STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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Why should kids learn how to code?

A screenshot from kid-designed game PaCatch the Bamboo.

The ability to control technology is certainly a marketable skill in this economy. It’s also a literacy, making kids more conscious consumers of the world around them. An absolutely fundamental foundation to this literacy is learning how to code. But how early should you start and how do you teach it?

I have explored a few ways people can learn how to code. There seem to be two starkly differing philosophies: One looking like vocational training and the other teaching skills less obviously applicable in the job market.

Treehouse is one “learn-to-code” startup. This company’s goal is to teach high school students and adults technology skills they need to find employment. It’s a website that teaches through videos and interactive challenges. It offers its services for $25 or $49 per month. The two main skills it teaches are website design and iOS app building, crucially important skills in an ever more internet-based economy.

For kids aged 7-10, there is Tynker. This site focuses more on discovering how to code through its playful, graphical programming system (it appears to be based on an open source program from MIT called Scratch–credit where credit is due). However useful the service is, it’s currently only available to schools. Home access is reportedly coming soon.

Early coding education hasn’t hit its boom yet, but it won’t take much for it to spread. Tools like Tynker make it easier to bring this education to schools and make lasting impacts on students.

What coding education at a young age does is equip kids with tools that will last the rest of their lives. Coding teaches kids how to think logically and solve problems systematically. If you taught someone how to fix a car 20 years ago, they might have a tough time fixing a 2014 model car. Technology changes, but the demand for the abilities coding teaches doesn’t.

Here’s a game made with Tynker by a student at Joaquin Miller Middle School in Cupertino, CA. Hungry pandas might not be the future of technology, but the kids learning these skills are.

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