Coding Classes for Kids – What Works?
Parents who are researching the right programming language to teach their child often don’t know where to start. And that’s okay, because until about a decade ago, even professional educators weren’t certain which programming language and what teaching methods worked best for kids between the ages of eight and sixteen.
In the past, coding classes for kids focused on a combination of rote memorization of basic techniques and enhancing familiarity with programming terms. But feedback from technology companies in both the U.S. and the U.K. reported a distinct lack of preparedness and deep understanding from students who took such courses in the past. It came to a head in 2013, when the U.K. government announced a complete rework of the next school year’s computing curriculum, including all coding aspects. Remember that year, it will become important shortly.
The goal of coding classes for kids was boiled down to a simple concept: Fluency. It’s the difference between memorizing words in a dictionary and adding words to your effective vocabulary. These skills really stick around if kids can create a meaningful context surrounding them. So the focus shifted to activating the creative coding brains of young people by giving them the tools to make what they want, and providing enough structured help to make them successful. Success bred confidence, which brought about the desire to learn more… to accomplish more.
Remember 2013? That was also the year that one of the most vital tools in modern coding education was released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Scratch 2.0.
What is Scratch?
Scratch is a programming language developed by MIT that attempts to bring that elusive meaningful context to coding. Their three goals were to inspire people to ‘think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively’. It is primarily designed for children aged eight to sixteen, though new coders of all ages have found success learning with Scratch.
Three versions of Scratch have been published over the years, each one improving on the last in both methodology and technology. The Scratch Cat, which is the default sprite when opening a brand new Scratch project, has also been upgraded over time to reflect these advances.
That community gathers in one place to share ideas, comment on each other’s projects, and talk about their learning experience: The Scratch website hosted by MIT.
It has tutorials, a detailed wiki, code guides, tips for educators and parents, and a full project management suite. The student can choose whether to work on their code in private, or whether to open it up to comments and collaboration. Once they’re done, they can add their new masterpiece to the Scratch code library for other students all around the world to experience.
Kids Use Scratch for Programming Their Imagination.
Anyone who picks up Scratch for the first time understands immediately that it is unlike other programming languages they may have seen. Pieces of code snap together like building blocks. Within seconds, the tutorial has you walking the Scratch Cat across the screen, meowing all the way. But more importantly, the first thing most kids want to do upon seeing this is reach for new blocks. There are hundreds of options available that will make our cartoon cat do things. And when the basic interaction of blocks isn’t enough, instructors can help guide students towards the resources that they need to stretch their current limits.
Of course, coding classes for kids need some kind of theme. New functions and concepts are introduced as additional building blocks, or as things that can change the way students use their current blocks of code. With each new theme introduced, new challenges naturally arise. Individual students or collaborative groups can talk about the various ways they can tackle these new puzzles, and then demonstrate the solutions in Scratch code.
Whether they know it or not, the students are using Scratch for programming in the same way any coder would. They’re using variables. They’re building a ‘happy path’ of code where everything is simple, before adding branches that add complexity. They get to see everything go right before adding conditions for when things go wrong… otherwise known as error detection and reporting. They’re creating loops, and if/then statements, and counters. Scratch can achieve astounding complexity, if one puts in the time and effort.
By incorporating multimedia input and output such as hand gestures, voice commands, text to speech, and audio/video playback, their creations can become even more relevant to the things that they enjoy and find interesting.
What is the Best Way for Kids to Learn Scratch?
The ‘best’ way is what works best for your child, of course.
Some kids love interactive classrooms. Those classrooms can be virtual, or when the world gets a little less crazy than it is in 2020, in person. Children who thrive in a collective learning environment should look into theCoderSchool’s physical locations and camps. Coding classes for kids are available in dozens of locations all over the continental United States. The ideal Code Coach to student ratio in those scenarios is around six to one.
Alternatively, some students learn better from structured video presentations. For them, theCoderSchool AppStream will expose new students to the basics. As they grow in confidence and experience, they may wish to graduate to more interactive offerings.
Finally, some students just like to read! And who can blame them? For those lovable little bookworms, the ‘Coding with Scratch’ ebook by Basher Books is their best option. In no time, they’ll be using Scratch for programming all kinds of fun projects.
Scratch is an ideal first coding class for all ages. And it is the obvious choice if you want your child’s coding experience to be more than just a test of patience and memory. With thousands of community projects to draw inspiration from, every Scratch program they come across is a potential learning experience.