As a parent, it can be difficult knowing where to start when it comes to getting your children started with programming. With more and more schools offering computer science for GCSE, and teaching programming instead of just Microsoft Office during ICT lessons, it has never been more important to get started early!
Even in today’s uncertain job market, the demand for IT professionals is always on the increase – according to Experis, roles increased by 35% from 2016-2017. Fostering or nurturing an interest in computing early in a child’s life can have a big impact and result in an extremely rewarding career in later life. Even if they don’t end up coding the next Alexa, learning programming teaches extremely valuable skills present in all walks of life – problem solving, diligence and critical thinking to name but a few.
“When I can’t make my tablet work, I ask my 9 year old to help – how can I possibly teach them anything about coding?”
A feeling shared by many parents, it can seem hopeless to try and teach your children something you don’t even understand – however, these days there are many ready-made, easy to use resources out there to point them in the right direction, and you might even learn something yourself! Here at Tech Camp, we firmly believe that children learn more by using real objects such as robots, electronics and coding based toys, instead of something purely screen based. This type of ‘hands-on’ or kinesthetic learning is not only more popular with students, but allows them to gain a better understanding of concepts through trial and error, experimentation and independent problem solving.
There are many tech companies creating new products that encourage hands-on learning – the BBC micro:bit being a recent and well known example. The micro:bit is simply a miniature computer, with lots of built in features and sensors that have been specially designed to be both easy and fun to use. The concept was to kickstart learning in schools with limited budgets for technology teaching tools, by giving a free micro:bit to every year 7 in the UK. They have quickly become very popular with many schools, as they can be used for teaching children aged 6, all the way up to 18 and beyond! This is down to a very straightforward system for programming the micro:bit, which can be easily simplified for younger students, and also expanded to allow programming in Python (the language used for the Computer Science GCSE) for older students. The micro:bit website also has extensive resources, projects and lesson plans available, to make everything from reaction timers to speech synthesisers and wireless thermometers using step by step guides.
We love the micro:bit here at Tech Camp, and we have two practical Summer courses available this year where you can come and learn all about it! If you’re looking for a taster course to get started, check out micro:bit Maker – this is our one day course giving a comprehensive run down of how to make all sorts of cool projects using the micro:bit, for ages 9-13. As with all our courses, take home all of the kit at the end, for everything you need to continue learning at home. If you want something a bit longer, why not try Robowars – a 5 day course using our micro:bit based robotics kit for ages 9-17, covering all areas of robot coding and design using a series of challenges, ending the week with a 1-on-1 flipper robot battle!
“I can never seem to get my child away from the computer – all they ever want to do is play games! How can I get them to learn something?”
For many children, a computer is just a device for playing games on and having fun – not a tool for learning or creating things. What they might not realise is that being a Game Designer is very much a real job – and an interesting one at that. With most phones and computers now having an ‘App Store’ of one form or another, creating and selling your own games is easier than ever before. For older children, the process of designing, marketing and supporting their own game for real customers can be an incredible learning experience of coding, project management and business skills. You might be surprised to hear that Minecraft, Rollercoaster Tycoon and Tetris (and many more) were all originally made by just 1 person! Universities are now offering degrees in Game Design, and at Tech Camp we offer our own invariably popular Game Design Course. We teach campers how to create and code their own games, graphics and sound effects from scratch using GameMaker Studio. Some of our campers go on to have of their games published on the Steam Store! The prevalence of App Stores making it easy for anyone to publish software has made it much easier for single people to ‘go it alone’, instead of having to work for a large software company – even if your game only sells for 99p, millions of downloads are possible if it is good enough.
For older children, or those with an existing interest in technology and electronics, the Arduino ecosystem can be an excellent place to get started. Geared more towards makers, prototyping and making real-world products, the possibilities are endless, with a very large online support community available. There are lots of different starter kits, and a wealth of online tutorials to go with them. The standard programming software uses C++, an industry standard language used all over the world, however there are drag and drop based editors available for younger learners. If you need a helping hand, we have our Inventor School Course for ages 9-17, which teaches children how to use the Arduino system from the ground up, using a large selection of electronics to make a range of practical projects – everything from traffic lights to laser tripwire intruder alarms! And after the course – you guessed it, they get to take everything home so they can continue creating.
And finally, as with all things – don’t be afraid to try things out and get them wrong. You can’t break a micro:bit by a wrong line of code – and it is impossible to learn anything without putting any code in at all! We all must make mistakes to learn, and for children especially, learning things by trial, error and experimentation can often be the most valuable learning experiences of all.