Tea Time With Jesse

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Posts Tagged ‘Minecraft’

A Computer Question/Request

Posted by middlerage on June 11, 2014

Dear readers, do any of you have an opinion on the best way to start kids programming computers? I am thinking an argument could be made that this  should be part of the “new” literacy. But the question is what kind of programming exactly? I am attracted to the step-by-step process of, say, writing Fortran (or C, or COBOL, or insert-traditional-language-here). This could lead to algorithmic thinking and breaking up a problem into solvable pieces. Good skills to teach and have.

428px-Scratch_Logo.svgBut then there is also the idea that with young kids you might want something more visual – like a building blocks or lego style of visual programming (to do what? – I dunno). I’ve never tangled with “visual Basic” and I’m not sure if it is even still around, or if VB is even what I am thinking of. My kids love love love Minecraft (which if you haven’t heard, is the video game taking over the world), and Minecraft is kind of a glorified Legos (not really, but a suitable analogy escapes me).  With monsters. But there is the visual and building process, the sandbox* aspect, that is hands-on and so appealing to children. Inspired by Minecraft, I went searching for a sandbox-ish, child oriented programming platform and came upon MIT’s effort called Scratch: http://scratch.mit.edu/  It seems to fit the bill, but so far my kids have been ‘meh’ and it is not tearing them away from Minecraft. Might be an age thing, but I’m also not sure it is teaching “doing something useful with computers” that I want from a programming language.

Another thought is to go vocational and dispense with problem solving languages like Fortran, and visual gamey stuff like Scratch, and instead focus on something a kid could use right away like web page building. Would it be smarter to teach kids HTML, and CSS and PHP and maybe Perl? Java? Javascript?

Please tell me what you think. And feel free to discuss it holistically, like appropriate age, cultural considerations, etc.

* here I mean sandbox in the original definition, as in a place for children to play. Not in the new world order, IT definition of a place to test your wiki programming skills. Which is ironic since I am discussing programming skills, but anyhoo…
P.S. You’ll note I do not use FORTRAN, but rather Fortran. I had the pleasure, once, of taking a Fortran course from one of the originators and he explained that there was never any push to make the official spelling all caps, and that it is sort of a bizarre, historical mod. Interestingly, my spellchecker hates Fortran but not FORTRAN.

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