Teaching How to Code in the Age of iPads

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Over the past year or so I have spent much of my time teaching children and finding the best methods to communicate with them. Teaching a child to code can be problematic depending on how comfortable he or she is with math and technology, but with the correct tools and the proper attitude/approach, you can go a long way, regardless of age and math level.

I have found that children that are past 8 or 9 years old have an easy time understanding basic math concepts that are used in coding, such as coordinate planes and variables, but before that it takes patience. For kids between 5 – 8 years old, I really like to take my time making sure that each action is thoroughly explained– that means walking them through basic steps such as clicking vs. dragging vs. double-clicking– because they have not had the schooling to be comfortable with those rudimentary steps that we take for granted.

One issue that I have noticed is how children from the more recent generation have mastered iPads but cannot fathom the mouse-keyboard-screen interaction. It is not uncommon for kids to sit in front of  a computer for one of the first times and attempt to open a browser or window with their fingers– and for you O.C.D. people out there: yes we clean our computer screens daily– but to their dismay they just hear a thump from the finger hitting the screen. For me as a kid, the computer was always around and I was comfortable with the mouse, but things have changed; unfortunately, there is not substitution for the basic inputs, so they must learn.

Another problematic area is the right-click vs. the left-click. On a typical mouse there are two clearly marked buttons and even so I find kids getting them confused all the time. On the newer Mac mice they do not even have two differentiating buttons; instead, it is a single-button mouse that uses click detection to calculate where it is being clicked (you can imagine, even more issues!). With so many devices and different functionalities, it can be confusing for kids!

Regardless of the application, as teachers of young children we must be aware of these details. Children’s computer education is about learning to code as much as it is about getting them comfortable with computer technology. They do not need to be genius programmers or computer scientists as kids, they just need to nurture their tech side and if they happen to find a passion for it along the way, then they will have already picked up the basic skills that are necessary for learning the complexities of computer science/programming.

I did not learn to program (nor was I exposed to it) until I was 20 years old! I was always very drawn to technology and hence become comfortable with it, but learning to program was difficult at times. I had to really change the way that I thought about general logic and truly challenged my brain. Had I been exposed to some of these basic programming concepts as a kid, the logic required for the courses I was taking would’ve been much more intuitive. So next time you are with a child teaching them basic technology concepts, be patient. It is worth it. Nurturing basic concepts yields a huge return in the long run.

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