Children are exposed to complex technology at earlier and earlier ages. The reality is that technology continues to find its way into nearly every aspect of modern life. This technological explosion has created a need for talented individuals who can create effective and efficient computer programs that allow users to interact with all of this technology efficiently and logically. The burgeoning STEM movement has emerged in schools across the country as a direct response to this need for tech-savvy employees in the modern workforce. But beyond this clear economic need, there are collateral benefits to infusing STEM content into public education. Most notably, the educational benefits of learning to code and program can lead to student growth across multiple content areas.
What Skills Are Involved in Coding?
At a basic level, coding requires a solid mathematical foundation. Programs are often carried out by using combinations of various mathematical symbols, variables, and rule sets. The more complex the program, typically the more complex the math involved in making it work. For younger students, coding can be a solid, functional introduction to key algebraic concepts and thought processes. For more experienced students, coding can be a way to give purpose to higher level math topics that otherwise may linger as ethereal or impractical exercises.
On a deeper level, coding requires a focus on logical, pragmatic thought processes. By working through the mechanisms that make a program run, students are forced to problem solve on multiple fronts simultaneously; complex tasks only work when a series of simpler ones are working in harmony. This type of thinking reaches far beyond the computer screen and can be an effective foundation for problem solving skills across the curriculum.
How to Provide Coding Opportunities for Your Child
With the advent of initiatives like The Hour of Code, programming opportunities abound for students. Sites like Code Academy, and Scratch provide step-by-step, browser-based lessons in a variety of programming languages for a variety of different purposes ranging from games to websites to basic applications. With sites like these, students can create actual working programs with scaffolded support helping them to become successful. The fact that the lessons result in actual, working programs helps to keep students engaged and promotes the feeling of success.
Inexpensive system-on-a-chip devices like the Raspberry Pi ($5-$35 + accessories) and the C.H.i.P. ($9 + accessories) make it possible to learn coding on the cheap. These small computers simply require a keyboard, mouse, power adapter (usually little more than a microUSB phone charger), and display (HDMI devices like most modern TVs work best) to get up and running; what makes these devices so amazing is how they come in at a fraction of the cost and size of modern computers or laptops.
Coding is an exciting way for your child to build both marketable skills and support academic growth across the content areas. Even if coding is not your strong suit, the wide array of inexpensive entry points makes it easier than ever to provide opportunities for your child to enjoy the coding experience. And plenty of tutoring opportunities exist as well, for both online computer science tutoring and in-person tutoring.