A young boy coding on a laptop next sitting next to a young girl writing in a classroom setting.
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How to teach kids to code in a classroom – with or without computers

17 Oct 2018

It’s EU Code Week and Megan Ray Nichols has some tips on how to get your kids started coding, even if you’re no coder yourself.

MySpace may have gone the way of the dodo, but all those coding skills we learned to make our profile pages look awesome are still useful today. One of the best ways to succeed in today’s world is to learn how to code – and the earlier our children can start learning how to code, the better.

Why should kids learn to code?

We spend so much time trying to get our kids to go out and play, teaching them to code might seem a bit counterintuitive. Yes, it’s a skill that requires them to sit inside in front of a computer, but it’s something that could help them succeed in the real world.

We use technology as part of our daily lives, from the laptop we use at work to the cell phones in our pockets. We need people who can program those devices we take for granted every day.

Computer-oriented jobs are growing faster than any other industry in the world. In the US, experts have found they’re growing four times faster than any other industry – and we’ll have filled fewer than one-third of those jobs by 2020.

Teaching kids to code, especially elementary and primary school-aged children, will improve their chances of success later in life. Those coding-based jobs will continue to grow, and companies around the world are going to be looking to fill those jobs with the best and the brightest.

Coding also teaches problem-solving skills. Coding isn’t difficult per se, but it does require a lot of puzzling and patience. Refer to this classic coding ballad:

99 little bugs in the code, 99 little bugs!

Take one down, patch it around …

127 little bugs in the code!

Debugging completed code is a modern-day version of the Rubik’s Cube. It’s a puzzle only coders know how to solve, and those problem-solving skills aren’t just good for coding. They can be useful in everyday life, no matter what field these kids end up working in.

Teaching kids to code

If you’re not a coder yourself, how can you hope to teach kids to code? The answer lies on the internet – specifically, websites designed especially to teach children to code.

Sites such as Code.org and Codecademy use games and fun animations to teach kids the basics of coding. Code.org even features video lectures from some of the biggest names in coding such as Mark Zuckerberg, the mind behind Facebook, and Bill Gates, the mind behind Microsoft.

Some schools are starting to include coding as part of their curriculum, which involves hiring trained coding teachers. Many of them focus on teaching coding to second-level students, too, but starting in primary school can help build a foundation that will serve these students well throughout their academic careers and out into the world once they graduate.

Coding unplugged

Even if you’re not a coding teacher, there are ways to include coding basics in your everyday lessons. You don’t even need a computer for every student; there are plenty of ‘unplugged’ lessons you can teach with just printable worksheets to give them the basics they can take to the computer later.

There’s a reason most adult coding classes learn from a textbook. Sometimes, the most effective way to teach a lesson is to start with the basics.

There are even board games to help teach coding basics. Bloxels lets your students build a video game on a plastic board, then transfer the game they’ve created to a tablet where they can play it. The Robot Wars board game teaches basic Java programming in a fun way, with robot battles – the first team to eliminate the other team’s robots wins. Code Master is a fun single-player board game that teaches coding basics, as well as sequential reasoning and problem-solving skills.

You don’t need a smart classroom to teach coding. Even if you only have time in the communal computer lab once a week, you can still help your students build a strong coding foundation.

By Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols is a STEM writer and regular contributor to The Naked Scientists, Manufacturing Business Technology and IoT Evolution. Her own blog, Schooled by Science, attempts to make the most interesting scientific discoveries easier to understand.

The original version of this article first appeared on Schooled by Science

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