Teaching Kids (and me) to Code

My husband came home from a conference recently with a new project for me: learning to code.

The idea was inspired by a new push from several groups to teach kids programming. Code.org released this great video on the subject a while back:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKIu9yen5nc

It does seem strange to me that programming is not often taught in school.  We teach other modern tech-based skills, like typing, or how to use PowerPoint.  But not coding.  To paraphrase one proponent, we’re teaching kids to use software instead of teaching them how to make it.  And other subjects have changed with the times; Mandarin and Spanish are often taught instead of French or Latin, because they are seen as being more useful for the next generation.  What could be more useful for the next generation than knowing how to make computers do what they want?

Software development and related fields are big right now: lots of demand, good pay and benefits, ability to work just about anywhere with an internet connection.  I often ask my husband if his company will hire me!  For high schoolers that might be entering the workforce in a less than a decade, coding skills could be invaluable in starting down a great career path.

And even if you don’t want to study computer science in college, or have programming as a career, learning to code could be extremely beneficial for kids as young as elementary schoolers.  First, it’s a valuable skill in many fields, especially the sciences.  I know two physicists for whom the ability to program opened up important opportunities in research.

Second, coding involves many skills that are useful for children to develop, like critical thinking, creative problem solving, logic, and other math skills.  These would be wonderful additions to the skills sets that are taught by such popular childhood activities as sports, learning an instrument, or foreign language study.  Nor does coding need to be a solo activity; teachers today are so fond of the “group project” (ugh) that they would quickly gravitate to the “pair programming” teamwork that is used in my husband’s office.

My first and only experience with coding occurred in the 6th grade.  I was in a gifted program that had only 2 teachers for all our core subjects; this allowed for some great interdisciplinary projects, including one where we each picked a foreign country to study in-depth (mine was Lebanon).  We did the standard poster board presentation of facts about the country (oh, if only Wikipedia had been around!…search engines barely even existed at that time).  But we also used BASIC on some old computers in the classroom to make an image of the flag of our country.  This is extremely simple as far as coding goes: getting a computer screen to display something.  But I do remember it being fun, and I remember feeling a mixture of pity and jealousy for the kids who picked things like Ukraine and Libya while I was trying to make a cedar tree out of colored pixels.

I’m going to be using this site with some help from my husband in my coding endeavor: http://www.teachingkidsprogramming.com/  I’ll be sure to give updates on how I’m doing!

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