By Michelle Talsma Everson
Each semester, we encourage my 8-year-old son to pick two after-school activities to participate in. This past fall, he selected his school’s new coding club where every Thursday he and his classmates bring out their laptops, iPads and other devices to learn and practice coding. This choice of activity didn’t surprise me—his dad is an engineer after all. But, as the family’s resident wordsmith, it got me thinking: what exactly is coding and why is it important?
Just like learning a foreign language, many experts recommend exposing children to coding concepts early and often.
“The U.S. Department of Labor predicts over one million available jobs in coding and computing over the next eight years across all career fields, not just within technology companies,” says Seth Beute, principal at Phoenix Coding Academy. “Computer science and coding develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Creativity is also essential for success.”
Beute explains that Phoenix Coding Academy is a specialty public school within the Phoenix Union High School District. “Inquiry design and project-based learning provide the instructional framework, innovation and computer science are the focus, and academic courses are integrated to offer a dynamic, student-centered academic experience.”
But, students can be exposed to coding years before they start high school or thinking of college plans. And, like many crucial subjects, learning can start at home.
“Parents and teachers can help make coding fun and make kids want to learn it by finding and encouraging age-appropriate resources like games, software, and even many toys,” Beute says. “There are a number of online resources available, starting with Code.org. There are also a few programs available locally for school break camps. Many schools, K-12, have clubs, classes, and after-school activities.”
One such program is iD Tech, a company that provides coding, game development, design and robotic camps for kids ages 7-18. The company has summer camps nationwide, including camps at Arizona State University, Rancho Solano Preparatory School, and BASIS Chandler, according to their official website, idtech.com.
John Pace, director of growth marketing at iD Tech, explains why iD Tech stands out.
“First and foremost, it starts with providing the opportunity for kids and teens to learn coding, which is something many will never encounter in their everyday education,” he says. “Add in the fact they are doing so in an environment that is fun and balanced, and learn from instructors with real experiences – who are recruited from the top institutions in the country – and you’re in very good position to bring out the best in students.”
In addition to camps and classes, what can parents do to nudge their kids to look into coding?
“There isn’t a magic formula, but it usually starts with connecting the dots,” Pace says. “What can kids do with coding skills? They’re most likely big users of apps, social media, video games, and other forms of entertainment, and coding has a hand in all of it. If they have a better understanding of how coding powers the things they already enjoy, they’re more likely to want to dive in.”
But, what about kids who may not lean toward STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) interests? Educators note that the skills kids and teens learn through coding can help them in a wide variety of fields.
“We want to provide courses and learning experiences that lead students to be able to confidently make their own choices about what they want to do after high school,” Beute says. “We prepare students to be able to apply to college all across the country. The CTE [career technical education] courses prepare students for jobs in software development, web development, network administration, information security, engineering and robotics.”
Pace emphasizes that just because a student learns coding doesn’t mean their career possibilities are limited—it’s actually quite the opposite, he says.
“The [career] opportunities are endless, really,” he explains. “With coding specifically, students can look forward to programming apps, developing artificial intelligence, or even preventing cyber attacks. Perhaps they want to work as a Google developer, launch their own indie game startup, or simply make the world a better place with tech. A coding background opens a number of doors.”
Just like technology, educational institutions are continuously evolving and figuring out the best methodologies to teach students coding and other STEM topics.
“We actively meet with and seek input from local companies and community organizations and many have already committed to providing mentors and internships for our students,” Beute. “On another note, we are creating a non-traditional, personal-learning environment to do our best to meet each and every student where they are in their academic growth. We integrate college-going academics, computer science, and personal development for a holistic approach with our students and families.”
One opportunity for growth, Pace says, is for parents and educators to encourage students from all backgrounds to pursue coding. For example, many coding camps and programs—iD Tech included—offer scholarships to students in financial need or have programs specifically aimed at closing the gender gap in STEM.
“While we should be encouraging all kids and teens to get involved with STEM, the fact remains that the gender gap in this area is immense,” Pace notes. “We spend a great deal of time empowering girls to shatter stereotypes and gain the confidence to pursue interests and eventual careers in tech. Their perspective is vital.”
Coding at home: Code.org
iD Tech: idtech.com
Phoenix Coding Academy: phoenixunion.org/coding
Michelle Talsma Everson is a Phoenix-based writer, editor and PR pro. You can find her latest work at www.mteverson.com. Her son is now on his second semester in coding club and hopes to be an engineer or YouTuber.