Student in deep coding mode

Student in deep coding mode

When it comes to raising kids, our increasingly technology-heavy lives have hit a fork in the road. Parents are starting to wonder whether too much technology is good or bad for our kids’ growth, whether it’s time to limit exposure to tech – or to open up the possibilities. As a parent myself, I see how tech has become an accepted part of all our lives, but also how tech can overwhelm my own kids. But now isn’t the time to hold back – now is a time to guide, encourage, and expose our next generation to this tech so they form a good relationship with it, and so they are ready for their own future.

Sometimes, technology is designed so seamlessly that kids get lost in it while they use it. Ironically, that’s the goal of the tech companies – create something so seamless that users don’t need to think about it. But I say we fight against that. We turn our kids into Critical Thinkers of technology, not just users of it. By thinking through how technology might work, or why its designed in certain ways, we are setting a foundation for our kids to think critically about the things they use, things that they themselves may soon be a part of creating.

Almost any tech or application can be viewed with a critical thinking eye. Playing Pokemon Go? Ask how small businesses benefit, or talk about GPS position tracking. Spending $27 to buy Minecraft? Talk supply and demand pricing, or a license vs subscription model. Watch a lot of YouTube? Find out how youtube the company makes money, or how youtubers themselves become successful (it’s not easy!).

The best part is, it’s not the answer that’s important, it’s the thinking process. In fact, if you don’t know an answer, take it a step further and find out the answer together on the Internet. Not only is learning how to learn an important skill for kids – but now you’ve learned something too!

At theCoderSchool, we use this method every day. We encourage inquisitive, critical thinking not only through the code we build (“why did the tank disappear?”), but through the broad tech talks we hold (“how does Uber work?”). We even Google the answers to our own questions sometimes. By setting up a habit of critical thinking of everyday technology or applications, we set a foundation for next generation to think, learn, grow, and create.

Too often we parents get busy and let the computers and kids get lost in reality on their own. But just as there’s no substitute for a passionate Code Coach® that brings out the technical curiosity in our Coder School students, there’s no substitute for the engaged parent who teaches and learns along with their kids’ technology-heavy lives. So let’s find these teachable moments. What are you going to ask your kids today?

I have three kids, and they’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. But you know what? They also drive me crazy like no one else in the world can. If you’ve never thought that before about your own kids – well, I’d venture to guess you don’t have any! Owning a kids education business isn’t much different. Some days it’s “Who IS this spoiled brat?!?”, and other days, it’s “Wow, these kids are AMAZING!”. Like having real kids, the positive rewards of a Kids Ed business can certainly outweigh the negatives you’ll face. But unlike having real kids, you might actually make some money instead of spending it on the latest fidget spinners or doll craze!

I’ve been in the Kids Ed business for over 5 years now, having bought a School of Rock franchise (teaching kids to play rock music in a performance setting) and having created my own franchise system, the Coder School (teaching kids to program computers). I’d say you learn a thing or two after having thousands of kids – angels, brats, geniuses, OCD, ADD, even two blind kids – go through your schools. While I haven’t owned a restaurant, cleaning service, or retail business before, I can safely say there are a few things that make a Kids Ed business different.

So let’s dig into what makes a Kids Ed business the oxymoron that makes you love it but hate it too. Along the way, I’ll hopefully give you a sense of what it feels like to own one, and maybe even help you see if it’s right for you.

It’s Usually a Straightforward Business Model

Whether you’re teaching music, kung fu, or coding, these businesses usually have a pretty straightforward business model. There’s no food to spoil, no inventory to manage, no secret formulas to keep… Often, your main costs come down to labor and rent.

In my two schools, it’s about as straightforward as you can get. Parents pay a monthly fee at the start of the month, and I pay our instructors and coaches as they spend their time teaching kids. Add on a little bit of equipment here and there, and it’s a pretty simple business model.

Now does that mean the business is easy? Heck no! It means you’re focusing on other things, like quality, marketing, or scheduling – and especially customer relationships.

It’s All About the Parents. Oh yeah, the kids too.

Speaking of customer relationships, it’s uber-important in Kids Ed. When I first opened my Coder School, I spent almost the entire 5 hours we were open each day just chatting with parents and getting to know them. The kids are who you’re teaching – but your clients are really the parents. When they get to know you as a person, and trust that you’re taking care of their kid, it goes a long, long way towards customer retention (and it’s fun, too!).

I’ll give you a great example – my son’s dentist. This is a guy that I see maybe once every 6 months for about 2 minutes each time. Twice now, I’ve seen him outside of his office – once in a restaurant, and once at the airport – and both times he came up to me and said “Hey Hansel, how’s it going?”. My response? “Hey… there… guy… (and who are you again??)”! Here’s a guy who has hundreds of kids as patients, sees me for a few minutes a year, and he remembers my name when we’re outside his office. I’ll tell you what, I have no idea what he does to my kid’s teeth, but to me, he’s the best dentist in the world. VIP Customer Service – lots of effort, but worth its weight in gold!

Camps are nuts. Good nuts.

