Written by Lorraine Pais, A Whitehat Jr Educator
Sometime in the middle of this year, I stumbled upon an article in a leading newspaper about how kids as young as five years are creating a mobile application. My first reaction was awe! How was it even possible for kids to do this at such a young age when they barely know how to read and write! Then I remembered watching an episode on a famous cookery show where young kids were cooking gourmet dishes. So, I guess, times have changed, our next-gen is smarter, tech-savvy and they are building their skills early. Thinking about the digitally sound next-gen of kids is when I got curious and led me to investigate how kids learn to code.
It took me back to my engineering days when we had to write our first piece of code “Hello World”. Well, in those days the programming language we started with was Turbo C with a very flat UI and a screen coloured blue and yellow.
My first coding experience was quite amusing– the first five minutes were the longest of my life and oh-so-bewildering. I was staring at a blank screen with a confused look. The next ten minutes were not pleasing, either. Getting the spelling correct; I mean the way Turbo C understood it and then placing the semicolons in the right place. Then came the parenthesis or brackets. Phew! Finally came the compiled code and the Run!
The result wasn’t quite as appealing either, tiny white words “Hello World” on the left corner of the screen. Well, then the struggle kept getting worse as then came loops and functions with its complexities of syntax. Learning the complex aspects of code left some of us strugglers with very less time to work on our creativity. It did not motivate us to try something different apart from the projects that were assigned.
Coming back to why kids today are exceptional in adapting the complexities of digital and coding, I started to explore Block Commands. As I was studying and exploring Block Commands, I realised how easy it was to write code in this environment; y environment I mean the simplified and intuitive UI of the platform.
To write a code to print “Hello World” could be done so beautifully using animations. I could choose a character to add a block, that said show and attaches a command that had a say. It allowed me to type “Hello World”. Since the syntax errors were being taken care of, I could use my entire energy to concentrate on enhancing my code, well, in this case, I could even create a beautiful animation story on my first attempt! And no struggle of having to compile the code. So from a beginner’s point of view, this was a big thumbs up!
I got to know the secret of what was attracting the kids to take up coding and making them create these fantastic apps. Instead of wasting their energy in the initial stage of fixing syntax errors, they were polishing their technical skills. The best part is on how exercises provided in the Block Programming environment related to real life. For example, we can use the concept of loops to draw a square or for that matter, any shape we like. We can even take a step further and make it into a photo frame, thus making coding a fun activity to bring out the creative side. So once the kids get well versed, they can dedicate their entire time and energy on innovative ideas, and with time and practice even develop their mobile application and create their websites.
Though there is no wonder, Block Programming has indeed become child’s play, the children I work with are incredibly creative, the amount of creativity they have come out within my entire stint with Whitehat Jr is remarkable!