How to Get Kids Interested in Coding (And How It Will Change Their Lives)

February 28, 2017

Do you want to empower at-risk students to get motivated and optimistic about their future career opportunities? Do you want school programs that prepare diverse learners for careers in the digital age? Do you want to lead an extracurricular club for students that teaches growth mindset, resourcefulness, grit and innovation?

As someone who does not know anything about coding, I was able to get kids involved in a coding club with no extra prep work for myself, and with maximized engagement from my previously struggling and disengaged students. You, too, increase struggling learners’ self-esteem and work ethic by getting them interested in coding.

Why get kids interested in coding?

I was brainstorming after school activities while watching an episode of the ABC reality television show, Shark Tank, which features celebrity billionaires investing in the products of hopeful entrepreneurs. That is when I learned about a product called, Bitsbox, which makes coding fun and easy for kids from 6 – 14 years old. The best part? Kids learn on their own without any help from a knowledgable adult.

As the entrepreneurs pitched their product to the “sharks” I daydreamed about pitching the same idea to my at-risk students: “I know you are frustrated with your grades. Guess what? I think you have more important skills that we don’t grade in school, like creativity and independence, that can lead to lifelong success in coding and creating apps, websites and video game software – the highest paid and fastest growing careers in the world.”

I decided to choose ten at-risk students to invite them to join the club. As a Special Education teacher, I targeted ten students who struggled academically or socially. All of my students had reading disabilities, had consistently struggled to pass their general education classes, or were ostracized from their peer group. These students had identified with their failure and given up on their education and their futures. They had lost hope in their ability to create their own success and joy in their academic, social or personal life. Many had adopted a “learned helplessness” mentality, believing that there was no use in trying to succeed, because no matter what, they would fail. I gave each student my “pitch” to join the coding club and we began meeting once a week.

How did learning to code change my students’ lives?

Most students who struggle academically perform better when they are engaged with technology. More importantly, traditional schools tend to value just two types of intelligence, math and literacy. A perfect way to reenergize and strengthen failing student’s lost sense of motivation and self-sufficiency is to give them the opportunity to succeed at coding.

We don’t objectively grade or teach the nonacademic skills vital to career success. The challenging yet fun process of coding forced my students to exhibit resourcefulness, problem solving and patience. For the first time, they demonstrated grit and growth mindset and it paid off – in the form of the apps they built and proudly shared. Students began to believe in their ability to succeed. They could envision their future professional careers, and began to demonstrate more perseverance and positivity in their academic classes. As my students learned to code any game, app or website they could imagine, I saw endless learning and career opportunities opening to them.

What no prep resources made coding fun and easy?

I still had no idea how to code, but I was able to give my students the following resources so they could lead their own coding club. Without any planning or teaching, my students learned to code while becoming self-reliant and self-assured. You can do the same with the following four resources to teach coding.

Scratch Ed’s Coding Curriculum

Scratch Ed offers a free, printable workbook that students can navigate independently to complete a series of coding activities on Scratch’s free coding website. Simply start your first day of coding class by seating students at personal computers or tablets, and handing each student a copy of the Scratch Ed printable student workbook. Student’s independently follow instructions in the packet to access the free website and complete a series of progressively more difficult coding tasks. The MIT-created website offers a series of game-like tasks for children over five years old to learn to code.

Tynker’s Coding Website and App

If you want students to work exclusively on a website or app with out a printed workbook, simply direct them to Tynker’s Coding Website or App. The app is free and the website offers a 15-day free trial perfect for a 2-week mini coding unit. For only $200 you can get unlimited lifelong access to the premium features of the website. Tynker uses fun and engaging computer games to teach students to code apps, robots, drones and games.

Python for Kids Coding Book

If you want to send students home with a book or eBook, or if parents want a book to reinforce coding lessons at home, “Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Coding” is the most popular coding book for children over ten years old. Giving this book as a “gift” to a particularly at-risk or reluctant student is a great way to increase their confidence and motivation.

BitsBox Coding Playing Cards

Bitbox offers a range of products that can be ordered and shipped to your home or school. While they offer expensive educator packages, or convenient monthly subscriptions, I suggest starting with the reusable $50 – $150 sets of playing cards or class book sets that make it fun and easy for students to code and build apps.

With the no prep coding curriculum, coding book for kids, and the coding websites and apps, teaching students to code is fun and effortless. When you teach coding, you can also improve classroom culture and student’s future potential. By getting at-risk students interested in coding, you will prove to them that they have valuable types of intelligence, regardless of their academic grades. While coding, students will have the rare opportunity to be completely independent and creative without any teacher-led guidelines or restrictions. Teaching students to code opens up a new world of self-determination, success, motivation – and hope for the future. Why wait? Get your kids interested in coding today.

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