Many Kids Ed businesses will also run camps during the summer, and sometimes during holiday breaks as well. And – they’re nuts. Imagine a big group of kids stuck in a small-ish confined space for 6 hours a day, and you can picture the chaos that can ensue. There’s more breakage, more wear and tear, more bathroom usage – you name it, there’s an exponential amount of it when compared to the normal after school business. By the end of the summer, only the most patient of us aren’t praying for an early end to the camp season!

But camps aren’t just nuts – they’re GOOD nuts. Why? Because they can be pretty profitable! Summer camps double as day care for the busy parent who doesn’t have someone to watch their kids during the day, so there’s really a double-reason for good demand. Depending on the part of the country, some camps can charge upwards of $600-$1000 for a week of camp – that’s some serious camping!

Not all Kids Ed businesses can support camps, of course. Kumon or Mathnasium come to mind. Others like martial arts may or may not be strong camp contenders. STEM and Coding Camps these days are some of the higher-demand camps. So make sure you check your franchise business model – if it includes camps, there’s a good chance they’ll give your projections a boost.

Want a big emotional reward? You might find it.

Ever get tears in your eyes from a great taco? Goose bumps from a treadmill session? Probably not. But when you’re dealing with a kid education business, there’s a different emotional factor involved because they’re kids. Kids can do the most amazing things that can wow you like no adult can. I remember my first year at Coder School, there was an 11 year old kid who created a billiards game in Python. But instead of hitting a cue ball, you create gravitational anomalies that suck the cue ball towards it, using actual newtonian physics formulas. Now I’m a pretty good coder, been coding for 20 years. When I looked at his code, and I had no idea how it worked – that’s when I knew we were doing something special. Chills. Still feel ’em!

Helping kids get better at something is helping our next generation and helping our communities, so that in itself lends to some major gratification. Add on watching the kids grow and learn before your very eyes, and you’ll have something that can add up to an amazing emotional reward.

You Might Work Some Weird Hours

One of the negatives of managing a Kids Ed business is the hours they’re usually open. During the day, kids are usually at school – so most kids ed businesses aren’t open until school is out. That means your working hours are often 1-3pm doing admin work and then actually managing the business from 3pm-8pm. For you late-waker-uppers, starting work at 1pm might sound pretty cool. But for many of us who have kids, the working hours just happen to coincide with the hours you’d normally spend with your own kids. There are ways around it, no doubt (open on certain days, hire extra help, bring your kids to work), but it’s certainly a bit of a sacrifice. In fact, I recall that sacrifice being the hardest part of my first year as manager at both my School of Rock and Coder School – I just didn’t have a lot of time to spend with my own kids in the beginning.

So Is Kids Ed Right For You?

It depends. We’re not all built for the chaos of a big group of kids, but some of us thrive on it, and the rewards of helping kids. There are a lot more nuances to running a kids business like safety and insurance, the space and the staff, or even its potential for being somewhat recession resistant. So what’s the best way to find out if a Kids Ed franchise is right for you? Easy – just pick one and contact ’em. Good luck – we parents will thank you for it!

In this article we’ll discuss some ways to introduce and teach your 6 and under youngster how to code. Before we begin, let’s first make it clear that it’s actually absolutely fine not to teach your 6 year old coding. There’s plenty of other things that a 6 year old is still trying to learn such as reading, basic math, or even riding a bike.  But we know some parents might like to get a head start – so we thought why not write about it.

I have two daughters ages 4 and 6 so I have some relevant real world experience. Neither is currently actively learning to code. I did introduce my oldest to Minecraft when she requested it. She had some fun building structures in it, but then lost interest and I have not forced it. When she’s ready again, maybe next year, we’ll try it again, perhaps with a drag n’ drop platform. Of course if your child shows an interest and is a bit ahead of the curve with their reading and math, by all means, it’s a great idea to introduce them to coding via some very fun and engaging tools.Remember at this early an age, your kid probably won’t even be able to type well enough to learn any typed language coding. Also, keep in mind their cognitive development level and ability to process logic is still forming. At this young of an age, here’s a few ways to give them some exposure and introduce them to coding concepts.

Drag n’ Drop

The drag n’ drop coding platforms are a great way to go for young kids. These platforms remove the need to be able to type and any frustrations from syntax requirements, and can be good for even older kids.  MIT’s Scratch is one of the most popular of these languages – but generally we don’t tend to recommend that for the really young since there’s quite a bit of functionality to it.  For the under 6 set, we recommend a more contained version like Scratch Jr. or Hopscotch.  These are great iPad apps to get started, and are fairly self-driven and colorful with a simpler set of commands.

Engaging Logic Sites

There are many great logic sites for the youngster, but a couple of our favorites are:

1. Kodable (www.kodable.com) – This is a fun site for the youngsters to learn basic logic through fun logic challenges where they have to provide the steps and directions to navigate themselves from a starting point to an end point.

2. Code.org (www.code.org) – This is the ultimate site in trying to get everyone around the world to try coding. It has one of the best collections of fun logic games and challenges for kids to be entertained while also learning to code.

