Oct 23 / Academic Director

What to Look For in a Kid’s Coding Course?

If the course you are considering does not have a curriculum, uses a follow me method, does not measure learning outcomes or relies on games, please run as fast as you can. Really, run. So, how can you find the course that teaches your kids the basics of coding properly? How do you differentiate between good and bad coding courses for kids? Read on!

The first thing you’ll see in a good course is that it’s tailored to a specific age group. kids. By this we mean that the reading comprehension ability of the student is matched to the curriculum. This is the major point of failure for most younger students. Mom (or Dad) enrolls them in a course well above their reading level, and then they are bored and loose interest.

Curriculum is Key

The second thing to look for is a formal curriculum. Kids learn really fast. That is how they are wired. They need a curriculum that builds from the bottom up and introduces the fundamental computer science concepts. Python and HTML are tools. A piano is a tool for making music. It is about how you use the “tool”, not the tool itself. So, how do we build competency using the tool? Well, you have to have a plan and in education that plan is called a “curriculum”. 

If you want your child to write clean code, it is important that they build a strong understanding of the core concepts that are common to all programming languages. As we noted above, the concepts that are introduced in our Scratch curriculum for an elementary school student and the concepts in our Python Course curriculum are essentially the same. They are “expressed” differently in the two languages different and yes Python is a lot more complex than Scratch, but the fundamental concepts are the same.

Drawing on our music analogy - chords are chords. If you are enrolled in a kids’ coding class that is not teaching the fundamentals, you are wasting your child’s time and you are $$$$$$. Unfortunately, there are very few kids’ coding classes that are curriculum-based. Yes, many will claim to have a curriculum, but these are not curricula in the traditional sense of having a set of concepts that they teach and evaluate against. What they offer are “project” based learning experiences that are loosely combined and offered as a curriculum. This is particularly true of “apps” and online programs that are “gamefied”. 

s Learn to Code by Coding
The third thing to look for is the pedagogy that the course or instructor follows. By this we mean how do they teach? Kids learn to code by coding. Some learn quickly and some kids take more time. But no one learns at an identical rate. So what happens when the instructor moves too slow? When does the instructor teach the slowest kid in the room? Boring. Everyone gets bored. So, look for courses that are self-paced – where kids learn at their own pace.

And finally ask them how they measure learning? If you don’t know where you are going, anyway will get you there. If the course is not assessed and comprehension measured then you are wasting your time. Get out of there. Now! There are lots of creative ways to assess learning and it does not have to be a test. But it does need to be measured against a baseline, which means having a curriculum.

Finally, stay away from games.
Games don’t teach kids to code. Games, like Minecraft, teach kids to play games. Hey, they are fun and that is what they are designed for so play them! But don’t expect to learn to code. Minecraft is an interesting take on the traditional first-person game, where players use objects or ‘blocks’ to create the world around them. Where it falls very short – and we mean very – is in teaching the core computer science concepts.

Building a secret door in Minecraft doesn’t mean you actually know how to build a secret door in another game. You have probably used the pre-templated code. You probably didn’t understand the basic concepts employed. Even, Microsoft recognizes that Minecraft has limited educational value.

And don’t get taken in by the marketing nonsense that is out there. We have one competitor in the Bay Area who will “Teach you Python by Learning Scratch.” Huh? That’s like saying “I will teach you Hindi by learning Finnish”. They have another course to teach data science using Scratch. This should be illegal. 
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