is limited only by your imagination! Call Pamela Jayne at 859-342-2665 or visit bcpl.org for the date, and to learn about upcoming summer camps as well.
Kenton County Public Library — Teens and younger kids are invited to the Coders and Makers Club, which meets twice a month at the Covington branch (502 Scott Blvd.) for individual projects, guest speakers and workshops. A Scratch workshop will take place on Jan. 29 (call to RSVP). Additional club dates include Jan. 8, Feb. 12 and 26 at 6:30 p.m. The Children’s Department is planning an after-school program on coding, along with several more spring and summer programs at both the Erlanger and Covington branches. Call 859-578-7948 or visit kentonlibrary.org.
iGineering — Exposing youth to science, technology and engineering, including LEGO, code, graphic design, apps and more. Call 513-399-7836 or visit igineering.com.
GIRLS at Cincinnati Museum Center — Girls In Real Life Sciences (GIRLS) is open to girls of all ages and focuses on activities in science, technology, engineering and math. Call 513-287-7000 or visit cincymuseum.org/programs/girls.
Additional Coding Resources
Ann Schoenenberger, MILS and Digital Librarian for the Kenton County Public Library System (kentonlibrary.org) suggests the following books and web sites for parents and kids to explore, as well as this Ted Talk by Mitch Resnick on why kids should learn to code: ted.com/talks/mitch_resnick_let_s_teach_kids_to_code
Help Your Kids With Computer Coding: A Unique Step-by-Step Visual Guide, from Binary Code to Building Games (DK Publishing)
Super Scratch Programming Adventure! Learn to Program by Making Cool Games (The LEAD Project)
Hello World! Computer Programming for Kids and Other Beginners (Manning Publications)
Scratch — scratch.mit.edu
Google Made with Code — madewithcode.com
Kahn Academy — khanacademy.org/hourofcode
Blocky — blockly-games.appspot.com
Stencyl — stencyl.com
Crunchzilla — crunchzilla.com
Baltie — sgpsys.com/en/Default.asp
Code — code.org
Best Apps and Websites for Learning Programming and Coding — graphite.org/top-picks/best-apps-and-websites-for-learning-programming-and-coding