June 20, 2013No Comments

6 Tips for Teaching Your Kids to Code (and Why You Should)

hopscotchWith all of the hype surrounding fast-growing tech startups, as well as discussions about improving our education system, teaching kids how to code is top of mind for many people these days. Large scale change is in our future, and I look forward to a day when coding is as integral a part of early education as reading, writing, and math.

Fortunately, you don't have to wait for "someday" to get your kids coding—here are 6 tips to help you spark and sustain a child's interest in programming:

1.  Emphasize that Coding = Creativity

Coding is as much about creativity as it is about math, science, and problem solving. The stereotype of computer programmers as math nerds scares many people away from coding, adults and children alike. But coding is creating and making things come to life—drawings, games, robots, applications. Most kids like to create things, so coding will come as naturally as painting a picture or building something with Legos. Capture their interest by emphasizing creativity, and they'll naturally learn some core programming concepts along the way. Keep it fun and don't force it—not all kids like to paint, and not all kids will like to code either.

2.  Encourage Exploration

Find age-appropriate tools that give your child enough room to play without needing to read an instruction manual every few minutes. The process of discovery—or the "I wonder what will happen if I do this?" moment—is a core component of a coder's world. Encourage your child to experiment, and keep an eye out for signs they're reaching the limits of a specific app. Even if you're not a coder yourself, you can learn along with your child.

Here's a list of free apps/websites to get you started:

Daisy the Dinosaur (iPad, ages 6-10): This simple iPad app will get kids excited about being able to control the movements of a character on screen using basic commands. As an intro to coding it’s even great with younger children, but may not hold older children's attention for very long.

Hopscotch (iPad, ages 8-12): From the makers of Daisy the Dinosaur, this app is fun, easy to use, and lets kids create drawings and more complex animations with a whole cast of characters to choose from. You can also share your programs with other Hopscotch users via email, which is great for encouraging kids to play with friends and share their creations.

Scratch (web, ages 8-16): Scratch has been around for a while and has an active community of young programmers. It builds on some of the basic programming controls used in Hopscotch, and introduces many new tools for creating more unique and complex animations and games.

Codecademy (web, ages 12+): Codecademy provides free online courses in specific programming languages. Older children who show a sustained interest in coding may be ready to start learning to program on their own. The course on HTML and CSS is a great place to start, and it will teach your child how to create web pages from scratch.

3.  Tap Into Each Child's Passions

Coding can be used to create many different kinds of programs—try those that interest your child and don't write off coding altogether if they don't enjoy one specific flavor. There are apps that focus on everything from drawing to animation to storytelling to game design. Kits like Lego Mindstorms, Sparki, and littleBits let kids design robots and create programs to operate them. Avid readers can build websites to publish reviews of books they've read. Sports fanatics can build websites to track the stats of their favorite players or teams. Tap into something your child already enjoys doing and show them how to use coding as a new way to bring their ideas to life.

4.  Make Coding a Social Activity

Find opportunities and encourage your child to code with other children. As they grow, having a network of friends who are also interested in coding will go a long way to keeping them engaged. "Kids become coders because they are friends with other coders or are born into coder families," Mimi Ito recently pointed out in a Fast Company article. Doing a quick search in your area will likely turn up a number of options for local summer camps or after-school programs. You could also gather a couple of kids and help them participate virtually in an online program, or find someone to help you create a project to get them started.

5.  Find a Mentor

As Mimi Ito noted, children of programmers are more likely to code than children of non-programmers. But hope is not lost if you're not a programmer yourself! There are plenty out there and most would be excited to help you. Find a friend or family member who codes or works in a technical field and ask them for assistance. (If your child is at that age where they want to do the opposite of everything you suggest, this may be even more effective than doing the mentoring yourself.) This person can guide your child when they hit a roadblock with a program they're creating, challenge them to keep exploring, and show them what different coding careers could look like.

