Know the code: Parents eager to get their kids cracking on coding

QUICKREAD

ONLINE CODING RESOURCES FOR KIDS

■ SCRATCH (scratch.mit.edu) — Free tutorial that teaches kids to program interactive stories, games and animations, then share them online. It is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab.

■ TYNKER: CODING FOR KIDS (tynker.com) — Some free coding games and Minecraft modding for children over age 7. Kids can program drones and other robotic toys. Special online tutorials and coding camps available with subscription.

■ KODABLE (kodable.com) — Free courses that begin teaching basic coding skills to kids in kindergarten through third grade. Advanced practice for older kids. Tips for parents and teachers.

■ CODE.ORG (code.org) — A nonprofit with the mission of providing computer science to every student in every school. Offers one-hour coding tutorials available to students and teachers.

■ CODE AVENGERS (codeavengers.com) — Advanced program offers tutorials in Python, HTML/CSS, and JavaScript. Learn to create apps, games and websites. Cost $29 per month.

■ CODE COMBAT (codecombat.com) — Best for older kids, Code Combat is an interactive game with more than 5 million players who build game levels and play together using typed code.



Lately it seems that C is just as popular as the three Rs when it comes to basic education.

Toys, books, websites, phone apps — products that teach coding to kids have proliferated as parents have embraced the idea of raising tech savvy children.

“Beyond Point and Click: The Expanding Demand for Coding Skills,” a report released in June 2016 by Burning Glass Technologies, found that “programming jobs are growing fastest, 50 percent faster than the market overall. In general, programming jobs are growing 12 percent faster than the market average.”

The report also found that “despite increasing demand for programming skills in the job market, not enough students get an early start in computer science courses.”

Findings such as this have caused parents in Grand Junction and elsewhere to seek ways to teach their children to code.

“Anymore, it’s almost like having good writing skills — it is just a new area of something they need to learn,” said Jon Burnham of Grand Junction who has been teaching his 9-year-old son, Oliver, to code for the past two years.

Burnham and Oliver have tried several software programs that teach the basics of Python and Linux programming languages to kids.

Their favorite is Scratch (scratch.mit.edu), an online tutorial that uses stories, games and animations to teach kids simple coding.

The program combines fun with linear logic — the most basic thought process in coding is linear — by giving kids drag and drop code blocks that must be placed in sequence to make cartoons come to life.

“I think it is the basis for all kinds of stuff that we react with in the world these days,” Burnham said about linear logic. “It will help him navigate the world a little better and he’ll have a better sense of what the computers are doing.”

Oliver was first introduced to coding two years ago while at a summer camp offered by the John McConnell Math & Science Center of Western Colorado, Burnham said.

At that time, the center offered just a few coding camps each year, said Jenn Moore, executive director of the center.

In recent years, parents have asked for the center to add more coding camps each summer and they fill up fast, Moore said.

This summer, the center will offer three coding camps a week in Grand Junction and Fruita, and two a week in Clifton.

“It is really not just about teaching them to code but about the logic behind coding,” said Moore, who estimated more than 300 children have been introduced to coding through the Math & Science Center’s camps in the past five years.

The center uses a variety of techniques, including Scratch, to introduce coding to kids as young as 7, Moore said. For older children, the center’s advanced camps use the video game Minecraft and building LEGO robots.

“Coding is really just a mindset that helps kids to critically think,” Moore said, and it can be applied to all areas of academics, not just computer science.

Astrid Stoye said coding contributing to her children’s academic success both in Grand Junction and at college.

Her two children were some of the first members of The Hi Fives in Grand Junction. Started in 2012, the club for middle- and high-school age students was one of the first resources for parents who wanted to advance their children’s STEM education outside the classroom, Stoye said.

The Hi Fives engineer, build and program robots to compete in statewide tournaments.

“Coding is used in everything and it is important because it gives them balance to their education,” said Stoye, who continued as a parent volunteer with The Hi Fives after her children graduated high school several years ago because she believes in the importance of children learning computer science.

She also has seen membership grow tremendously for The Hi Fives.

In 2013, The Hi Fives had just one LEGO League team, Stoye said. In 2014, there were eight teams, and that has now grown to 16.

Stoye would like to see computer programming become a standard requirement for elementary through high school students.

“We don’t really know what the jobs of tomorrow are going to be so we just have to prepare them for whatever is in their future,” she said.


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