When I was 12, I was following my interest in art and taking an animation class outside of school. One day, my instructor showed me that I could add a line of code to a button so that viewers could replay my animation. After tweaking the same line of code, I could have viewers use the arrow keys instead. Toying and refining the code some more, I became the proud owner of an avoid-the-falling-objects game. ‘Wow’, I thought, ‘now that’s cool!’
This was an eye-opener for me, and it’s the exact kind of experience that the Hour of Code is trying to instill in youth.
It‘s an experience that shows kids that they can make a computer do a countless number of things, limited only by their imagination.
So why specifically coding? Why not focus more on teaching math, reading, or any other subject? If your child is not planning on becoming a programmer, why learn this at all?
1. Coding fosters transferable skills
If you haven’t done much, or any, programming yourself, you may be skeptical as to what sort of ‘coding’ is being taught during the Hour of Code. Programming is often regarded as an extremely difficult skill, and yet, Code.org and other advocates for the Hour of Code say that even 5 year olds can learn to program. So which is it?
By definition, programming, or coding, is simply the way people tell a computer what to do using instructions that the computer understands.
In essence, learning to use a programming language enables you to tell a computer to do much more sophisticated tasks than you could otherwise.
And writing code requires all of the following:
- Comprehension: understanding what the commands in a language mean
- Planning: deciding how to approach a problem
- Creativity: testing ideas, writing programs, and executing those programs to see results
- Problem Solving: debugging and reasoning to get to a correct solution
- Teamwork: working in teams to arrive at more efficient solutions
All these skills are easily applicable to any other subject area, and are only a subset of the skills that are nurtured while kids learn to code.
2. Coding acts as a great motivator to learn new things
When kids accomplish one thing using code, they will often follow up with a ‘Now, how can I do such and such else?’ These questions become a gateway to other subject areas like maths and sciences. For example, understanding how degrees work is a requirement to create the perfect snowflake in the Anna and Elsa tutorial. Kids become intrinsically motivated to learn new concepts as a result of wanting to solve new problems with code.
3. Computers are everywhere
In today’s world, computers are used by billions of people to make things, share things, and solve problems. The Hour of Code event advocates that learning to code is not just for a select few, or for a select gender, but for anyone and everyone. Learning to code is simply the best way to gain the full benefit of using computers, and whether or not your child goes on to become a programmer, coding will be an incredibly useful skill to add to their repertoire.
The Hour of Code
The games, tutorials, and coding languages found on code.org are a great entry point to learning to code and getting kids excited about computers. They are a stepping stone for learning what programming is, but most importantly, for becoming personally motivated to create more, play more, and learn more.
Danny Yaroslavski has been coding for over 10 years, holds a Bachelors of Computer Science from the University of Waterloo, and has worked at reputable games companies including EA and ArmorGames.
He is the creator of Lightbot, a puzzle game that teaches kids the basics of coding, including sequencing, procedures, loops and conditionals. Lightbot is a tutorial partner for the ‘Hour of Code’ 2014.
The ‘Hour of Code’ is nationwide initiative by Computer Science Education Week [csedweek.org] and Code.org [code.org] to introduce millions of students to one hour of computer science and computer programming.
This piece was edited with the help of Dalya Gershtein.