Offline Activities

Ironically you don’t have to be on a computer to start learning to code. Especially at such a young age, offline fun activities are a great way to get that coding mind started. Below are some of our favorite games:

1. Code Master – This is a great board game which is fun for beginners up to advanced as well. It’s amazing how they’ve put these coding challenges into a fun board game. You have to try it to believe it.

2. Rush Hour – I’m sure you may have already seen this one as it’s quite popular. You’re forced to use your logic skills to get a car out of a a traffic jam.

3. Chocolate Fix – This one is similar to Rush Hour in that it’s super engaging and just about as popular. This tends to be a great one for the kids as its primary pieces are all cupcakes.

Is your 6 year old Ready to code?

Don’t forget, coding isn’t for all 6 year olds!  Some just aren’t ready, and there’s plenty of time.  If they want to and are engaged though there are lots of different options available to get them started. And of course, all options are better when they are getting guidance and direction from a parent, or even better, a Code Coach® from a Coder School!

 LeBron James (Pro Basketball Player) LeBron James (Pro Basketball Player)

We don’t need more LeBrons, Drew Breezes, Adriana Limas, etc. But we do need more coders, scientists, and technologists. This is actually an old message that the technology world has known for quite some time, but it’s picking up STEAM (pun intended for those that know what STEAM is), now with the help of Verizon. Verizon is starting to really push this message to help our next generation realize this and hopefully influence their career choices just a bit. Let’s all join in and help teach more kids to code.

 Adriana Lima (SuperModel) Adriana Lima (SuperModel)

If you’re an adult reading this, I’m sure you can relate to when you were a kid and recall what you wanted to be. As with most kids, you want to be a model, pro football or basketball player, etc. No kids usually pick the software engineer as their dream job destination. And if you’re a kid reading this, I’m sure you probably would like to be a model or pro athlete. We all kinda do in general, but the key is the reality behind it. It’s actually fine to want to be a super model or pro athlete. The important thing is to at least be aware of the other options. Plenty of kids aren’t even aware of these other options and just focus on the really improbable careers with no back up. We’re not asking kids to give up their dreams of becoming Adriana Lima. What we are asking is to simply help them be aware of the facts and consider a few other options.

Just the Facts Ma’am

The facts show that there’s 4 million tech jobs right now and that it will continue to grow. According to code.org there’s over 500,000 open tech jobs right now! And it’s projected to be over 1M open tech jobs by 2020. That’s only 3 years from now and it’s almost an unbelievable amount of open jobs. This is not total jobs, but unfulfilled which is just ludicrous when you really think about it. Now you tell me, what do we need more of?

The Movement

Thanks to Verizon and the many others that all believe in this movement to help kids become more aware of the facts and options. And with more knowledge, will come more inspiration and change. Verizon has created a resurgence of this movement which is helping and there’s a very valid tagline “We Need More” and website to go along with it. They’ve created some really nice videos as well to help get this point across and reach more of the next generation.

theCoderSchool was formed with this movement to teach all kids to code in mind. Together with companies like Verizon, other coding/tech schools, Code Coaching®, STEM, and STEAM initiatives we can do this! We need more!

At theCoderSchool most of the students are your typical kids between the ages of 7-18. The typical CoderSchool students have a passion for learning and are excited about what they’re learning. This article however is not about them. It’s about a couple of very unique CoderSchool students that have a passion and determination to learn that goes far beyond any normal expectations.

Whether you’re a coder or not, I’m sure you have some level of appreciation for the effort it takes to learn to code. It’s just like learning anything worthwhile; it will take time and much effort. I’m also sure that everyone reading this has probably at least used a computer, unless perhaps you’re Amish. And even then, I understand, you probably have still used a computer but may not have owned one. So regardless, pretty much everyone can envision themselves using a computer. Now try picturing using a computer without any sight. That’s right; it’s suddenly not so easy to even imagine how you would accomplish the simplest of navigation on the screen. Now take it one step further and try to imagine what it might be like to learn to code without being able to see. There’s one exceptional student at theCoderSchool who’s blind and learning to code in Python. I don’t think words can describe his amount of desire and determination to be able to do this along with his Code Coach®. It actually takes a tremendous amount of effort as a team for both student and Code Coach®. There are unimaginable hurdles that most simply take for granted as they don’t have to deal with them.

