Don’t Learn to Code – Code to Learn
With the sheer volume of information, rumour and hearsay regarding the use of technology by kids. It is little wonder why many parents struggle to know what their kids should or should not be using to learn code and for how long to reap the educational benefits and avoid the negatives.
It is normal for kids to have screen time (TV, Laptop, Smart Phone, iPad e.t.c.) limited. It seems every generation has had their distractions that threatened their futures and each generation has realised that it is all about finding a balance.
The way that we interact and engage with each other is heavily invaded by digital tools and that is only likely to increase. There is no avoiding it. There is no reason that this should be a negative. In the future your kids will be involved with technology in almost every role they pursue in their future careers. It is likely that those roles do not even exist yet and the specific technologies they will be using almost certainly do not exist yet, such is the speed of change.
So as a parent can we find a way of nurturing an interest and understanding of what the benefits of technology are? Can we nurture an interest in technology and science that will keep them safely curious, enthusiastic and give them a solid foundation to build on?
Here are some key points to consider to take the technology they love and instead of just using it, start to understand how to make it.
- Don’t just play video games, make them. Playing games is fun. The UK is now a multigenerational population of gamers. When age appropriate and balanced, video games can reinforce problem solving skills, creative thinking and other key ingredients to a child’s development. If you take that passion for playing (video games) and nurture a desire to create them you give purpose to learning to make technology. You are coding to learn not learning to code. There are multiple resources out there that can get your kid learning to code that we’ll outline below.
- Don’t jump straight to the Laptop. Technology provides an amazing “canvas” to be creative with. It is however just another canvass and should not exclude pens, paper, crayons and some good old gluing and sticking. Before diving onto the keyboard, draw out a plan. Include the characters (heroes and villains), objects, scoring, backgrounds, levels, story and mission. This will multiply the learning, enjoyment and give a greater desire to persist through the tricky process of putting all this together with the needed code.
- Planning is a key skill in programming. It is not unusual to hear kids say they are bored with one piece of technology or another – or that they “know it” and want the next cool thing. Quite often what they are saying is they do not know what to do next or cannot get it to do what they want. A great way to remove this modern day writers block is to make the plan before trying to write the code (a valuable skill in it’s own right).
- Do not rush to real code. There are many stories we hear about a kid who has created an amazing piece of technology using real development tools. Many parents look to encourage their kids to take on a full programming language too early. There is no need to get bogged down in the syntax of getting real code right. Instead focus on developing the logical thinking, creative thinking and planning to create projects in tools like Scratch. There will be plenty of time to get to grips with the real code once an interest and enthusiasm has been nurtured.
- Play – Make it fun. Learning happens naturally when kids are playing. Obstacles to learning disappear when kids are trying to do something they are vested in and enjoy. Do not be concerned that a project never gets completed or that things did not turn out as were planned. Just be supportive and be involved, interested and encouraging. Creating technology is not easy, the answers not always obvious and considerable persistence is required to overcome setbacks and problems. All sound like valuable life lessons?
Tech and Toys that keep learning fun
Here is a short list of tech toys, apps and software that you can use to keep the learning interesting, fun and practical. You will be familiar with many and others may be new. It is at the intersection of some of these new technologies that the real fun can be had. The immediacy of making changes to code used in games, controlling robots or flying mini drones satisfies your child’s desire for immediate feedback that incrementally encourages exploration and curiosity.
The industry standard and well adopted by schools. Most Key Stage 2 students will have touched Scratch by now. Many may be convinced they “know scratch” as they have worked through many worksheets and exercises. Take the constraints off and give them a blank canvass to see what they can create before you decide they have outgrown it. I do not think I have outgrown it and still use it to prototype all sorts of ideas and test various algorithms.
Scratch runs on Mac and PC but does not work on the iPad without some unreliable work arounds. It has an offline version that can be downloaded from scratch.mit.edu. There are some amazing games developed that mimic the originals and is a super tool to help develop creative and logical thinking without having to worry about syntax.
See more at https://scratch.mit.edu/
An iPad app available in the App Store that is very similar to Scratch and you can make games that also take advantage of the accelerometer in the iPad to make characters in games move. Never used Scratch then do not worry jump straight in with Tickle. If you have used Scratch you will be able to jump right in and have fun as the principles are very similar.
The real winner with Tickle is it’s ability to connect to other technology like robots and drones allowing kids to make physical objects react to their code which is not just amazing fun but also introduces some super challenges and variations to keep the problem solving, curiosity and interest going.
See more at https://tickleapp.com
Sphero + Ollie: (Approx £90)
Sphere is a sphere that is controllable from it’s very own iPad app and also
programmed to follow instructions through the Tickle App. Absolute genius
and great fun. It is a robotic ball that is programmable.
See more at http://www.sphero.com
Parrot Mini-drone: (Approx £80)
These are super little programable flying machines are super fun and super safe. They have their own App that allows you to fly them manually using your smart phone or iPad or you can program them using the Tickle app mentioned earlier. Programming missions using a drone creates a whole new level of excitement (and challenge). The rolling spider version with the wheels just adds a little protection from the propellors and is recommended for first time flyers!
See more at http://www.parrot.com/uk/products/minidrones/
Parrot Jumping Race Drone: (Approx £90)
If you’d rather not have the flying drones then this little fella is a supercharged programmable vehicle that can spin, jump and perform all sorts of tricks of balance and poise. Once again it can be controlled manually and also programmed through tickle. These rolling drones also have a video camera for photos and video which creates an added dimension to missions that can be created.
See more at http://www.parrot.com/uk/products/minidrones/
Make learning Fun and create your own missions
Kids love connecting their code to physical devices and start to explore how code can interact with the world around them. Try some of these little challenges as a family and you’ll be amazed at the engagement and lessons learned. all whilst playing!
Can you make these little characters navigate a maze? Can you investigate the relationship between speed, time and distance? Can you get them to go in a circle? How about adding a variable to make the circle bigger or smaller? Can you program them to sneak into the lounge make a noise and zoom off back to your hiding place?