Computing and coding are a growing key skill in this day and age to get ahead in the world. With the constant advancement in technology, more and more jobs in the tech sector are being created. However, as the number of jobs in the tech industry rises, experience and knowledge of the topic are key! Having engineering skills are also key to improve other aspects of home and work life. With the rise of Internet of Things smart devices, understanding how to fit this into your home and work environment can ease with the automating tasks. For buddying entrepreneurs, understanding how to create and host their own website allows them to get ahead of the game to kindle a promising business opportunity. Although most schools are moving towards computing classes at earlier ages, some students are falling behind due to struggling to understand the material of the course, or that the school has limited time to teach the material of the course. Some schools have started to introduce extra curriculum activities to offset the time lost in the classroom, but if these aren’t available in your school/area, other options are available to encourage your kids. There are some great tools to help your children out and inspire them to get ahead of the game. Here are just a few suggestions.
Toys and Electronics
Can’t mention electronics without discussing the Raspberry pi and Arduino, these micro computers are great for learning programming and electronics. Starter kits for both are great value for money, providing you with core components to start making some cool projects. There are also some great books and magazines available, like the free MagPi magazine and Arduino Workshop, to give you inspiration on projects to make and how to get started. There are other microcomputers available, such as the BBC micro:bit which was given away for free to all Year 7 students in the UK last year. The micro:bit website hosts a variety of cool, affordable family projects you can build over the course of a few hours.
For US readers, Amazon recently announced a STEM club toy subscription for different age groups. STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics Club) are toys and kits to engage children in learning a variety of topics, ranging from Chemistry, Electronics, Maths and Coding. Toys like MakeBlock’s mBot are great hands-on projects, this example can be programmed via a developing environment similar to the Arduino environment. Although the subscription from Amazon is only available in the USA, they are available elsewhere in the UK. Amazon, The Toy Shop and other stores all have specific pages for STEM toys.
Gamification is the concept of engaging students via games and the method of play. This has proven to be very successful, even more so with the growing trend of gaming in recent years. There are a wide variety of different games and systems to help teach coding to children, here are just a few suggestions some of our engineers in the Holiday Extras web team use to encourage their kids with learning to code.
You probably have heard of this game before, but Minecraft is surprisingly useful for teaching computing logic via the in-game mechanic called Redstone. In the game, redstone is used as a sort of electrical current when linked to buttons, levers or other input devices. This can then be used for opening remote doors when pulling a lever, to more complicated systems like revealing a secret entrance to a hideout in the game. If you’re not sure where to start, there is an official book on how to use redstone in game, this along with other videos online should be a good starting point to experiment with the game while having fun! There are also tons of mobile and tablet apps and games that can help to teach code and logic, as a good starting point which are recommended in the web team are Circuit Scramble for Android and Hopstch for iOS.
One of the best resources that I personally have used during my early studies, and have suggested to students interested in coding, is Code Academy. This free learning tool is one of the most popular of its kind, with a range of lessons in multiple programming languages. What makes Code Academy great is writing the code and seeing the result is all self contained in the same page. You can see what your code does instantly and each lesson is constructed to give hints and assistance if unsure on how to progress.
Books and other online resources
Sometimes the best starting points in learning to code are specific books on the language or system you are learning. My bookshelf is filled with all kinds of programming books I have collected since I started coding back in school, although some are rather outdated. As of 2016/17, most educational boards in the UK use Python or Java in majority of the course content at an GCSE and A-Level, with other languages also being used (AQA for instance support Pascal in their courses). While running computing workshops at schools and teaching classes myself during my degree, I have seen Python becoming more commonly chosen as a schools dedicated programming language. Books like Python for Kids are great to accompany your childs textbooks on the subject, or it can be introduced at an earlier age in preparation for their GCSEs.
For younger ages, Scratch is most commonly used in IT classes before moving towards the language the school supports at a GCSE level. Scratch is a software that uses logic/action blocks to run a program. Linking these blocks together into a string of commands to form a program that is executed inside Scratch. To help support your childs study, books like Learn to program with Scratch are awesome to enhance the material covered in the classroom, while Scratch’s main website highlight some featured projects to inspire your children with ideas to create something of their own.
There are many more resources, books and websites to recommend that can help to teach your child how to code (and perhaps you might learn a thing or two along the way). Anything you think we may have missed, please spread the knowledge by linking it in the comments below.