Learning to Build the Future

December 16, 2013

Written by wukovits

Hour of CodeWhen I was growing up, I was exposed to the world of computing at a relatively early age. Back in 1983, relatively few people had computers in their homes and those that did were using operating systems with no graphical user interfaces. Getting around and doing things required a knowledge of command line syntax and there was no mouse to help you point and click.

In school, I was fortunate in that my middle school offered basic computer classes that enabled me to learn. When I got to high school, I was fortunate to have computer science offered and learned to program in PASCAL on a VAX system, quite different from the BASIC that we learned in the rudimentary lessons in middle school on the Commodore VIC-20 and my Apple II+ at home. We weren’t creating amazing programs that would reinvent the way we used computers or building apps for fortune and fame, but programming helped me to learn to think differently and solve problems, building a skill set that helped me greatly on other fronts as I grew older. My formal college education exposed me to other languages and technologies, but what really helped was the primary usage and instruction I learned as a child.

These days, children are exposed to computers with graphical operating systems and touch interfaces that don’t require memory and thought in the capacity that was required over 20 years ago. Granted, these advances have put a computer in nearly every home and enabled everyone to carry a “computer” in their pocket, but creating for these devices has become a lost art, mastered by those whose skill set is in high demand.

I was thrilled to hear about Computer Science Education Week that took place December 9 through December 15. Dubbed “Hour of Code”, this initiative gave students an opportunity to start down the road to learn programming, and the tools that are available are remarkable. Go check out their website (https://www.code.org) to see how you can get started on your own with your kids.

My 9-year-old son was excited to share with me what he was exposed to that week at his school. One of the offerings that he liked was a website called Code Combat (https://www.codecombat.com). At this site, people can learn to code Javascript by playing a game where a knight must travel through dungeons and vanquish enemies using lines of code to navigate and attack. By teaching these kids in a manner that incorporates fun and games, they are absorbing a way of thinking that can apply to a variety of tasks later in life. That’s the way programming is supposed to work: once you learn to think like that, you can apply that same problem solving to another language or task.

While a week to celebrate and expose children to programming is a great start, obviously more instruction and promotion is needed. Another great environment to get your kids learning is Scratch (https://scratch.mit.edu/). Developed at MIT, this platform allows children to learn to create stories, games, and animations through programming and it’s absolutely free.

Want to get in on the coding action yourself but don’t want to play with kids’ stuff? Go check out CodeAcademy (https://www.codecademy.com/), another free resource that starts you down the road to programming. There’s even an iOS app for that to teach you some things.

The future is computing! Those that can design and control the programs we use will be guaranteed jobs and success as they use these skills. There’s no time like now to start exposing your children to this promising skill set and giving them the building blocks to a brighter future.

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