With Facebook and Instagram feeds filled with back to school pictures of the next generation of leaders, now is a great time to start thinking about after-school activities for the kids. At the top or near the top of the list should be computer coding or technology classes.
Statistics published at code.org
says that jobs are being created that require computer science or engineering degrees at a rate that can not be satisfied by the current pipeline of students. In fact, just 2 years from now, it is estimated that nearly 1,000,000 technology-based jobs will go unfilled due a lack of qualified candidates.
While there are important economic reasons for getting your kids started in computer coding and engineering design classes, there are also a broader skills development argument. Many of the solutions to problems that are being developed within a variety of environments are technology based. So, even if your child does not go on to become a whiz-kid developer; it probably will help if they understand how to leverage technology to solve difficult problems.
Since we are still in the earliest days of programs that teach computer coding and engineering design, we thought it would be helpful to highlight some important considerations for parents as they research the available options and make their selections. Below are 5 key criteria we think you should consider when selecting a computer coding class for your kids.
Naturally, students are going to be drawn towards working on a computer. Many of them have grown up with technology devices all around them. They have video games that we could’ve only dreamed about as children. Emerging technologies in augmented reality and virtual reality are truly a site to behold. However, it is important that the curriculum associated with any program you are considering for your child is based on knowledge they will need to build independently with technology.
Within every discipline (computer science, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, etc…), there is foundational knowledge that students will need to understand in order to develop their expertise. For example, at Digital Adventures, we utilize a skills map framework
that incorporates concepts such as variables, loops, logic, functions and classes.
Using this as our foundation, we then dive deeper in that students not only have to communicate but also have demonstrate their understanding of these concepts with Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 challenges.
With both engineers and educators on the team, we think that it’s important that kids not just have fun while learning to build with technology but also are able to progressively develop expertise in these disciplines so that they can become the next generation of problem solvers.
In addition, we also believe that it is very important that kids don’t dive right into applications (build a mobile app) or text-based programming languages (Python, Ruby on Rails) until they have established a firm grasp of the foundational principles of logic and algorithm development that are necessary to build with technology over the long term.
2. Learning Platforms
Engineers and developers use a wide variety of tools for the job. Some use Ruby on Rails for building their web-based applications. Other, use Python for more data-heavy analysis. Still others might prefer Swift for mobile app development.
Broadly, we’re also seeing a mashup of hardware and software coming together within companies. For a long time, Microsoft was primarily a software company. In recent years, they have added hardware development capabilities with gaming systems (XBox), mobile (Windows phone, and XR platforms. Similarly, Google was for many years focused on software development in search. More recently, they have developed hardware products include self-driving vehicles and mobile phones. This is an important trend that will continue to develop and ultimately, we believe that will be a necessity to have strengths in both hardware and software.
Regardless of what you are building a fundamental truth is that there are many different ways to solve for the problem under consideration. As a result, we believe that it is important that kids are exposed to as many different hardware and software platforms as possible.
By gaining practice and fluency with switching off between numerous platforms, students develop a comfort with and knowledge of the pros/cons of different frameworks for a problem under consideration.
We consider this the tool and toolbox approach. Those who learn about all the different tools in the toolbox are less likely to pull out a hammer when a drill is what is required. However, if all you’ve ever seen is a hammer then you don’t know that you are going to dramatically increase your effort by trying to hammer a screw instead of just using a drill.
In addition, there is generalizable knowledge that is inherent in the different platforms which will give them better breadth across the technology stack.
While we understand that eventually they may choose to specialize in a specific programming language there is a big benefit to letting them explore and develop expertise in a wide variety of platforms to build their problem solving muscles.
3. Community building
For many years, builders with technology have developed a reputation for being isolated or essential brilliant genius who can’t be bothered with social interaction.
While that may have been acceptable for many years, the reality now is that in order to truly build scalable technology products that have real impact requires working with a cross-functional team to design, develop, and implement new technology.
There are many ways to build community among the next generation of technology builders. But, the foundational step is to recognize the value of inclusiveness regardless of gender, race, religion, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation.
While focused community building can be a bit harder to pin down, one way to gain a view into this is how representative the team is who is offering the coding and engineering classes.
Another element to look for is how welcoming the staff and other students are to new students who may be joining a class for the 1st time.
The best technology products are going to be built with diverse teams of developers and the best way to get the next generation comfortable is to make sure their learning environments are representative of how they will be building with technology going forward.
4. Real Reviews by Real People
The latest research says that consumers now trust online reviews as much as they do a referral from a friend.
In addition, customers are more and more willing to leave reviews for customers that give a snapshot of their experience. When looking to patronize a prospective coding for kids class, you would be well served to check out the reviews.
This can give insight into what went well and what didn’t go so well for other customers. In fact, a negative review isn’t necessarily fatal for a business. Instead, many consumers now use this information as a gauge for what could possibly go wrong. If you see a 1-star or a 2-star review, one can see if that is something that would even matter to your experience.
It is also important to look for consistency across platforms. The coding for kids space is still emerging so you aren’t going to find reviews on 100 different sites But, you should be wary if the business you are considering does not have reviews on Facebook, Google and Yelp as these are the industry standard for most businesses.
Of the 3 platforms, only Facebook allows businesses to completely disable reviews. While there might be a great reason why a business has chosen to disable their reviews, it’s something you can probe into deeper during your diligence.
Another aspects of reviews that it is important to pay attention to is the frequency of reviews. Does a business seem to have gotten a bunch of reviews in a short period of time and then received no more? Or, has the business received reviews consistently over a period of time. The former is an area of concern while the latter would seem to represent normal business behavior.
One other aspect to consider is what do the reviews mention. If all the reviews seem to be the same or written from the perspective of the business that your radar should go up. Real reviews from real parents will emphasize many different aspects of the business not just regurgitating the talking points of the website. Pay special attention to context and nuance to tease out whether or not the review is real.
5. Instructional team
Teaching kids to build with technology independently requires a team that has capabilities in a wide variety of disciplines (programming, engineering, operations, art, and education).
Computer coding and engineering design classes that have core team members with this background typically translates into a product and program that is thorough in its educational approach while also enabling flexibility for students who learn in different ways.
Some key hallmarks of the right instructional team are those who have either studied the technology formally at the undergraduate, graduate or bootcamp level or gained practical experience in building with technology with their own company or within a larger organization.
The reason why both viewpoints are important is because there is key theoretical knowledge that is important when teaching kids how to build technology-based products.
On the other hand, until you’ve actually designed, built and launched products you don’t know how challenging it truly is to translate an idea into reality. This gives the required empathy and patience during the instructional process that enables the team to work with students into they really understand a concept vs. being dismissive about why they haven’t got up to speed yet.