Hurdles of being a Blind Student Learning to Code

When our Code Coach®, Jason Mortensen, first started teaching this student it was all new to him. He quickly realized the most simple techniques and strategies wouldn’t work. Using the internet is an obvious source of information for everyone nowadays. Jason quickly found that it’s not that useful when having to use a text to audio translation as it takes quite long to render and read and when there’s an image it doesn’t work so well since images can’t be translated. Didn’t think of that one right? No one probably would unless forced to deal with it.  Even trying to use the language cheat sheets isn’t that straightforward as the descriptions and code are usually delineated by using color. What he ended up doing is creating custom cheat sheets with clear labels saying things like “This is a description” or “This is code”.    Picking his language was also very important as you don’t want to pick one that’s too syntax regulated as your starting point. Suddenly the phrase nested curly brackets is pretty overwhelming. And again, these are generally delineated using underlines in text editors which is another visual indicator. Even dealing with spaces can present a problem as most text translators will treat a group of spaces as just one and if you know Python, the number of spaces preceding a line of code is critical. I mention the hurdles above and these are just a small sample to give you a clue as to what they are overcoming together to teach and learn to code. They’re going down the path of working on logical, mathematical, and text based games mainly and making great strides.  I had the privilege to shadow one of their sessions and was awestruck by both the student’s and Code Coach’s® passion, desire, patience, and care towards achieving their goal.

82 Year Old Student Learning to Code

The second unique CoderSchool student is an 82 year old gentleman who has now decided he wants to learn to code. Can you believe that? I couldn’t at first either, but it’s true. He’s 82 years young and wants to learn about web development so he can build his own website and blog. It just goes to show you with emphasis that it’s truly never too late to learn to code. Coincidentally our same Code Coach®, Jason, is also teaching him. He is a very unique student as is the student mentioned above. But they’re quite similar in a lot of ways too. They both have an amazing passion and determination to learn to code. Neither will let anything get in their way. And I do mean anything. If being blind or 82 years old doesn’t stop you, I don’t think anything will. Jason faces a different set of challenges with this student, but applying the same custom Code Coaching® methodology he is able to create engaging lessons that are allowing his 82 year old student to learn and make progress. If he were using a one size fits all curriculum it certainly would never work for both of these students.

Our Code Coaches® Learn too by Teaching

 Code Coach® Jason Mortensen Code Coach® Jason Mortensen

These two students have had as much if not more of an effect on their Code Coach®, Jason, as he has had on them. All of our Code Coaches® learn from teaching their students in the natural way as there’s no better way to hone your skills than by teaching them to someone else. In the case of these two students though, Jason has been able to gain an appreciation and respect he probably would not be able to unless given the opportunity to teach these two. Jason now has such an appreciation for things he always took for granted before like just being able to see the computer screen. He said this appreciation will hopefully last the rest of his life and gives him a better perspective on how he goes about dealing with other challenges in his own life.

 Worldwide Coding Schools of IAYCE Worldwide Coding Schools of IAYCE

One of the coolest things I’ve been able to do since starting the Coder School is meet folks around the world who are doing the same thing we are.  As it turns out, there’s a lot of coding schools around the world that are also teaching kids to code.  That’s why I co-founded IAYCE, an international alliance of coding educators.  This blog is a collection of schools I’ve come across (both in and not in IAYCE), but more than that, it’s an inspiration to us all that the entire world is teaching kids to code!

Believe me when I say it’s a really cool feeling to know that we’re part of this ever-important worldwide movement to teach kids to code – so high-five to each and every one of the schools on this blog!  While I’ve met most of the founders, I certainly can’t purport to know everything about how they’re running their company.  Each has their own methods and coding curriculums or code-learning platforms, but we’re all after the same awesome goal – get more kids coding!

Apologies in advance if I messed up any descriptions (email me at hansel@thecoderschool.com if I’m totally off on anything below!).

Before I go on, note that I’m only talking about coding schools, schools that predominantly teach kids under 18 how to code, that predominantly take kids into their location to teach, that seem to be expanding to new locations.  There’s tons more schools that only teach offsite, or maybe teach STEM and not just coding, or maybe only teach coding camps (ahem, IDTech!), or maybe is just sticking to one mom-and-pop location… so just a heads up I’m not ignoring them – just trying to make this blog a little shorter than a book!

First, the United States

It may come as no surprise that I’ve generally found more coding schools in the US than other countries.  Perhaps it’s the economy here, perhaps it’s that we’re behind the curve here, or perhaps it’s just because I live here!  I certainly haven’t found the full list of all coding schools (so email me if you feel like you belong on this list!), but here’s a subset of some of the more prevalent ones we know of (besides the Coder School, of course!):

