Has your child come home from school talking about ‘coding’ and made you wonder what it’s all about?! Or maybe their school experience of coding has been very limited and you want to understand more so you can help them fill the gaps.
In this guest post we ask Tech Age Kids to help de-myth coding, covering what parents of pre-schoolers to teenagers need to know about coding or computer programming.
So what exactly is coding?
Coding is writing clear instructions using a programming language that a computer can understand. A computer can be anything from a microcontroller inside an advanced washing machine to the huge systems that stream media for our entertainment. Our lives are so full of computers that it’s important for young people to understand how they work.
Coding is just one aspect of computing or computer science, but it’s often the most visible. You also need to be able to take a real-world problem and understand it well enough to be able to solve it by writing code. Before you write code you must design the algorithms that break the solution down into step-by-step instructions that can then be coded. When a young person is learning coding, they should also be learning the computational thinking skills that are needed to write good code.
Children can start learning the basics of coding at a very young age. Pre-schoolers from age 3+ may use educational programmable floor robots such as the BeeBot which are programmed to move around using buttons with arrows on. These early programs consist of sequences of instructions such as forward, forward, turn left, forward. There are lots of programmable robots for children that can be used at home to combine learning and play.
Young people may encounter a variety of programming languages such as Java and C++ if they continue to study computing or computer science at college or university level.
What are the benefits of learning coding?
There are many interesting careers where coding is the focus and many more where the knowledge of coding is valuable. Contrary to popular misconception, coding is often a collaborative activity performed as part of a team which can include business experts, graphic designers, usability specialists, testers, artists, game designers, subject matter experts and technical writers.
You may hear people say that coding is going to become less important due to advancements in big data and machine learning. While those areas are also important they are not replacing coding, they are creating new opportunities.
The logical thinking skills that coding develops are also useful for understanding how computers work. Many jobs require interacting with computer software and it really helps to be able to understand why computers behave in the way they do.
It’s widely accepted that children should learn the scientific method and develop creative writing skills even if they are not going to become scientists or authors of works of fiction. In the modern world, coding and related computational thinking skills are arguably more relevant. We encourage you to find out what your child is already learning at school and seek to fill any gaps by talking to their school or supporting out-of-school coding activities such as coding clubs, programmable robots, books and courses.
The future is filled with technology and those that understand it and know how to make it do what they want will have a clear advantage.
One of the challenges for parents is to find ‘the thing’ that would interest their child in learning these digital skills.
What are some of the programmes for my kids to try?
ScratchJr is a popular, and highly recommended app for children aged 5+. It allows children to create their own projects by coding with graphical blocks. Children can make interactive stories, artwork and simple games by dragging and dropping blocks.
A Get Set Go Coding series on Scratch Jr by Miles Kelly Publishing (written by Tracy Gardner and Elbrie de Kock) is due out mid-June 2019. Easy-to-follow, visual projects help young learners get to grips with coding using the free ScratchJr app.
ScratchJr was created as a pathway to Scratch, a more established block-based coding environment for childrenaged 8+. Scratch is very popular in primary/prep schools and afterschool coding clubs. Children can start simple and work up to creating very advanced projects that include music, artwork and interactivity. Scratch allows children to focus on improving their computational thinking skills and not get discouraged with the right syntax or sufficient typing skills required for a text-based coding language.
Python is a popular beginner language for older children and teenagers and is often taught in senior schools. Python is used in industry so knowing how to program in Python is a saleable skill. Python is a text-based language so it’s useful for young people to have basic typing skills as well as introductory coding skills before getting started.
Tech Age Kids have published a book, micro:bit in Wonderland, which is a beginners project book for the BBC micro:bit, a small programmable computer. The projects are aimed at beginners from 9+ and based on the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and combines craft, electronics and coding to learn how technology works.
Tech Age Kids is offering a 20% discount on the digital copy of micro:bit in Wonderland (valid until 31 July 2019).
About Tech Age Kids
Tech Age Kids helps parents and educators find constructive and creative uses of technology for children and teens through the techagekids.com blog and published content.
Tech Age Kids believes that modern children should develop skills in coding, electronics and design so that they can understand the present and shape the future. The company supports the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics), Maker and Digital Making movements.
Dr Tracy Gardner and Elbrie de Kock, from Tech Age Kids have authored a set of computing activity books by Miles Kelly Publishing. The books are aimed at young children aged 5 – 7 and introduces computational thinking skills, digital skills, basic coding and understanding of how technology works.
Tracy studied Maths and Computing at the University of Bath where she won the Computing prize in her final year. Tracy has a Computer Science PhD which won a BCS Distinguished Dissertations award. She has worked as a software engineer and software architect, including working for 10 years at IBM. Now Tracy has two children and focuses on introducing technology to the next generation. She also develops educational content for the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Tracy has taught Computing to Key Stage 2 children (aged 7-11) and volunteered at a Code Club and CoderDojo.
Elbrie has an Interior Design degree and has worked in a number of different industries in design and marketing. Elbrie has three children. Her eldest son’s passion for computer programming inspired her to find opportunities for kids to learn to code. She uses her creative background and newly developed technology skills to create projects that combine craft, coding and electronics. Elbrie authors books about introducing beginners to creative technology, including electronics, coding and digital making. She volunteers at a Code Club, and recently taught Computing in Primary Education.
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