Finding the Right Code for Kids

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Greenfoot.org Programming

So many educators want to incorporate coding into technology education. Is it just a fad? An article from 2014 New Yorker suggests we are jumping the gun. Why is there such a push for children to learn to code in school? As technology director I rarely need to know code except to occasionally modify a default setting in a browser or customize a website, or lookup an IP address. When it comes to coding to make our systems work, I call upon trained professionals who are “coders”; often behind the scenes types, without whom our world might fall apart.

So why are we bringing it into education? Why all the hoopla? I mean, besides the obvious answer that pretty much everything we touch functions because some coding wiz kid made it operational. Here’s my unqualified explanation.

As a technology teacher, coding is as important as the pencil and paper that is a staple in every other class. It is the language of those who rarely volunteer, who neither lead nor follow, and those who can spend hours doing something that requires nothing but intense concentration. You know, those kids who don’t seem to contribute anywhere else.

Some kids are just built to understand the curious nature of code. They are often, but now always, the same kids who sit quietly in the back of the classroom daydreaming; the ones who stay up all hours obsessed with playing strategy games online while their parents see the activity as pointless. And they are likely the same kids who never really stand out – until we need them.

Over the years I’ve observed these traits in students who join my coding classes. They are creative, smart, hard working, and dedicated to mastering their craft. Failure has no effect on them. I am yet to have a student give up, cause trouble, or fail to complete what he or she started. The problem is that many of these same kids have no passion for the mundane riggers of math, history or  English classes, instead they crave the logic of a coding puzzle.

maxresdefaultWhat these students really learn from coding is that they have a place in the world. They discover they are an elite bunch who recognize “friends” as those who conquered the farmer level in Code.org, or make it through the Khan programming animation program. These students are a mix of girls and boys who are self proclaimed nerds, athletes, introverts, and socialites. Why do we teach coding? Maybe it’s because we might just need more than the basics to keep our world humming, and it will be those thinkers who can tackle the jobs that haven’t even been created yet. code-and-minecraft

On a side note, for anyone wanting to introduce coding as a class, an after school program, or even a summer camp, there are plenty of FREE resources for you – the teacher – to lead the way. You don’t actually need to know how to code, you simply need to know how to get the kids connected to it so they can learn on their own.

khan-academy-logoTry Code.org up to middle school. It is a great precursor to real coding. I use Code.org code studio at the middle school level beginning in 6th grade. From there students can easily move into java script using Khan programming intro to animation, which builds on the basics from Code.org.  Finally, consider Greenfoot.org, which teaches how to build games using java developer. Visit my students’ robotics website for more information at www.poprobotics.wordpress.com.

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