  • Hackingtons – Founded and run by a guy named Matt, these guys are super cool.  They predominantly teach web related technologies like HTML and Javascript, and have popped up many locations around northern California.  Matt once said he’s going to be the Starbucks of coding schools – right on, Matt!
  • U-Code – These guys are taking over the Southern California market with plenty of power and bucks in their bank (they’ve raised some significant capital to get more kids coding!!).  Scott founded this bad boy way back in the day, and was one of the original coding schools.  Way to head up the trend, Scott!
  • Codeverse – Can’t say I know much about these guys other than that they’re based in Chicago area, and have an amazing looking space!  Founded by some apparently pretty awesome serial entrepreneurs, I think they’re targeting something like teaching a billion kids to code?!?  (wow, are there even that many kids in the world?!)  Congrats Katy, for pushing the envelope!  Can’t wait to see these guys grow (they’re fairly young, having started in late 2017).
  • MVCodeClub – Founded by Doug up north of San Francisco (MV stands for Mill Valley), these guys were the FIRST ones I ever read about in an article.  They’ve since spread their wings to locations across the bay, congrats Doug!  MVCodeClub is another original gangsta, having started in the 2013 timeframe.
  • iCode – Based in Dallas, these guys were one of the first to start franchising, at about the same time we did.  Founder Abid has created this insane looking super-awesome class A facility in Frisco where kids can code, make robots, all kinds of cool stuff!  Don’t miss them if you’re in Frisco (and don’t miss our own Frisco site either!).
  • Code Ninjas – Ah, the ninjas!  They’re the other big franchisors in the market, and have created some cool cool stuff.  They’ve created an awesome platform that teaches kids to code in a really fun and engaging way.  Founded by Dave with help from Marty, these guys have lots of franchise experience and will be competing hard against, and with, us for franchisees! =)  Love these guys though, not a bad thing at all to say about them, make sure to check em out if you’re looking into franchising!
  • Coding With Kids – Started in the Seattle area back in 2012, these guys have since grown to a bunch of locations around the country!  With classes often in shared spaces with other like-minded businesses, these guys are showing us that there’s demand around the country for coding!

Now, the World!

Ok now let’s get interesting, and see why it’s so cool to see and hear about kids from around the world learning to code.  The schools named below are part of IAYCE, an alliance that I co-founded with a friend down in Brazil who helped found Madcode.  I have to say, one of our prouder moments was being on a video call with 8 different coding schools from around the world, all talking about our best practices. Incredible!!

  • MadCode (Brazil) – Our original IAYCE partners, Alex, Danny and Ralf have done some amazing things in Brazil with MadCode.  With their own Portugese platform for teaching kids to code, their model revolves a bit more around teach at schools (though they do have their own branded locations).  They’ve even taught coding to thousands of kids in favelas (Brazilian “slums”) through partnerships with Accenture and SAP.  They were recently bought by Cel.lep, a network of schools in the Brazil area, ready to add coding to all their schools!  Congrats MadCode, and good luck on your upcoming expansion!
  • Computhink (Singapore) – David’s been at it in Singapore since way before we contacted him.  With such a math and science oriented country, you can believe he’s kicking butt!  Computhink offers classes from Scratch to Python and beyond.
  • Code4fun (Australia) – Grigory hails from Russia actually, but started Code4fun with his wife in Australia.  Getting their start by teaching in art galleries, Code4fun’s since expanded their curriculum to include more advanced stuff like Unity.  G’day, mates!!
  • Hatch (Canada) – Peter’s definitely the fun guy of the bunch, hailing from UPenn down in the states.  Hatch has created their own awesome platform based on Javascript, and is taking Canada by storm, eh?!
  • Koding Kingdom (Hong Kong) – John’s a serial business guy who decided there’s an awesome opportunity for coding in Hong Kong, and boy, is there!  John is also the first to partner with IDTech to provide their camps in Hong Kong – congrats!!
  • Arukay (Columbia) – I haven’t had a chance to talk to Vicki too much, but I know she’s busy!  Arukay has an array of other subjects they teach as well, and is one of the few in our group that’s not coding-specific.  They’re about to expand into Python, and we’re exchanging best practice info on how to do so – cool, right?!  Alliance powers, activate!
  • Maker Cocuk (Turkey) – Zeynep and friends at Maker Cocuk have a great curriculum style similar to ours where they go from technology to technology somewhat quickly, introducing kids to a wide array of tech from straight coding to robotics and even maker stuff!  Kudos to all the cool stuff Zeynep has been doing – can’t be easy with all the unrest in Turkey.  Great job Zeynep!
  • Ghana Code Club (Ghana) – Tina impresses me most out of them all!  Not a coder by trade, Tina has seen the need in the small country of Ghana in West Africa for the future generation to learn these basic technology skills, went and taught herself to code – and voila!  Ghana Code Club!  Coding classes to many kids who can barely afford a computer – can you believe that?  Kudos to Tina!

Now not everyone has joined IAYCE – we’re not THAT cool yet!  Here’s a list of some of the other schools we found around the world – kudos to all of you guys!

Who Else is There?

I don’t know!  But look at the list above again, isn’t it incredible??  Think of how many tens of thousands of kids are learning to code in a coding school somewhere around the world.  This is what it’s all about folks, this is the feeling of being part of something bigger.

How bout you, are you ready to join the movement and start your own coding school?  If you’re in United States, check out our franchising program!  (sorry, despite the many, many requests I’ve had for franchising internationally, it’s simply not something I’m yet ready for.)

Code on, friends!

The tortoise always beats the hare in the long run and in coding! This is a classic but oh so true tale of trying to go too fast and failing versus taking your time, steady and slowly, but achieving your goal. This classic tale epitomizes theCoderSchool’s philosophy of allowing its students to go at their own pace and making sure that they’re always engaged and having fun too. The other route of pushing too hard can help achieve short term goals, but in the end, the student will too often end up quitting and not returning. In comparison, when the student is allowed to go at their own pace working on projects that interest them, they tend to have a lifelong connection with coding and technology and will continue their journey with coding and technology rather than quit and be afraid. And even worse, for the rest of their lives have an animosity towards technology.

