‘Change the future. Teach the kids to code.’
Saul Mora is speaking at altWWDC, an alternative to Apple’s 2013 Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco. The room we’re in on a floor of the Westfield shopping center building on Market is large. And it is packed with men and women developers of all ages, but mostly in their 20s and 30s.
Teaching kids programming is a hot topic of conversation right now. School IT departments often can’t keep up with the pace of change so it’s down to the developers to encourage the next generation of interns. I was at WWDC events to promote Kidscontent’s AppCamp, an iOS training course for kids aged 11-15. Saul Mora is the Founder of Magical Panda, and a regular conference speaker. His talk was based on his own experience teaching himself to program and his recent programming club at an elementary school. It is condensed here into 5 key points:
‘When to start coding? The younger the better’
Kids aged 8 can write code in C. But that’s no reason to plunge right in. Start with toys that make it easy to visualise concepts. Sphero, Lego Mindstorms, Lego Robotics and turtleacademy.com are ideal because kids easily see that what you do on your computer can have a direct effect on something else.
‘Try different tools’
Kids have different interests and learn differently. You want to teach them concepts. The language doesn’t really matter. So if kids who want to do games don’t get on with Scratch (a form of Logo), try Alice. On the iPad, try Hopscotch or Daisy the Dinosaur which is a really groovy little app as you hit ‘Play’ to see the dinosaur moving around. Hackety Hack is a nice condensed window environment for the Mac. Ruby for Kids is similar.
‘Teach fundamental skills through play’
You can bring a lot of things to life without using a computer. Teaching binary is easy. Kids understand how a light switches on and off. Get them to ‘search’ by sorting through a mixed box of crayons.
‘Kids have short attention spans’
For the kids who don’t have much technology at home, being on a computer is exciting. But when they don’t see something happening, they get frustrated. Stick to a 5 kids to 1 adult ratio and be positive. If their project isn’t working, try to steer them in the right direction without giving them any shortcuts.
‘Almost no parents know how to code’
Parents are aware that tech and programming is the way of the future. If you are running a coding club in a school, work with the teachers but also email the parents about what the kids have been learning. Parents are busy and may not respond every time. But when they do, the response will be positive.
Contact Saul Mora via magicalpanda.com