Jul 30th 2018

Teaching Kids To Code Teaches Them How To Think

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Florid cursive writing and mastery of Latin were once core studies in the educational curriculum. Today, technology leaders are encouraging parents and schools to teach kids to code.

Code is a broad term for the programming languages that tell computers what to do. Every car, airplane, medical device and social media app relies on coders to create and maintain the programs behind the scenes.

Teaching kids to code will prepare the next generation to keep our tech-reliant economy humming. According to CNBC: “About half of the highest-paying American jobs now require some coding knowledge. But our tech skills are lacking; 15-year-olds in the United States ranked 38th out of 71 countries in terms of math skills” in a 2015 assessment.

Coding Prepares Kids To Succeed

No matter their career aspirations, all students can benefit from learning computational thinking and problem-solving strategies, Chicago Public Schools Computer Science Integration Manager Troy Williams told Mashable.

Chicago Public Schools spearheaded an initiative called Computer Science for All (CS4All), which ensures “that students across the district are afforded the opportunity to receive world-class CS instruction, regardless of the type, size, or socioeconomic status of a school’s students.”

One of the leaders in teaching kids to code is Code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities. Code.org hosts Hour of Code, an annual campaign that engages tens of millions of students across the world and provides the leading curriculum for K-12 computer science in the United States.

Top competitions include CyberCenturion, a cybersecurity contest in the United Kingdom for 12- to 18-year-olds, sponsored by Northrop Grumman. The goal of the competition is to engage with students at an early age and encourage them to pursue careers in the cyber fields, filling the U.K. cyber skills gap.

Battlecode — a long-running artificial intelligence competition from MIT — pits teams against each other to design AI that can best their opponents. Recent competitions have added virtual zombies to introduce a random element that makes it more difficult to program for every eventuality.

Coding training can use commercially popular languages such as Python and Ruby, as well as systems built to teach programming for kids.

MIT developed Scratch and Scratch Jr., visual programming languages for children as young as 5 years old. Another child-friendly visual programming language is Tynker, which also incorporates the hugely popular Minecraft online world into its lessons. Tynker introduces students to Python and JavaScript coding as their skills progress. The visual programming languages teach children to create sequences by snapping blocks of commands together. The result might be an animation or game. Students learn how to program repetitive actions and conditional steps — if the next space is open, then move forward; if not, turn left.

Should All Kids Learn To Code?

What are the benefits of programming for kids? As Marina Umaschi Bers wrote in Tufts Now, “It offers many opportunities for learning and personal growth, exploration and creativity, mastery of new skills, and ways of thinking.”

While only some students will go on to have careers in the field, learning how to code teaches many transferable skills. Robin Raskin, the founder of Living in Digital Times, wrote in the Huffington Post that the single best skill learned through coding is “empowerment.” She adds that, “Your thoughts can be translated into actions.”

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