Can you teach my 7 year old java?

At theCoderSchool, we have parents quite often wanting us to teach their very young kids java. They want their child to excel so what better way to get ahead than by learning java right? This should be the obvious choice right because it’s a very popular language and quite complex so by learning java you’ll clearly get a jump on the rest of the world. There’s just one, well actually quite a few, problems with this approach. In general, unless your kid is the next Marc Zuckerberg, they simply aren’t going to be ready to learn and absorb a language like java at this young age. They may be able to get some exposure through Minecraft mods, but note that Minecraft mods do not require a full understanding of the logic and rigor involved in truly creating a java program from scratch. It’s more about following steps and then making adjustments to existing code to make changes. This is still great in many ways as it’s engaging and keeps the kids interested, but it is not learning java at its core.

General Progression of Cognitive Development

The better route is to remind ourselves of the general progression of cognitive development and make sure what you’re trying to teach is within the realms of what your student is physically and developmentally ready for. If you don’t get this right, you will be striking out pretty fast!  At theCoderSchool, we want to focus on teaching kids logic and how to think like a coder. Based on our experience, we found that 7 seems to be the right age at which our students are able to start and progress with logic – so that’s a great time to start with languages like Scratch or Snap!. Though there’s a vast market for the younger kids, we passed on this as we would then be spreading ourselves towards just exposure rather than always being able to focus on teaching kids logic and  how to think like a coder. We also, then found that a second milestone was around age 10-12 where we could easily start getting them into the typed languages and introducing them to more abstract logic – so we typically go with Python or Javascript at this point. And eventually move into a full object-oriented language like java around age 15. There are always exceptions, but this is the most common path that we are experiencing and works well. Interestingly, when we compared our progression with a famous developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, it lined up almost to a tee. In short, his studies showed that up until age 7, kids are mostly still developing sensorimotor and pre-operational skills. Only as they approach 7 are they really starting to hit some operational and fundamental logic skills which is the perfect time to start honing those skills through learning to code a block language like Scratch. His studies also showed that it’s not until age 11 or 12 that kids start to really develop concrete operational skills which are required for more abstract logic. And what do you know, it just so happens to also be a good age to dive into typed languages like Python and Javascript, along with some of the abstract logic coding concepts. Piaget was born in 1896, so we certainly aren’t the ones discovering this, we’re just finding out that he was pretty spot on as it relates to coding! Kudos to Jean Piaget!

Conclusion

In summary, don’t be in a rush to have your kids conquer any one language, but rather make sure they’re engaged and enjoying what they’re working on. Focus on the fundamentals and building blocks in any language or platform. Go too fast, and you risk your student losing interest, and tipping over your Coder Tree!  When you can mix the fundamentals with engagement and fun guided by a Code Coach®, the sky is the limit!

Many of you out there have probably heard of the Hour of Code, and the folks behind it, code.org.  Started in early 2013 by Hadi and Ali Partovi, these guys have done an incredible job of impacting the world of computer science education for kids.  Since their founding, code.org has helped millions of kids in the U.S. and around the world learn to code, and hundreds of thousands of teachers get set up to teach coding to kids.  These guys have been instrumental to the still-nascent industry of teaching kids to code, so we really wanted to give them a shout-out by blogging about them!

Check out some of the awesome stuff on their site:

Coding Statistics

We all know kids need to learn to code, but ah, can you quantify it?  Now you can! Check out some of these amazing stats from their stats page:
* There are currently about 500,000 open computing jobs nationwide.  But last year, only about 40,000 computer science students graduated into the workforce.
* A computer science major can earn 40% more than the college average
* Women who try AP Computer Science in high school are 10x more likely to major in it in college.  Blacks and Hispanics are 7x more likely.
* 90% of parents want their children to learn computer science, but only 40% of schools teach computer programming

Whoa, those are some serious stats!  Coding for kids is no joke!

Coding Platforms for Students

If you’re a student wanting to code, check out their Learn tab and you’ll see a few options, including some fairly self-guided options.  They’ve created two cool coding platforms, one targeted at younger kids (Code Studio) and one aimed more for older kids (App Lab).  This is also where you’d go if you want to do an Hour of Code at your school.  You’ll also find lots of links to other tutorial sites to get your kids up and running asap, not a lot of prep needed!

Coding Curriculums for Teachers

If you’re a teacher with kids chomping at the bit (haha, is that a pun?) to code, check out this section by clicking on Teach.  You’ll find curriculums you can use to teach kids, broken up into elementary, middle, and high school.  It looks like they’re still working on rolling out their high school curriculum at the time of this blog.  The best part of all these curriculums is they’re free!  But sorry, they don’t come with a robot teacher – you’ll need to fill that position yourself!

