As a parent, how can you help prepare your children for jobs and careers in fields that have not been invented yet? Computer programming, or the more generic term, coding, is a fantastic place to start.
Advances in technology along with affordable access to intelligent 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 25% to 40% of existing jobs today will be automated by the mid-2030s. Those jobs that involve highly repetitive tasks have the greatest 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. Understanding how to write code involves creativity, critical thinking, visual design, and problem-solving, many of the skills considered essential to be successful.
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. As a result, getting started is 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 them to solve problems by making connections between singular skills. Here are sites, starting with the youngest learners first and moving up through high school, to try.
Learning can be pretty fun with the “Foos” characters from CodeSpark. The cute little “Foos” take a kid-friendly approach to learn coding lessons. Students learn concepts through three different games that are similar to games they might play at home. Kids put the code blocks 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 smartphones or tablets. Also try: Kodable
Hopscotch has been recognized by several parenting organizations for its creativity, ease of use, and educational value. Similar to CodeSpark, Hopscotch is block-based. It does a fantastic job explaining concepts to young minds. There are also over 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. Recently, Hopscotch has been offering live classes for kids who want to take their learning up a notch. The courses run for an hour in the evening or on weekends and are taught by a live instructor. Students are given homework assignments to complete during the week and then the class reviews when they meet. There is a cost to enroll, but with the current state of the pandemic, this might be a great learning opportunity for interested kids. HopScotch is best for children ages 10-15. It only works on Apple iPads or iPods at the moment. Also try: Box Island or LightBot
Scratch & Scratch Jr. (scratch.mit.edu/)
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 almost 20 years later. Similar to the options above, Scratch uses block coding that allows students to snap pieces of code together like a puzzle. Those sites keep students locked into predetermined lessons 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 to 16. Younger coders should check out Scratch Jr. Scratch Jr uses a similar model but focuses on students ages 5-7.
Hour of Code (hourofcode.com)
Khan Academy (khanacademy.org)
Khan Academy is a unique online learning platform that covers topics ranging from world history to advanced chemistry. A quick search of 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 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.