In a TED talk in 2012, Mitch Resnick of MIT Media Lab said out loud what many of us had known for a while: everyone can learn to code. Not just can, but should.
“All of us have heard of young people referred to as digital natives, but I’m not so sure that’s true,” Resnick said.
Kids are often gaming, browsing, chatting or texting, but that doesn’t make them digitally fluent.
“They can interact with new technologies, but less so create new technologies,” he said. “It’s almost as if they can read, but not write with new technologies.”
Learning to code is not only important in its own right, but “speaking this new language” helps them learn other things in new and different ways, said Resnick.
Once you learn to read, you can read to learn.
Hundreds of new organizations and websites have emerged to help young people learn to code and to fill in that gap in fluency. No one disagrees that digital literacy will be important to the future, but there are many ways to get there.
Learning to code opens up new opportunities for learning in other areas. Here are some camps, clubs and books to help get kids started.
Girls Who Code
The national nonprofit Girls Who Code works to help girls “catch up” to boys in the technology and engineering sectors, equipping high school girls with computing skills and resources.
The program offers intensive summer immersion programs, embedding 20 rising high school juniors and seniors at a technology company, and year-long clubs in New York, Boston, Detroit and the San Francisco Bay area.
Black Girls Code
Also based in the San Francisco area, Black Girls Code aims to provide young and preteen girls of color opportunities to learn in-demand skills in technology and computer programming at a time when they are naturally thinking about what they want to be when they grow up.
Seeking to bridge the digital divide, the organization holds community outreach programs such as workshops and after-school sessions to introduce underprivileged girls to languages such as Scratch and Ruby on Rails.
Coding clubs and camps
Florida International University’s School of Computing and Information Sciences started three coding clubs for kids.
Thousands of school-aged kids have learned to code though a network of volunteer-led CoderDojos, after-school clubs that teach coding, website development and game creation. The network, founded by an Irish 21 year old, has locations in 42 countries. Check out this map of locations to find one near you.
Young tech “n00bs” who are ready for a quick introduction may want to consider a one-day nonprofit camp, such as KidsCodeCamp. The events crisscross the country, from Austin to Minneapolis to Portland.
All first graders in Estonia, an unlikely global leader in tech and the birthplace of Skype, now learn to code. Lately, the U.S. has been making moves in the same direction.
Appropriately, location doesn’t matter all that much for kids who want to learn — there are digital options that go anywhere.
Tynker’s online courses teach programming and computational thinking to kids of all ages, whether or not they have prior experience. Various levels serve kids from first grade through high school.
Coding is moving into the regular high school curriculum at brick-and-mortar schools, as well. Alabama became the 16th state to count computer science courses toward a high school math requirement last year.
Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, Mass. now uses computer coding in every class.
Younger kids can get an introduction to coding through “Lauren Ipsum,” a children’s book that approaches programming concepts through stories rather than code. The book is intended for kids who are old enough to read, but the stories are suitable for kids as young as five.
Another children’s book to inspire little coders struck gold on Kickstarter, earning its goal of $10,000 in 3.5 hours and another $370,000 since then. Hello Ruby tells the story of a young girl named Ruby and her many friends who explore loops, variables and other core coding concepts.