Teaching kids to code

I have a 15 year old son who is in year 11 at high school this year. Since age 10 he has been keen on learning how to program computers, beginning with Scratch while he was at intermediate school, and moving onto building his own mods for Minecraft and teaching himself a bit of Java by watching videos on YouTube in more recent years. He had to wait until this year however, his third at high school, before a course was available for him to participate in at school, where he could receive credits for one of the areas he is passionate about learning in. 

He's not alone – I know if several families with kids who are keen to learn how to 'make the applications' that others use on their devices – to understand what makes it work and to be able to problem solve for themselves anything that may go wrong. Some schools do a great job in providing courses that allow students to do this, a lot of is is extra-curricular. For the most part, however, there isn't too much emphasis on teaching programming in our schools – at any level. There are, of course, many reasons for this. While it's true there are kids out there wanting to do this, there are often not the numbers in any one school to make it a viable option to offer. Second, we simply don't have the number of teachers with the necessary skills and knowledge in all of our schools who can teach it competently to be able to staff all of our schools.  

A story I read this week titled Teaching our kids to code: an economic and social justice issue prompted this post as I reflect on this issue. The article reports on the work of entrepreneur and investor, Hardi Partovi, who wants all high schools to offer computer science classes because it represents a growing cluster of job skills. To fix the problem Hadi launched Code.org, a non-profit foundation dedicated to growing computer programming education. The front page is worth a look with its extensive list of high profile people adding their support for the initiative – and the video above is from the site. A quote from the article sums up the motivation for the site:

[Code.org] is packed with stats that make the case for coding. For example, did you know that coding jobs aren’t just in tech?  In fact, almost 70% of them are in other sectors–most businesses need people that can code.  However, there are fewer schools, teachers, and computer science students in the US than 10 years ago. By contrast, every high school graduate in China must take 4 credits of Computer Science–and yet in the US it’s not even on the menu in most schools.

This is where we need to start thinking more creatively about how we address the issue of providing coding courses in school. In the case of my son, the course he is now doing comes courtesy of Code Avengers. Each child in his class is provided with a log in, and the teacher becomes the mentor, guide, encourager etc as they work their way through the tutorials and assessments at their own pace. Not only does the use of this site provide the essential, instructionally-designed resources to support the course, the fact that it is online and bale to be accessed from home or school enables the students to complete the requirements at their own pace and from their own place – personalisation at its best!

The desire to 'take control' of the code and modify, adapt or simply build something from scratch is something we need to foster and encourage in our students if we're to successfully develop a generation of knowledge workers who can contribute to the economic future of NZ. This applies to more than simply learning to code – as illustrated in CORE's user+control focus in the Ten Trends for 2013

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