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DaVinci Coders
April 16th, 2013 at 10:19 am

Why your kids should be coding

If kids are learning math, they should also learn logic.

These days learn-to-code startups abound.  There is one in particular that is focusing on the very young and is having some success in elementary schoolsaround the country — even under served schools with no budgets for STEM but a great need for better tools.

 

 

The startup is Tynker; it makes a web-based learning platform and a visual programming language for teachers and kids in K-12 classrooms. In a discussion with its co-founder, we found out why teaching kids how to code is so important to him.

Krishna Vedati came to the U.S. in 1991 as a grad student from India. He got a master’s in computer science, then rode the dotcom wave at a handful of startups, including one he founded himself. After IPOs and acquisitions and the eventual bust, he found himself a decade older and wiser but still thinking about solving big-picture problems with technology — this time, a bit closer to home.

“I have two kids, nine and six, a boy and a girl. And they’re exposed to so much technology,” he said in a phone chat yesterday. “But their schools haven’t changed in 50 years. They’re teaching the same stuff in different ways.”

Especially at schools with lower budgets, the tools for learning are antiquated by modern standards. And many more schools, as Vedati’s peers at Code.org would point out, have no budgets for technology or computer science at all.

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The solution, Vedati decided, would have to be a free service — something web-based so kids could practice at home and teachers wouldn’t have to deal with unwieldy downloads. And unlike other curricula, it should definitely be based on stuff kids already like.

“If you go into middle school, they’re all into games; they want to create games,” he said. “In high school, they’re all about social interaction. … So in Tynker, they do fun stuff, but they learn programming.”

To clarify, these kids learn the logic of coding. Tynker contains a visual programming language; that is, it uses the building blocks of algorithms without all the tricks of the developer’s trade — curly braces, semicolons, seemingly inconsequential stuff that, when misplaced or missing, can screw up days’ or even months’ worth of work.

“Syntax is not important,” said Vedati. “It’s something you pick up. If you look at algorithms and write in pseudo-language, that’s a logical language. And it forces them to think in terms of solving problems, worrying about how to write it. And over time, they learn to translate into syntax, as well, slowly migrating in PHP or Python or what have you.”

So to start kids out, Tynker focuses on the more important but more basic concepts all programming languages have in common, like how loops work, how to solve computing problems, and how to order and structure tasks for machines.

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