By Maria Wren Co-founder & CEO SMaRT Education
Recently, Get SMaRT About STEAM posted about having fun with Scratch 3.0 and ScratchJr to celebrate Computer Science Week and introducing your kids to the wonderful world of programming, or coding, but some of us might be wondering if our older kids are ready for something more. With so many programming languages out there it may be tough to get a good understanding of what they are, what the differences are and how to decide if your kids are ready to wade into those waters.
First let’s ask the question, “What exactly is a programming language?” In the most basic terms, a programming language is a set of instructions. It’s how humans communicate with computers and other machines. Like the many languages humans use, each programming language has its own set of rules that we call the syntax. Think of syntax as the spelling and grammar of a programming language that tells us how how and when to use certain letter and symbol combinations when telling a program what we want it to do.
So, what’s the difference between graphical programming and text based programming? Graphical programming, a.k.a. icon-based programming, a.k.a. drag and drop programming, allows you to snap together programming blocks to tell the program what you want it to do. Think of the blocks like images, or icons, that tell us things with pictures instead of words. The majority of programming languages out there in the world are text based and have you write lines and lines of code to make things happen.
The image above gives you a side by side view of two very basic programs in an icon based language and a text based language, EV3 (on the left) and Arduino (on the right). Both are languages SMaRT Education uses to teach kids about programming and robotics. The difference is pretty clear.
Knowing when your child is ready to make the jump to a text based programming language is less about how old they are and more about where their mindset is. Generally speaking, elementary aged kids do better with visual programming. Some kids may demonstrate an early ability to dig into the text of a language, but you probably want to start them off with something simple. Pre-teens are more likely to be ready for text based programming languages as their ability to focus on the details improves naturally with age – one teeny tiny wrongly placed semicolon can ruin an entire program and finding that one little mistake can take some time. For some kids, focusing on this level of detail may be frustrating. It can be frustrating for some adults!
If you and your middle schooler are deciding whether they are ready to venture into the world of text based programming, keep a few things in mind:
You don’t need to be a math genius. If your child feels like they are not a “math person” that doesn’t mean they can’t be a programmer.
The best way to learn is to just get started. You learn so much better by doing. Just memorizing stuff doesn’t really work.
You learn by making mistakes. I think we’ve all learned this in life 🙂
Learning by yourself is tough. Can it be done? Of course! But having others to talk things through with is very helpful and fun!
Once you learn how to program one action, learning how to program another is a lot less scary.
How to STEAM
Our kids today live in a world where so much is offered to them at school, in community centers and through informal education organizations, like SMaRT Education, that there is an option for just about everyone! A simple Google search will give you a ton of options for both online and in-person.
One thing to consider is why your child wants to program. Do they see themselves building robots and making them move? Or are they interested in websites, video games and apps? This may help you find a programming class that will hold their interest and make the challenging parts more worth it and exciting.
Unlike what Hollywood would have you think, you don’t need 10 computers with 47 monitors to make things happen. Chances are pretty good that the computer you have at home is good enough to get your kids started. There is no need to invest money in a machine that is too much computer for them.
Want to STEAM with us? Send us an email to let us know you want to be added to our email list! We’ll send out emails whenever we have a new program starting up!
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Founded in 2010, SMaRT Education is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math education to the youth of the Coachella Valley and surrounding areas.