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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Why summer tech camp (teaching kids to code) is worth considering

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Quality tech camps hire skilled engineers who love teaching children. Photos courtesy of Scottsdale-based CodaKid.

When one thinks of summer camp, it’s easy to think about kids running, hiking and playing — free from school desks, homework and, yes, computer screens. We asked David Dodge, founder of Scottsdale-based CodaKid, why summer also is a good time for kids to learn coding.

Dodge is a veteran Silicon Valley game designer and software architect whose CodaKid programs have taught nearly 10,000 kids in 18 countries. His coding camps are based in Old Town Scottsdale and five offsite locations.

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David Dodge is a veteran Silicon Valley game designer whose Scottsdale-based CodaKid programs have taught nearly 10,000 kids in 18 countries.

Parents are frequently told screen time is bad for kids. How/when do you think it can be a good thing? Screen time is a concern for many parents, and as with everything kid-related, it needs to be moderated. In my opinion, computer programming (or coding) provides the most productive screen time possible. Coding sharpens the mind, strengthens problem-solving abilities and teaches essential skills that are relevant in tomorrow’s world. Even if your child doesn’t end up in engineering, coding education provides skills that are helpful in nearly every profession. As Steve Jobs famously put it: “Everybody in this country should learn to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.”

Summer camp seems like a time for kids to be more active. What’s the benefit of a coding/tech camp? Many parents worry that coding camps will force their kids to sit in front of a monitor all day. In quality coding camps, this is never the case. During the academic portions of the day, kids learn arguably one of the most important 21st century skills, while also strengthening math, problem-solving and even creativity skills. Quality tech camps believe in balance and break up the day with off-computer activities, exercise, team-building activities and more.

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Photo courtesy of Codakid.

At what age should kids be introduced to coding? Kids can be introduced to coding as young as age 6. Learning coding is just like learning any other foreign language. The younger you are when you learn it, the easier it is to become fluent. While there is no age by which a child “should” learn to code, I think it’s a great discipline to introduce children to early. Many parents use summertime to give their kids diverse experiences they can’t get in school. Quality coding camps will provide a level of coding instruction that 99.9 percent of schools can’t, and it’s a great way to mix up the summer with some different activities.

Do you get more boys than girls signing up? How do you make it more enticing for girls to learn coding — and why should they? Yes, we do see more boys than girls, but these numbers are changing. Last year, we saw a large increase in female campers. In fact, one of our camps consisted of 70 percent girls. The gender gap in tech is a major issue in today’s workforce, and research has shown that introducing girls to coding at an earlier age makes them more than seven times more likely to pursue engineering in college. Engineering jobs are among the fastest-growing, best-paid occupations in the world. It would be great to see more girls drawn to these exciting opportunities, and we do our best to create high-interest curricula that will lead girls in this direction.

Minecraft has been around for awhile now. Do kids still gravitate toward it, and why is it a good teaching tool? Minecraft is one of the most popular games in the world, and it’s popularity is accelerating. We love using it as a teaching tool and have found a unique way to teach our students Java programming while they modify the game’s source code. Minecraft modifications (or “mods” for short) have become very popular with kids worldwide, and when students learn that they can make their own mods rather than just downloading someone else’s mods, they become very motivated learners. It’s the ultimate carrot/stick experience, and by using Minecraft mods as the carrot, skeptical kids often become very interested in engineering, and they progress to more advanced courses over time.

What are some of the things that make for a good tech camp? Quality tech camps hire skilled engineers who love teaching children. They also train the staff so that they can make computer programming accessible even to absolute beginners, establish the connection between coding and creativity, and fix complicated technical issues. Most of the best camps create their own curricula rather than using licensed, packaged curricula, and the best camps also have options for kids to learn text-based coding rather than just visual-block programming that anyone, even non-engineers, can teach. The best camps use high-end machines and professional-grade tools to give kids the best experience possible. My advice for families shopping for tech camps is to look at a company’s track record and to make sure to read the online reviews.

Do you have fond memories of summer camp as a kid? My parents were very supportive of me, and they gave me a wide variety of summer-camp experiences — from academic camps to kayaking camps. All of my fondest memories from the various camps I attended involved getting some sort of achievement or badge for my efforts. We have incorporated this at CodaKid, and our awards ceremonies have become one of the most cherished parts of our camp experience.

RELATED:

Local camps emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)

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Kara G. Morrison

Editor Kara G. Morrison worked as a features reporter and editor at the Arizona Republic before joining RAK last spring. She is the mother of Sofia (4). Reach her at kara@rakmagazine.com.

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