Hour of Code

If you’ve never heard of Hour of Code, then you’ve definitely been living under the proverbial rock, at least as it relates to coding for kids.  code.org has done an amazing job of making this an almost ubiquitous term, known by teachers around the country.  Hour of Code originally started as an hour during Computer Science Education Week in December where kids around the country spend an hour learning to code, and has since spawned a life of its own where almost half a BILLION kids have tried it and been exposed to coding.  That’s a lot of kids!

What’s Next?

There’s much more to code.org, so if you have a sec, make sure to check out their site.  You’ll also find great quotes from big names like Sheryl Sandberg, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and even a cool video with celebrity athletes like Draymond Green and Serena Williams that want your kid to learn to code!  If that doesn’t make you wanna grab your kid right now and throw them into learning to code, I don’t know what will!  Kudos to Hadi and all his great work, we look forward to plenty more awesomeness to come!

Shameless plug moment, while code.org has amazing resources, it doesn’t come with a personal Code Coach® (at least not until they’ve figured out how to 3D print a person to your house!).  We at the Coder School believe that learning to code is best done with the guidance of an experienced coder and in a social and cool environment with other students.  So go out and find a teacher, a mentor, or a Code Coach®, and let’s get our next generation ready.  Learn to Code.  Change the World.®

Next time you’re out and about, check out all the trees you see.  You might find tall trees, wide trees, red trees, green trees. Big trunks, deep roots, or super leafy branchy trees (anyone else just flash Dr. Seuss?).  Trees all grow differently, but there’s one thing in common – they all follow the laws of physics!  The bigger the tree branches, the bigger the trunk and the bigger the roots – otherwise it’d fall over in the slightest breeze!

At the Coder School, we think each kid learns to code in their own unique way, just like each tree grows with a different shape and size (and sometimes color!).  So our curriculums are flexible, and are customized around individual students, coaching kids with the style and content that we feel works best for each situation.  Think about how static coding curriculums work – they assume a one-size-fits-all way of learning.  A three month coding class takes a group of kids through the same topics in those three months.  Inevitably with a class curriculum, some kids are too fast, some kids are too slow, some want to work on this app, others want to work on that app!  That’s why there’s an educational trend today to customize how kids learn – both in content and speed.  And that’s why we at the Coder School teach in a customized way, in a super-small coach-to-student ratio (typically 2 to 1).  In our Code Coaching program, kids might learn Scratch or Python, games or websites, focus on data or graphics, robotics or mini-computers.  In our mind, there’s no wrong way to learn to code!

Our Coder Tree™ was born out of a need for a cool visual representation of how kids are unique in the way they learn, and evolved into a great reminder that there’s no shortcuts!  With a tree, you can’t grow a branch without a trunk, and a trunk doesn’t exist without a root.  Similarly in coding, you can’t learn advanced concepts without a solid, knowledgable, and wide base.

Imagine that the branches and leaves are advanced technologies like 3-D gaming or SQL databases.  The trunk then is core typed coding like Python or Javascript mini-applications.  The roots then represent the basic foundation of coding – critical thinking, variables and data, loops, and other logical concepts.  The more students want to grow their knowledge of advanced technologies, the larger the trunk and the larger the root system must be!  For example, it’s not uncommon that a somewhat inexperienced student wants to jump right up to 3D-Gaming right away.  In our customized curriculum model, we may even allow that (briefly!).  But what happens to a tree when you try to grow too many branches before you have strong roots?  In the same way, kids aren’t able to grasp the advanced technologies very well because they don’t yet have the foundational thinking.  They might learn basic modes, or memorize where to click or what to type, but can they really understand the underlying logic, are they really able to learn advanced1 technology without a foundational computational understanding?  The answer is no.

Keep in mind too that tree roots aren’t checkboxes!  Just because a student can code an app or two in Scratch doesn’t mean they’re “done” with Scratch!  Growing foundational roots takes repetition and practice, and learning to code is no different.  Just like memorizing all the chords doesn’t make you a master guitarist, understanding a code concept doesn’t mean you’re ready for the next level.  Like my guitar teacher used to always say, practice, practice, practice!

We use our Coder Tree™  to emphasize that coding isn’t a race, that it’s _not_ about learning the most advanced technologies as quickly as possible.  It’s about building the base, and understanding the core of coding and logical thinking.  And don’t forget, core coding concepts and logical thinking will never change – but advanced technologies will come and go by the time your kid is an adult!  So focus on the roots, and focus on the trunk.  You’ll find that when your kids grow older, their super-strong foundation will allow them to learn and grow in ways that we can’t yet imagine.

Wanna understand more about our Coder Tree™ or take a shot a coding like a tree?  Drop by one of our locations today and check in with a Code Coach®.  Let’s grow!

This article will discuss the top seven from heaven coding platforms which theCoderSchool uses to help teach its high school kids to code. You may be asking yourself, why is it the top 7 and not the top 8 or the top 6 or 5…. It’s probably the same reason that the top selling abs workout video is ‘8 minute abs’ vs. 7 minute or 6 minute abs. It actually could be any number, but seven seemed like a good lucky number – The Lucky 7. In all honesty, in my role, I meet with the general managers and Code Coaches® regularly and am always hearing about all the great and new platforms being used to teach theCoderSchool students how to code. However, there always seem to be a few platforms that are more popular and where the Code Coaches® tend to gravitate towards. When I reviewed those commonly being used with our High School students, the list just narrowed itself to these seven.