6.  Keep Problem Solving Fun

Programmers like to solve problems, and many professional coders choose where to work based on the types of problems they'll get to solve. Whether or not your child gets hooked on any of the apps listed above, you can always encourage them to be curious, to tinker, and to solve problems. Push them to learn how something works and to find different ways of doing things, or make puzzle games a fun thing you do as a family. A child who enjoys creative problem solving may get into coding somewhere down the road, even if they're not interested today.

Introducing children to coding will open up a whole world of possibilities for them later in life, not to mention the enjoyment they'll get from having new tools to create with today. But it's also important to remember that coding isn't for everyone. Not every child likes to paint or play baseball or dance, and not everyone will like to code either. Don't force it. Show them the apps, provide some support, and let them drive. If they don't show an immediate interest, they may yet come back to it later.

Want to start visualizing your project risks?  Download our free Software Risk Management template

September 26, 2011No Comments

Get ‘Em Young: Developing Kid Programmers

Most programmers at Table XI ended up here because, at a young age, we started tinkering with technology. Like many computer science majors, our programming careers started way before our 18th birthdays and freshman years. The trick to developing programmers is to get them young, before they've "learned" that programming is too hard to attempt—to catch them while curiosity still overpowers beliefs of intellectual limitations.

For this reason, we're big fans of Happynerds.net, a collection of resources that helps kids learn to program. Kids interested in computers see programming as digital legos—a creative outlet rife with instant gratification and intellectual stimulation, where you start with a blank screen and build anything you can imagine. By the time we reach adulthood, those who've never tried programming have been taught that it's too difficult, and best left for the mathematically gifted and socially challenged.

This is having a big impact on the state of the industry. Computer science programs across the country have seen a 40% reduction in enrollment over the last decade, leaving a talent drought for programmers. Despite high national unemployment, in 2009, computer science grads from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign averaged 2.3 job offers with an average starting salary of more than $72,000. So parents, if your child shows an interest in computers, check out the links at Happynerds and see if you can find resources to help encourage it.

If you're already an accomplished programmer, we're hiring! To inquire about our job listings, shoot us a line at jobs@tablexi.com.

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June 29, 2011No Comments

YMCA Kids Rock

Last year we started working with the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, and at a recent meeting they brought us the best care package ever. Check it out:

We've proudly displayed our coolest new laptop at the front of our office for all to see. Thanks, guys!

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December 17, 2007No Comments

One Laptop Per Child

In this season of brash consumerism, many of us “haves” look for a way to give back to those less fortunate than ourselves.  The goal of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program is to create a laptop that can be manufactured cheaply enough to distribute to children in developing countries that lack educational supplies such as text books.  As OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte says “It’s not a laptop project.  It’s an education project.”

The XO laptop was just released and looks awesome. It weighs in at just over 3 lbs, is dust-proof, spill-proof and drop-proof.  It has wireless 802.11 access (wifi), full web browsing capabilities, built-in speakers, game control pad and a video camera.  It comes preloaded with software for word processing, music authoring, PDF viewing, software programming and several games. xo laptop In its book-reader mode the screen swivels around ala a tablet-PC, the screen goes to black and white and the battery life is extended from its normal 6 hours to 24 hours.

Another button displays the source code of any application running on the machine and kids can see how the application works and learn to change the code (a restore button is included in case kids’ “improvements” don’t work properly).

And though this laptop was not designed for the American consumer market, for the holiday season the XO laptop is being offered on a “give one, get one” program.  For $420 ($200 of which is tax-deductible) one XO Laptop is shipped to you and one XO laptop is donated to a child in need in a developing country.  Everyone who participates in the Give One Get One program will also receive a year’s worth of access at T1 Mobile WiFi spots (think playing with a funky green laptop at Starbucks).

Don’t be confused though — this will not be your primary laptop.  It has no hard drive, only 1 gig of flash memory.  It does not run Windows and the keyboard has been reported as too small for adult touch typing. This is a laptop designed for children in developing countries, not you.

Most of us at Table XI were fortunate enough to be introduced to technology at an early age… and our lives have been unquestionably enriched because of it.  This project offers a chance to pass that opportunity on to the next generation.

For more information read the NY Times review (and check out the video) or view the official OLPC website.

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