Advances in technology along with affordable access to smart internet-connected devices are the driving force behind a revolution across the globe. Some academics refer to this as the start of the fourth industrial revolution or the second machine age. The digital revolution is disrupting financial systems (cryptocurrency), manufacturing systems (3D printing), entertainment (Netflix), and basically every aspect of modern living.
The employment outlook must adjust to keep pace with our ever-changing, technology-rich world. Research suggests that between 25 percent to 40 percent of existing jobs today will be automated by the mid-2030s. Those jobs that involve highly repetitive tasks have the most significant risk of being replaced by automated processes. Positions of the future, the jobs school-age children of today will be seeking, will require employees to be collaborative, critical thinking problem solvers.
As a parent, how can you help prepare your children for jobs and careers in fields that have yet to be invented? Computer programming — or the more generic term, coding — is a fantastic place to start. Understanding how to write code involves creativity, critical thinking, visual design and problem-solving — many of the skills needed to be successful in the future. The best part is that learning to code is surprisingly fun. Most sites and apps take a gaming approach to learning that keeps kids engaged. Getting started is incredibly easy, even if you or your child have no experience whatsoever.
Sites like the ones below take a block approach to programming. Concepts are broken down into small chunks that are easy to digest. It allows children to learn individual ideas first, then encourages students to solve problems by making connections between singular skills. I ordered the sites below starting with the youngest learner and moving up through high school.
Learning can be quite a bit of fun with the Foos characters from CodeSpark. This is a kid-friendly way to learn coding lessons. Students learn concepts through three different games that are similar to games they might play at home. Kids put the blocks of code in the correct order to complete a task, such as grabbing a coin or dodging a bad guy. The “pick up and play” element of the game makes it more powerful and appealing to younger learners. CodeSpark is a great introductory site for students ages 5-8. Parents can visit the website or download the app on a smartphone or tablet. Also try: Kodable
In this iPhone/iPad-only app, students learn how to create their own variations of popular games such as Flappy Bird or Geometry Dash. Similar to CodeSpark, Hopscotch is block-based. It does a fantastic job explaining concepts. There also are more than 40 challenges for learners to complete once they’ve gotten through the basics. Kids can share their creations with the larger Hopscotch community so their peers can enjoy what they’ve made. The app is free, and it doesn’t ever show ads to its users. Hopscotch has been recognized by several parenting organizations for its creativity, ease of use and educational value. HopScotch is best for children ages 7-13. Also try: Box Island, LightBox
Scratch & Scratch Jr.
Scratch was designed by students at MIT in 2003 as a tool for anyone who wants to learn to code. The university continues to update and maintain the application 16 years later. Similar to the options above, Scratch uses block coding that allows students to snap pieces of code together like a puzzle. While those sites keep students locked into predetermined lesson and limits, Scratch is different. It allows kids to expand their knowledge by removing those limits. This dynamic programming language enables kids to create just about anything they like. Kids will find the site is filled with examples from other creators. There’s also an active online community of Scratch programmers when they need answers or inspiration. Scratch is suitable for children ages 8-16. Younger coders should check out Scratch Jr., which uses a similar model but focuses on students ages 5-7.
Hour of Code
Khan Academy is a unique online learning platform that covers topics ranging from world history to advanced chemistry. A quick search on the site reveals an entire computer programming curriculum. Most of the options covered so far teach concepts and basic programming. The courses on Khan Academy are similar to what a student would see in high school or college, so the content is more rigorous and quite a bit more challenging. The courses should be considered the next step for those students who have mastered sites like Scratch and Hour of Code.
Coding can empower your child to be a creator, a designer, and a problem-solver. Many people believe computer programming is a skill reserved for tech nerds and basement geeks. Take a few minutes to explore the resources listed in this column. I think you’ll be surprised at the world of amazement you’ll uncover.
Mike Daugherty is a husband, father of three young children, author, speaker, Google Innovator, and possible Starbucks addict. He is a certified educational technology leader who has served in a variety of roles through his 18-year career in public education. Currently, Mike is the Director of Technology for Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools. His blog, More Than A Tech, offers advice and ideas for parenting in a digital world.