As a mother of three, ages 5,8 and 10, I have developed a complicated relationship to technology. On one hand, I recognize the vast power and potential of computers and robotics, but on the other hand, I carefully limit my children’s screen time and urge them to be outside moving whenever possible. Personally, I have spent decades in front of a computer, so why my reservation? Kids need to move. Kids need to explore. Kids need fresh air. In my view, they need to interact with other children and see their physical successes and advancement. I value their time outside as much as I value their formal education. I also believe that it is my responsibility to show them balance and the difference between passive and active living.
When we are outside, we are active. Especially during childhood, we don’t sit and just absorb nature, we are drawn in. We run, we play, and we create. The lack of physical barriers prompts exploration and interaction with our surroundings. Inside, it is easier to become a passive observer, or consumer, of electronics. The television entrances us with a constant stream of imagery and stimulating music. The iPad sucks us into the internet and mindless gaming. As a greater society, we are dumbed down and persuaded to recline as we are lulled away for hours. For years, I called our iPad a big kid pacifier: ‘Here, now, sit and be quiet!’
A year ago, I realized that my children are far more capable and engaged than I had given them credit for. At a time when they were adjusting to a new home in a new country with another new language, we grew closer as we began coding together. I missed working with my graduate students, and they were being homeschooled as we transitioned into our America phase. Together, we built a coding and robotics curriculum that allowed my little people to critically, creatively tackle many real world issues. Since then, they are no longer tech consumers, they are tech creators. They do not ask to play games, they create them. They find building blocks with set directions far less exciting than an interactive robot that they can change sensors and re-program to complete new tasks. This experience defined our mission: Empowerment through code.
While I had taught graduate students the power of computational thinking and applied algorithms for my entire adult life, I had never considered the potential for our young children. Coding is a fundamental skill along with math, reading and natural science, but it is rarely taught in public schools. At the same time learning a programing language can be discouraging and frustrating without a solid instructional foundation. While some online kids courses are available, they are frequently repetitive and overly directed, encouraging passive, playful consumption, rather than creative engagement and critical problem solving.
If taught correctly, programming can help children to visualize abstract concepts. It allows them to break down complicated processes into simple steps. This encourages logic and computational thinking. Math skills will not necessarily make a child a better coder, but programming experience clearly leads to better math performance.
Early introduction to coding reduces the fear factor of technology because children never have a chance to develop an ‘I can’t’ attitude. More importantly, programing will enhance children’s standardized test scores because they learn to think systematically in stressful situations. Dr. Mitch Resnick has said, “When you learn to read, you can then read to learn… If you learn to code, you can code to learn.” Why is this? Coding encourages children to learn using their ‘deep motor area’ much the same way they can quickly acquire a new foreign language. As we age, our brain becomes more skilled at complex thought and our language acquisition through association ability declines. In other words, if cultivated early, math skills like functions and variables used in algebra become second nature. Kids learn through programing that problem-solving is a creative task, often with multiple paths to the same solution. They are challenged and immediately rewarded when they succeed.
Recently President Barrack Obama summed up our view by saying, “Don’t just play on your phone, program it!” In fact, just a few months ago, the Wall Street Journal (January 26, 2018) published an article about how the Chinese government wants to cultivate programming skills. The Ministry of Education wants to establish national standards and provide teacher training. The Ministry feels that “coding has become as vital an area for upward mobility and economic success in China as knowing English.” Programing is an invitation to lifetime learning. It has become the key to our children’s future success.
At CodeCraze, we won’t allow our students to become laggards or followers in this wave of technological advancement. We will continue to encourage leadership, innovation and empowerment through knowledge. We will learn to code and code to learn!