A below Ted Talk featuring the charismatic 6th grade programmer Thomas Suarez has shown that programming is a skill that can be learnt at any age. With the huge number of sites, programmable robots and products (and books) dedicated to programming for kids, there has never been a better time to get your class coding.
Statistics from the Survey of Graduate Enrollment and Degrees have shown that only 4.1% of master’s degrees awarded in 2009 were in Mathematics and Computer Science. This is concerning as many of today’s fastest growing professions are in related disciplines. With this need for programmers growing everyday, here are seven sites that focus on programming for kids and will encourage, nurture and ignite the coding spark for your students.
Aimed at students aged 8-16 years old, Scratch is one of the best ways to take the first leap into programming. Developed by the MIT Media Lab, Scratch is a visual programming language. It allows students to build interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art. This visual approach to programming is the perfect way to teach students the fundamental concepts behind programming and software development. Scratch is free to download and runs on Mac, Windows and Linux.
Used by some of the biggest names in tech (Twitter, Square, Airbnb) Treehouse is one of the most trusted and well known platforms for learning to code. With interactive online tutorials for beginner and advanced coders, ranging from developing webpages to building and launching apps, Treehouse has one of the largest collections available. Kids can take a 7-day free trial to test the waters and get started on a lifetime journey of coding and creating.
Apps that turn programming concepts into fun games are a fantastic way to help your kids develop a programming mindset. There are a good number of apps to get started with, but our three favourites are:
Lightbot: Lightbot is a programming puzzle game that lets your kids create fun visual programs to move a little robot around his tiled world, cultivating a real understanding of procedures, loops, and conditionals.
Cargo-Bot: Created using Codea, Cargo-Bot is a fun game that requires kids to builds short programs to stack cargo. Creating recursive operations kids quickly learn some of the most foundational programming concepts.
Move The Turtle: A colourful and animated programming puzzle game, Move the Turtle requires players to write short blocks of visual code (similar to Scratch) to navigate this little dude around the screen.
Alice is a 3D programming environment that allows students create animations, interactive games, or videos to share on the web. The application will help students understand key principles such as object orientated programming and 3D modelling. Programs are created by drag and dropping graphic tiles. Each instruction corresponds to standard statements in a programming language, such as Java, C++, and C#. Alice is free to download and runs on Mac and Windows.
4. Hackety Hack
Taking programming for kids to the next level, Hackety Hack teaches the absolute basics of the Ruby programming language. Ruby is the foundation of many desktop and web applications such as Twitter, Shopify and Hulu and is a great starting point for command based programming. Students use an integrated text editor to begin building ruby apps and by the end will be comfortable with basic programming syntax. Hackety Hack is an open source application that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems.
6. How to Make Coding Fun (free course)
Part of President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign this FREE course was created for educators and parents who want to start their kids coding. This jam-packed 1 hour online course, focuses on the tools, techniques and ideas you can use to inspire fun and creativity in programming. Covering games, exercises, apps and more, the course steers away from code syntax or the conventions of any specific language and keeps the focus on making coding fun.
Run by Stanford University, Openclassroom gives students free access to Computer Science lectures. Lectures cover a wide variety of programming curriculum and generic computer skills. Videos are well structured and go from quite basic lessons to detailed science, syntax and structures. The lecture format is a great way for students to engage visually as well as introducing them to tertiary styles of teaching and learning.
iPad apps would have to be some of the hottest programs being developed right now. Codea helps make the iPad development process and programming for kids a lot easier. It is a great starting point for students interested in making apps and lets students program directly on the device. Students can create games, simulations and just about any visual idea they have. Like all apps, Codea is available from iTunes and is only $7.99.
A welcome break from drag and drop interfaces, CodaKid teaches kids 7 to 15 to write real code while creating custom Mods for Minecraft and Mobile Game Apps from the ground up. Created by a veteran Silicon Valley game designer, CodaKid provides online, self-paced courses such as Mod Creation: The Adventure Begins, a Minecraft Modding with Java course. CodaKid courses are fun, upbeat, and feature 35-45 hours of interactive projects and HD videos. The coolest part is that CodaKid’s teaching staff provides online support via screenshare and they have a robust learning platform that awards points and prizes.
10. Books (bonus)
While apps and websites may catch the hype and attention, certainly don’t discount the value of books (digital and printed) to help kids learn the basics of programming.
With extremely popular coding books such as Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming and 3D Game Programming for Kids, books can provide an alternate avenue for learning as well as make an excellent ‘educational‘ gift. Check out our post on Books to Get Kids Programming for more ideas.
Do you think programming is a skill that should be taught in school? Or do you think it should stay as a hobby for enthusiastic students? Share you thoughts in the comments.
Image courstesy of Flickr, Jim Sneddon