Before getting into the list, let’s discuss teaching a High School student vs. the younger students. In both cases, theCoderSchool’s philosophy is always to find something that interests them and will make it engaging for them. In the case of doing this with a younger student, it goes something like this: “So you’re interested in Disney’s Elsa, well let’s make the main character in your application Elsa then…and go from there”. But in the case of a high school student, you have to find something they’re interested in but then build something more content-oriented that’s associated or helpful towards that interest. For example, it might go something like this: “So you’re interested in majoring in Bio-engineering in college to learn about gene science. Hey did you know that you can model genetic algorithms using javascript?”

Both of the cases mentioned above are real scenarios that happened and both worked out really well where the students had a blast, were engaged, and learned a lot. How does all this relate to this article? It doesn’t directly, but I wanted to give you some background on how the high school students minds work versus the younger kids so that you can get a sense as to where the platforms/tools being used to teach them are coming from. For high school kids to learn to code, the platform does not need to be super graphical. Although it can be, it doesn’t HAVE to be because they’re plenty old enough and able to focus. As long as the subject matter is of interest, they will be there with you each step of the way. But try and force a boring topic down their throats and they will leave you in a heartbeat. Remember, high school kids can generally already drive and are becoming adults now. They can and will make their own decisions.

Here’s our top 7 list (drumroll please….!):

1. Coding Ground

Coding Ground is a really nice option to teach our high schoolers almost any language. Coding Ground is an online IDE for pretty much all the major languages (java, c++, python, etc.). It even has cobol so how’s that for everything! It’s nice because it’s available online and is free. However, it is also limited for those same reasons and as your high schooler gets more advanced we do recommend for them to start using their own laptop and for example if learning java to install eclipse as they become more advanced.

2. JSFiddle (Javascript)

JSFiddle is one of the best choices when teaching high schoolers javascript along with webdev. This platform brilliantly blends the fundamentals of webdev (HTML, CSS, javascript) into one easy to navigate platform which is online and free. Your high schoolers will quickly make progress building their pages and can render with the click of a button.

3. PLAYCANVAS (Javascript)

Playcanvas is another great teaching platform option for teaching high schoolers to code. The language that they would be learning is javascript. It’s available online but adds in the extra engagement factor of being able to create something in 3D. Who doesn’t enjoy 3D whether it’s in the movies or in coding. 3D just kicks it up a notch as far as being engaging and captivating so is another great teaching tool.

4. Pygame (Python)

Pygame is a set of python modules designed to help with creating video games. It includes computer graphics and sound libraries which are to be used with the Python language and really enhances a high schooler’s experience when choosing to learn Python. For any student interested in game development this should be at the top of your list, especially if they are also wanting to learn some Python. It cannot run on just a browser though and does require installation onto a local machine. Or you can use it on a raspberry pi which has it installed. Speaking of pi, that’s definitely another great platform and guess what? It’s #5! How’s that for a great transition? So let us dive into number 5….

5. Raspberry Pi

The raspberry pi is the hottest new credit card sized computer. Kids of all ages are attracted to the raspberry pi! For this article we’ll focus on its aspects that are attractive to the high schoolers. It’s a great intersection of hardware and software. It’s a kit that allows you to pseudo build your own computer. It’s pretty straightforward, but since it has you doing things like sticking the heatsink on, it feels low level and really gives the kids a sense of pride and ownership from building it. Once built, the options are endless with it’s ability to connect and control so many peripherals. It fits in well with the IofT popularity and buzz! High schoolers are having so much fun utilizing the pi to do cool things they don’t even realize they’re learning coding too! It offers exercises ranging from linux commands to python coding.

6. Unity

Unity is an amazing cross-platform game engine developed in 2005. Unity is notable for its ability to target games to multiple platforms and focuses on helping developers build 3D games. Any high schooler interested in game development will enjoy Unity. Unity can even at times be used to teach younger kids some basic coding concepts while having fun working on a 3D game. But in general Unity is meant for the more advanced which fits your high schoolers really well.

7. XCODE (Swift)

Xcode is an integrated development environment for macOS containing a suite of software development tools developed by Apple for developing software for macOS, iOS, watchOS and tvOS. First released in 2003, the latest stable release is version 8 and is available via the Mac App Store free of charge for macOS Sierra users. Xcode is great for any high schoolers interested in creating iphone apps. It’s exciting for your high schoolers due to its direct relation to Apple and mobile.

Conclusion

When teaching a high school student how to code, pick your content and subject matter first and let that drive your platform choice. You’ll also notice from our earlier blogs that there tends to be more platforms to choose from as your students get older because their interests and their abilities broaden quite a bit.  And as always, don’t forget to add the secret ingredient, a Code Coach® that drives the passion and ignites the learning!  Happy Coding!