Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Coding for Kids

OsakaLights

While the choice of computer language you teach may not be as significant as you think, the tools you use to teach the basic concepts of programming may be more relevant. Because there are so many toys, apps, and educational videos out there, I asked what parents who code for a living used for their kids.

Here’s the answer:

Lightbot: solving puzzles by using programming logic (junior coding puzzles available for ages 4–8, and more elaborate programming puzzles from for ages 9+)

Scratch: developed by MIT, kids can program their interactive stories, games and animations. Designed for 8–16 year olds, they can share their creations with others online.

Hopscotch: a visual programming language similar to Scratch which tries to address gaps in Scratch.

CodeCombat: similar to Lightbot in concept, they give you an option to program in Python or Javascript.

Arduino: an open-source electronics platform for interactive projects, It’s great if you want to introduce hardware components to kids’ learning environment.

Some of the above are also mentioned in the resource section of a computer science camp a friend helped to create. The camp is designed for Grades 4–12. Camp environment is great for kids to develop collaboration skills in what was once considered a solitary endeavor. In reality, programming in the real world, like everything else, consists of having to justify your projects, giving presentations to others, troubleshooting with your group and coordinating with other programmers working on a different portion of the same larger program. Even if you are developing a small app, human interface that require you to articulate your vision and the work process is necessary. But because many families won’t be able to work out the logistics to send their kids to camp, exploring their curricula is a good compromise.

My friend reports that the biggest hit at the camp were HTML related activities, like making simple websites and working with Javascript. Notepad++ was used for syntax highlighting and so they can see the difference between tags and content. Because web browsers are tolerant of irregular syntax compared to more rigid programming (e.g., in C), adaptable to different skill levels , and result in a work product relatively quickly which can be displayed to others (including parents), HTML related activities are great. Some sample work products from the camp can be found here.

Again, the actual choice of platform or language doesn’t matter, as what needs to be learned are the concepts of variables, loops, conditions, resource limitation, etc. (and they don’t even have to know the names of those just yet).

Related learning tools for younger kids:

Math: Hungry Guppy, Hungry Fish: an iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch app where you feed guppies (for younger kids)/fish (for older kids) numbers

For phonics and spelling: Endless Alphabet for kids learning how to spell (available on various OSes)

Photo: Umeda Sky Building, Osaka, Japan

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