Coding for kids: Why code.org maybe the perfect way to teach your child to code

code.org

If you're reading this, I'm assuming you are a parent that already knows the value of coding. You want your child to learn how to be more logical, creative and have a mindset for solving problems. Maybe it's getting close to the end of the year, and you've heard about Hour of Code or Computer Science Education Week. Or you are a parent that has heard how the US Govt is projecting there will be more than 1.4 million unfilled software developer jobs by the year 2020.

Regardless you are here because you know why teaching your child to code is valuable. You need help on the how.

Back in late 2016, I was in your shoes. I'd heard how Apple Retail was partnering with Hour of Code to teach children how to program. I wasn't able to find a spot in the Apple Retail stores, so I did the next best thing. I enrolled Khadija into Hour of Code on code.org.

She's been using code.org ever since.

I'll share what is code.org, how it works and why it is so valuable. I'll share what type of parental controls and reports you'll have access to. I'll compare code.org against Tynker, including a deep dive into code.org's unique partnerships. Most importantly, I'll share my daughter Khadija's progress after more than a year on the platform, and our review on whether you should sign your child up.

What is code.org

Code.org is a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities. 48%of students on code.org are under-represented minorities and 49% of students qualify for free and reduced meals.

Code.org's vision is that every student should learn to code, just like they learn about algebra and physics. Since they are a non-profit, they rely on donations and partnerships to run the site. Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft are their biggest donors, but they also benefit from sizable contributions from companies, foundations, and individuals.

Code.org offers all its curriculum and content for free for all educators or individuals regardless of nationality. They also train teachers on how to teach code.

Code.org also started and continues to organize the annual hour of code campaign. The hour of code started as a one-hour introduction to coding, with the purpose of broadly advertising the point that anyone can code. It has since grown like wildfire with over 100 million students in 130+ countries who have participated.

Hour of code

I'd highly recommend after you finish reading this article that you visit: What's the impact of the Hour of Code

How does core.org work?

Unlike most other platforms, your child does not need to have an account on code.org to start learning. They can visit the code.org homepage, click on the 'Learn" option in the top left, and then choose which course to take.

However, I'd highly recommend you create a free account. Just choose if you are a teacher or student (I chose student so Khadija can use my account), put in your e-mail address, password, Display name, age, gender and then sign up.

A typical code.org puzzle

While there are many types of activities that your child will interact with on code.org, the below picture showcases the most common sort of lesson your child will take. In the middle are all the code blocks available to the child, to the right is the whitespace where the child can lay out the cold blocks in the exact sequence they want to program. When they are ready to see the results of their program, your child presses the run button to see the results of their program and see if they completed the exercise.

code org puzzle

Why does code.org work?

Code.org makes it easier to learn to write programs by using visual blocks that you drag and drop. It's easier to learn how to code by using block coding, as you only need to focus on deciding which blocks to use, which order to use, and how often you want the code to repeat or how far/long you want a particular function to execute. This in itself can be particularly challenging and tests your child's ability to problem solve and choose which blocks to use rationally. Over time your child will learn more complex functions and also learn how to use repeating and if/then functions to shorten their code. Once they've mastered the block code concepts, it'll be much easier to actually start text-based programming where a high degree of precision is required and missing even one character can cause a program to fail.

What has my daughter learned in one year on code.org?

Khadija is currently in the middle of Course 2 having completed 59 exercise which puts her about 40% through the course. Considering Khadija is a 2nd grader, and this course is designed for students in 2nd through 5th grade, I'm pretty pleased with her performance.

So far she's learned

- In Lesson 3: Maze sequence, she's used move forward and turn left/right blocks to navigate an Angry Bird not to hit the TNT and instead attack the enemy pigs.

Lesson 3 Maze

- In Lesson 4: Artist Sequence: She learned to draw various shape after understanding angles. For example, in below code Khadija helped complete the house for this cat. Check out the code she used.

lesson 4 maze

- In Lesson 6: Maze Loops, Khadija learned about using the repeat code to shorten her code. She enjoyed using repeat blocks to get the zombie to the sunflower as quickly as possible.

Lesson 6 maze

- In Lesson 7: Artist Loops, Khadija combined repeat blocks, and simple math to understand how to draw a circle using code. In other lessons, she drew diamonds, hexagons and more.

lesson 7 Artist

- Later in this course, she'll learn about de-bugging, conditionals, and get to learn how to program a flappy bird!

I've been encouraging Khadija to code for 15 minutes per day. She sets her timer and then continues her lesson. Some days are more challenging than others, and on occasion, I've had to jump in to help give her some hints. Today, when I got home from work, Khadija couldn't wait to tell me how much progress she had made. Its a unique feeling, seeing your daughter love to love learning.

Code.org unique licensing with great IP.

One the primary reasons I was drawn into code.org was its partnership with Disney, Facebook, Minecraft, Apple, Angry Birds and others.

In the first course, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and founder of Facebook directly advised my daughter on how coding worked and gave her advice for her upcoming lesson. That is pretty cool! Even cooler was the fact that she was learning to code using Angry Birds, complete with all the fun sound effects and animation from the game, to attack the evil green pigs.

Here are some examples of the other cool partnerships your kids may be interested in:

  •  Star Wars: Learn to program droids, and create your own Star Wars game in a galaxy far, far away.
  • Frozen: Let's use code to join Anna and Elsa as they explore the magic and beauty of ice.
  • NBA or WNBA: Make a basketball game or mix and match across sports.
  • Flappy Code: Wanna write your won game in less than 10 minutes. Try our Flappy Code Tutorial.
  • Infinity Play Lab: Use Play Lab to create a story or game starring Disney Infinity characters
major partners and corporate supporters

Great advice and role models for your kid

Also, many videos accompany each class featuring advice from Bill Gates, will i am from the Black Eye Peas, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Dropbox and more. The videos do an excellent job of helping you and your child on this coding journey, especially if you are someone from an under-represented group in tech. The message is unambiguous. Anyone can code.

"It's extremely important to have perseverance when you are learning new skills." advises future Hall of Fame NBA All-Star, Stephan Curry in one inspirational video. Trust me; you may tell your kid to persevere every day, but when the best point guard in basketball says it..well it has more weight.

How code.org compares to Tynker?

Obviously one of the most significant differences between code.org and Tynker is the price. While Tynker offers almost 100 free different coding levels, you need to upgrade for $96 per year to get access to the 1000 coding activities and 18 self-guided courses. Code.org's courses are free.

One of my biggest complaints about Tynker was the lack of guided courses. Our experience when we had a one-year subscription was that there wasn't enough direction for the student to push progression, and instead, the student is presented with a variety of options a la carte. With code.org, the courses are very clearly sequenced and I can see the lesson plan for Khadija as she gets more advanced. Once Khadija is done with her current class, she'll move on to learn algorithms, nested loops, conditionals, functions and more!

course 2

One of the biggest downsides to code.org is the lack of dashboards or progress reports for parents to track the progress of the kids. From what I can tell, outside of logging into my kid's account, there is no way for me to see her improvement. Odd.

Net it out and call to action.

I'm very pleased with the progress Khadija has made using code.org in the last year. The platform does a good job of teaching my child, while also making the process fun. Who doesn't want to code with Elsa or Angry Birds? I'd recommend creating an account with your child today and encouraging them to start their coding journey!

Feel free to e-mail me if you have questions.

Next week, please come back to get our summary of the best rated free websites that teach children programming.

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