Tuesday, December 10, 2013

first coding lesson

Since 9 yo is so obsessed with computer games, I was planning to look into getting him into a computer class of some kind. I just was not sure whether he would be interested, and I did not want to have another obligation which involved driving.

And then one of the homeschooling parents posted a link to Khan academy where this week everyone is encouraged to spend one hour learning how to write computer code. Khan academy has been on my list of learning resources to check out, so this was a perfect opportunity to try it out and to see whether 9 yo is interested.

Here is the link that we followed:

I decided that each boy should have his own time to code, so the first tutorial was watched together, and then I sent 7 yo to play on his DS while 9 yo did the first exercise. I was quite impressed with the way material was presented. There was plenty of time for him to check out different features, and then the exercises encouraged him to get certain parts to fit certain parameters. He was able to design a card at the end. We got rid of the holiday format and he made a birthday card for his aunt. 9 yo persistently worked with the program, and did not seem to rush through it. He enjoyed it, and I am planning to look into more tutorials for him.

With 7 yo , it was not so smooth. He loved watching the videos and I think he understood everything, but the actual programming was a bit more of a challenge. His typing is nonexistent, so it took him a long time to find all the right letters. In the good news, he typed more today than he ever typed in his life. The precise nature of programming and the constant distraction of being notified of mistakes was not so good for him. By the time he came to the last exercise of making his own card, he got sloppy and his tolerance for error went way down. He melted down before completing the card, but he was able to do all the other steps in the tutorial.

If you are looking to expose your kids to programming, or are interested in trying it yourself, this is a great opportunity.


My father was a programmer. He was very much after me and my sister to write programs in BASIC. But back in the eighties, we did not have access to a computer. Moreover, the programs were not this colorful and creative bonanza. It was hard to imagine what the final result would look like. I was a disappointment, not so interested in all this programming.

Lo and behold. when I hit graduate school, all of a sudden I was expected to pick up UNIX on a fly since all molecular modeling was done in UNIX. There was no time to fool around and see how it works. I found myself feverishly writing down commands in a notebook  hoping to use them in a correct sequence next time I will expected to work on a model. That was  not a forgiving environment, and I do not remember much of those commands.  WHOAMI.

I look at my boys and think: what will happen after today? Will they continue to be interested in tinkering with computer beyond the level of a user, a term my father threw around derisively? Will this be just one day of dabbling and then they will sink right back into their games, not thinking that somebody wrote all of code behind them? Will their path take them to the world where it will be impossible to make it without knowing how to program? How do I know whether to push and encourage them in this area, or wait and see whether it just naturally picks up?

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