Teach a Kid to Code and Unlock Their Future

This post was contributed by Jessie D’Amato Ford, Director of Events and Educational Programs at TopCoder

SoCo School of Code NoNameSiteGive a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. There is a reason ancient proverbs are still quoted and it’s because they ring true in our modern lives. In today’s uber-connected world driven by digital asset innovation, a proverb like this deserves a 2.0 version, so here it goes: Give a kid an iPhone and he’ll play Angry Birds, teach a kid to code and he’ll create value on the iPhone. OK … we realize this isn’t quite as elegant as the ancient proverb, but you probably get the broader picture. Tomorrow’s jobs and opportunities are based in understanding how to create value in the digital realm. So we set out to teach the children… to code. After receiving a grant from DARPA to fund a whole, new community for students ages 13-18 to encourage CS-STEM skills which we called NoNameSite.com, we leveraged the TopCoder community to build it, improve it, and run it. Since 2011, NoNameSite.com has come a long way and gained over 3,200 members. To name a few cool features: – 9 Games; Including one where you’re programming ants to perform missions by using waterbear coding blocks. – A Level editor to give our members the control to build new levels for our games. – Last but not least, we introduced Zeepl; the NoNameSite.com avatar creator with options to design your own avatar gear. Learning through games is not a new theory, in fact it’s being used in schools across the country. It is a great way to get the attention of the students in a roundabout way. But are the games on NoNameSite.com enough to interest students of all backgrounds and intelligence into pursing CS-STEM careers once they reach the collegiate level? Is there still that perception of programmers and coders? Technology and programming is for geeks? There shouldn’t be…

SoCo School of Code Lesson TopCoder Blog In this day and age, technology is everywhere. From phones to televisions to tablets, etc. Twenty years ago in school we were forced to take a second language to learn – which was appropriate and necessary. Nowadays all students should be taught to code. It is part of the now and their future. If you search the web for coding schools, you’ll get loads of hits; Codecademy, Khan Academy, etc. They are excellent at what they do and a huge advantage for our society. I’m jealous I didn’t have these opportunities when I was growing up. But even now, being a non-technical person and trying to learn to code with what’s available is frustrating; it’s not as easy as it seems. So we built our own School of Code or SoCo. It started out as an idea or a quest for me to find a way to become more technically savvy. I gave the specs to our NoNameSite.com copilots; basically telling them this School has to be easy to use, quick to learn, and provide instant gratification; our target audience being 13-18 year olds. So our NoNameSite.com members can be texting their friends and even watching television as they participate in lessons. SoCo was born and it’s ready. As an intuitive learning platform that makes a game out of learning to code through interactive lessons, scores, badges, and community recognition, it provides that instant gratification that students want. Students with no programming experience are motivated to complete lessons and master programming basics. A simple, drag and drop interface makes the lesson easy to follow. Tasks and projects increase in difficulty as the students move deeper into the process of learning how to code. SoCo offers students a profile page to show personal statistics, badges, and achievements, sharing mechanisms for posting individual scores or lessons to social media and public forums for questions and community feedback. But we’ve only just begun. There are so many other things we are going to add to SoCo to make it even better. To rip off Mark Zuckerberg, “We’re 1% finished.”

We encourage any educators, parents, aunts and uncles out there to show SoCo to the kids in your family or social circles. You just may change their life and help them unlock their potential in what is an undeniably digital future.

image credit: gaurdian.co.uk
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