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Code School Leaders Share Their Edtech Picks To Make All Kids “Coding Natives”

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Workers who already have a college degree now often top off their credentials by doing a stint at a code school—July and August are the peak enrollment periods, says San Francisco-based online code school Bloc. Others seek graduate degrees in computer science, or just study on their own via online courses, to add coding to their resumes.

But many workers of the future (today’s kids) will not only be digital natives—they’ll be fluent natives in the language of coding from an early age. That is, if they get the opportunity. Some elementary schools offer instruction, but not all schools can build basic education in coding into the grade school or even the high school curriculum.

Coding education resources are out there, though, for kids of all ages—even as young as 3. Some of the apps and games are free of charge. I asked leaders at two West Coast code schools to share their top recommendations.

Richard Wang, CEO of Bellevue, WA-based Coding Dojo, made a strong pitch to parents to get their children started on coding early.

“Some parents may argue that their kids are too young to learn how to code, but I guarantee that can’t be farther from the truth,” Wang wrote in an e-mail exchange with me. “Every single child needs to learn the basics of coding because it prepares them for the digital economy that we live in and helps them better engage with the games, computers, and other technology that they interact with on a daily basis. More importantly, it helps them understand how the world works and teaches them from a very early age how to think and create whatever they set their minds to.”

Wang’s suggestions for some apps and free online resources are below, along with his commentary and my notes in parentheses:

Elementary School

Scratch is a programming language wrapped up in a game with an online community for kids to share their animation creations. It’s aimed at ages 8 and up.” (A free resource. Scratch is designed and maintained by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab.)

Lightbot is a game that teaches basic programming concepts. It’s available online and for iPad, iPhone and Android and is meant for ages 5-9.” (A game from the “Hour of Code,” a nationwide initiative by Computer Science Education Week and Code.org to introduce students to an hour of computer programming.)

Middle School

Hopscotch is an iPad and iPhone game for middle school-aged kids that teaches kids coding logic and fundamentals like variables, loops, and conditionals.”

Code.org’s Hour of Code has dozens of partner games and resources to teach coding with fun media tie-ins, like learning to code with Star Wars or Frozen characters. They also have several resources specifically designed for girls.”

Khan Academy offers excellent video tutorials and structured lessons for just about anything, coding included. They cover the basics of JavaScript, HTML, and CSS.”

High School and up

EdX offers free computer science courses online and many of them are from US colleges and universities, such as an intro to CS class from Harvard.”

Udemy offers similar online coding classes with more variety. Their courses cost money, but are reasonably priced ($20-$40 per course).”

Thimble by Mozilla is an online code editor that’s geared towards beginners learning JavaScript and HTML/CSS.”

W3Schools has free tutorials on JavaScript, HTML & CSS, XML, Server Side and miscellaneous web building.”

Bloc CEO Roshan Choxi starts his recommendation list with a game, “Robot Turtles,” that’s geared for kids as young as 3 years old, and that doesn’t require a computer or device at all.

“For really young kids, [that] was a really popular board game featured on Kickstarter a couple years ago,” Choxi wrote me. “There might be some other games in that category as well.”

(Read the story here about the creation of that game, “Robot Turtles: The Game for Little Programmers,” by Seattle entrepreneur Dan Shapiro.

His Kickstarter campaign in 2013 was successful, and the game is now sold on Amazon for about $19. The board game is designed for kids 3 to 8 years old.)

Choxi has a number of recommendations for older kids:

“For middle schoolers and high schoolers, there are a lot of free resources online to get started with programming, Choxi says. “A few I can think of off the top of my head are:”

Codecademy (a New York venture-backed education company)

Code School (in Orlando, FLA. a company within Pluralsight. Users can start free.)

“We (Bloc) also have a programming game we released a couple years ago, it’s free and I’ve heard of teachers at schools using it to supplement their instruction.”

(The game is “Ruby Warrior,” and it’s described on the Bloc site as “A triumphant quest of adventure, love, and destiny, all within a few lines of code.”)

“And more recently, Apple announced their plans to launch a “Swift Playgrounds” app that would teach kids how to program using their new Swift Language. It’s not out yet, but it got a lot of press and it looks really great,” Choxi says. (This will be an app for iPad that will be available free in the App Store this fall, according to the Apple site. It requires no prior knowledge of coding.)