Thursday, December 11, 2014

This week we celebrate Computer Science Education Week with the slogan that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science. How do we get our children started on the road of real computer literacy? I will share some resources in this post.

Computer Science and Programming Resources for Kids Age 5-10

Did You Learn to Code?

I have seen my first computers when I was about 5 – my Mom was one of the first graduates in Electronics Engineering in my native city of Minsk, capital of Belarus. She worked in one of the State Computing facilities and maintained mainframes. They were huge and took big rooms. When first personal computers arrived to my school, they were an incredible rarity and a gift to our school from our Japanese twin city. the year was 1986, and I was a senior in high school. The first program I wrote in Basic made me change my career plans from chemistry to computer science. I graduated with a degree in System Engineering from Minsk Radioengineering University and my whole adult career was spent in high tech even though I shifted over years from coding to QA to product management to program management.
My husband (we are exactly same age, but he grew up in Western Germany) bought his own “DIY Atari” when he was a teenager. Programming was always his passion. He is one of those geeks who programs for fun, but he is also a professional software developer who is paid well for his skills. So, in essence, learning to code continues to put food on our table and roof over our heads.

When Is a Good Time to Start?

Programming (or coding) changed so much since our youth. I remember struggling to comprehend certain concepts of computer programming even in high school, and I was a very capable student. Nowadays kids can start programming much earlier with more visual approaches to computer languages. My husband was very enthusiastic about teaching our daughter to program, and we tried to get her into coding first time last spring when she was 7 and a half.
Learning-to-Code We used Khan Academy Intro to JS, since Smarty was already familiar with Khan Academy math program and loved it. While Smarty progressed quickly through easy topics, she hit the wall when it came to variables and loops. My husband tried to explain them in various ways and drew pixels on graph paper, but it appeared that Smarty was simply not ready for a degree of math abstraction required while trying to program in Java Script and the more my husband tried to “encourage” her, the more she resisted. He tried again over the summer, and this time she went a little further in her understanding, but, again, she didn’t have motivation or the right project in mind to get her over the hump of theory that is needed with languages like JavaScript to move to practice. So we decided to wait a little and perhaps reconsider our approaches to teach programming to Smarty.

Are Girls and Boys Different When It Comes to Learning to Code?

I don’t want to generalize, but so far I am yet to see a girl of Smarty’s age genuinely interested in programming. Boys are completely different matter! One of Smarty’s classmates is spending all his free time reading Java programming books and writing his own programs. My good friend’s son who is a year older than Smarty was into programming for several years, his preferred environment is Scratch, and he and his best friend write games together and already plan to start their own software game company. Perhaps not incidentally, both boys have extremely geeky fathers who are very supportive of their boys’ interest and spend a lot of time with them.
Don’t get me wrong - I am not saying that girls cannot grow into terrific software engineers, but there is something in learning to code that seems to call to boys earlier than to girls. Perhaps the situation will change soon with some beginner tutorials specifically targeting girls, such as this Code With Anna and Elsa tutorial designed for kids age 8+.

How to Get Started?

Tutorials for Beginners
There are many paths that you can take into the world of coding. Start small! Give your children an hour of code. Check out tutorials and coding apps that might work for children as young as 4. Let them experiment and follow their interest. I will be honest and say that it is certainly helpful to be able to code yourself if you are trying to encourage your child to try it out. But perhaps coding is a new skill that you and your child can learn together. I, for once, am excited to try some of the tutorials designed for age 8+ (not for middle school like Khan Academy) and see if Smarty’s interest in programming takes off again. I am looking forward to our Hour of Code this weekend :)

Your Turn

Do you know how to code? What computer languages did you learn?

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Ticia said...

Jeff is starting to seriously push for the boys to learn some form of computer programming. So, I need to start looking into it.

min said...

There's been so much push for coding lately that it's hard to avoid. Pretty much everyone is teaching it. I do question whether every child needs to learn it at this age. It seems like something they can learn easily as they mature. One friend told me her husband majored in philosophy and learned programming as an adult. He is a software engineer without studying engineering.

Natalie PlanetSmartyPants said...

Actually, our school district does not have coding on curriculum for elementary school. Sadly, they don't even teach typing, which at this point I consider an important life skill. Anyway, this task is left to parents.

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

I'm surprised that your school isn't teaching typing! Ours starts that in first grade, and the kids do a little coding as well. Emma thought the Anna and Elsa coding program was neat. She is kind of interested in programming, but I think her interest is largely due to her father's (tremendous) enthusiasm.

Jen Robinson said...

We were recently introduced to the site because my daughter's preschool is doing the hour of code, and recommended it. My daughter is 4.5 and she is completely hooked on the puzzles. She begs to do them all the time, even though she also gets frustrated when she has trouble.

I do know how to do some coding, but my daughter doesn't even realize that at this point. It's not my current job. Anyway, I've been impressed by how this site gets concepts across while making it feel like fun, not work.

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

I played around with coding as a young teen - mainly writing little programs to turn the keyboard into a piano, and the like - and then had to work some with Basic and Unix systems when I first started working...but only ever learned enough to get by.

I've tried the kids with Khan's coding tutorials, and Scratch, and a couple of other video game creating software programs but so far they've had very little interest. They've all learned to type though, and to navigate and manipulate various software as needed for whatever they're into.

I think maybe that's the key...having a purpose for the programing skills they're learning.

Anonymous said...

WE have just returned from a Hour of Code at local Apple store. D. had tons of fun and I guess Khan Academy will be the next step to get a bit deeper into the subject,

diibadaaba55 said...

I think that the children should be encouraged to learn also robot programming, not just programming in general. Moving actual objects, not just pixels on the screen, opens a whole new world of opportunities.

Internet is filled with sites that teach this subject so that even children can follow, for example