There seems to be a global awareness that children’s worlds could expand significantly if they learned how to code. With the glut of websites and ever-evolving apps, there’s a corresponding need and dearth of those trained in programming.
The upcoming Computer Education Week, from Dec. 8-14, features the worldwide Hour of Code, which last year boasted more than 53,300 events for roughly 15 million students to explore programming all over the world, with a significant increase in exposure to the craft for girls.
The “intoxicating” world of coding is keeping Matt Highland up nights — but in a good way; captivated by the thrill of making something from nothing, having total control of the result, and “building something that works.”
“It’s very humbling,” he says. “Everyone has their unique take on what coding means in terms of the future.”
The proprietor and instructor of a new coding school for youth in Pleasant Hill is responding to a missing niche. An online experience for some — including him and his 9-year-old son — does not suffice. They needed an interactive personal experience.
The Pleasant Hill resident includes himself in the list of those who were at first daunted by the plethora of language options when it comes to achieving coding proficiency — in a technological landscape that is constantly changing — and the lack of personal attention when faced with a glitch.
“You can learn anything online, but it became a motivation issue. There are a lot of road bumps that are tricky and frustrating. We get you past these humps,” he says of the impetus to start Hackingtons, a coding and web development school.
“And there’s an energy that can’t be duplicated when kids come together (and code),” he adds, noting the program’s kid-oriented “Hackathon” that poses a “real-life scenario” coding challenge and a two-hour time frame for youth working with partners to complete the task.
Before the event, participants have already been schooled in “common pitfalls that break code,” he explains, in order to mitigate their levels of frustration.
Eric Bartlett, a seventh-grader at Palmer School, is among the students at Hackingtons.
“It’s every kids’ love of computers and I have an eagerness to know more … that and so I could create web pages that everyone else on the Internet can see,” Eric, 12, says of what drew him to the program, where he designed a “mind explosion” T-shirt via coding.
Characterizing the inherently dynamic and creative process, Highland is among those who debunk such notions that coders are “just hunched over learning algorithms.”
Hackingtons curriculum also levels the playing field, with each student starting at the same place — keyboard tutelage — followed by entry-level HTML5 instruction; an eight month-long curricular approach he likens to first learning the ABCs, when learning to read and then being mentally trained to think in an organized sequential fashion.
Highland underscores the need to learn patience.
“It takes time,” he says. “No one becomes a brilliant coder overnight.”
When he and his son Maxwell started looking for existing options last August, they came up short for their needs.
“No one has a zero to hero plan … I wanted to cater to kids who don’t have computer skills; not a hodgepodge of different abilities,” he says. “I didn’t want to put my son in a dojo of black belts, because he’s a white belt.”
Highland draws from his background as an elementary schoolteacher.
“I’m not going to change the world with my programs, but I am a teacher first and foremost, he says. “Once I give them the ability to communicate with this code, they’ll be able to take part in the movement.”
For more information about Hackingtons Code School for Kids, visit www.hackingtons.com.