Programming has become ubiquitous and the skill will become a basic need soon. My 11-year-old started our conversation by complaining about how he often forgets Mathematics steps while writing exams and hence end up only getting an average mark in exams. I started by revealing to him the truth about Mathematics that hides in plain sight. Boy, mastering Mathematics has only one secret, practice it and practice it more. I went further to tell him that he might need to solve 1 question up to 10 times to master the process if need be. He nodded and responded, Alright.
As the conversation between us went on, he reminded me of his interest in science and how he’s been doing well in his science subjects. I encouraged him to keep it up. Then I told him of the immense potential that lies behind programming. I told him the VLC (Video playing application on Windows) that he watches his movies with is as a result of programming by someone. His interest sparked immediately. Then I opened a beginners Python training on my laptop for him to follow one step at a time. Before now as well, I have introduced him to the concept of AI, so I told him Python is also used in developing AI.
He started the video and using Python Shell, he wrote codes… I could see the excitement on his face. For the next 5 hours or thereabout, he was fixed on completing the course. One of the learning points in the training was how to create a .exe file (executable file) that will tell you whether an alphabet entered is Vowel or Consonant (Image above). He created it after running into lots of error and debugging. He has opened the application several times, I can’t tell, he has shown the app to his sister and everyone who cares to see. He will tell them, “enter an alphabet and the app will tell whether it’s Vowel or Consonant.”
My Take on Educating Children for the Future of Work
We all talk about the future of work and the need to upskill both the workforce of today and that of tomorrow. How we do it and with what intent we do is as important as doing it. Below are the questions my brother asked me that I believe we need to factor in while designing Children’s learning curriculum, especially programming curriculum.
- How can I create a game app?
While the question may be seen as one that deserves a response like… “You like games too much, focus on what you are learning first.” We need to understand the innate creative desire in these kids. Yes, what he wants is to create a game app, but have you thought about how this desire will be achieved? Have you considered the process he will have to go through to achieve it? Have you considered the lessons he will learn on the way of fulfilling this? When you think about it enough, you will realize that in the end, if he created an app your goal to train him on programming would be achieved and his desire to create an app would not have suffered for it either.
- Have you created something with Python?
This is another interesting question that struck me. You will see in him the habit of effective learners – keeping the end in mind – average kids have this in them. He wanted to see something that someone else has done with Python, so he will be able to put an image to what he’s working towards. Kids are easy to motivate because to them everything they can imagine is possible. If you can create a thing from their imagination and give them the task of working towards creating something similar, giving them a step-by-step guide, I know they will learn better and remain open-minded.
- I tried the same thing as that of the tutorial and mine is not working, please help!
From the request, it’s obvious he ran into error already from day 1. This is not unusual in the life of a programmer. I started by telling him even the best of the best still run into an error while performing tasks like this, his nerves cooled down. I investigated the error and we fixed it together. Children seek help when environments are designed to be such that does not criticize but accommodates failure. When designing our curriculum to help them, let’s make sure we have this kind of environment. Most importantly, let there be ready help for them during this period.
During one of his sessions, I fell asleep, when I woke up I noticed he’s asleep as well. I picked the laptop to see how far he’s gone, guess what I saw on the laptop screen – you guessed right, ERRORS. Because there was no one to help out on this, he had to relax on it as well. Let’s make help available to them when they do complex things like programming.
Children are open to learning anything they consider interesting I know. The beauty of ‘something interesting’ is that, if we can paint it well enough for them, they tend to see something interesting about lots of things. It’s how you paint it and the support system you provide them that matters. I hope that he will take up my Mathematics challenge of solving 1 question 10 times if need be and that he will launch his first game app by his next holiday, seeing that is the first thing that seems to interest him about programming.
Go and educate your kids, brother, and sister as well.