A+ Advice for Parents

Camp or Not, Learning to Code Is a Worthy Investment

Q: Some of my daughter's fifth-grade classmates are going to computer coding camp this summer at a local university. She wants to go, too. It's two weeks for $995. Why is coding suddenly cool? Is the expense worth it?

A: The nation's focus on fostering STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math) has pushed learning to code into the limelight.

A popular video at code.org featuring folks from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to musician will.i.am makes the case that coding is an essential skill you should master before graduating high school. With only one in 10 schools offering coding, summer camps are meeting demand.

As Edsurge editor Betsy Corcoran says on the organization's website, "Every era demands -- and rewards -- different skills." We once taught children to "forge a sword or blow delicate glass, bake bread or create a souffle." These days, we teach them about programming "not so much as an end in itself but because our world has morphed: So many of the things we once did with elements such as fire and iron, or tools such as pencil and paper, (are) now wrought in code. We are teaching coding to help our kids craft their future."

Interest is so strong that Corcoran has just published EdSurge's very first guide: "Teaching Kids To Code" (edsurge.com/guide/teaching-kids-to-code). It provides an overview of what your daughter might learn, why it can help her as she moves up in school, and how it can expand her thinking about career options.

The guide includes a readable essay by MIT Media Lab professor Mitch Resnick explaining why coding is becoming a must-acquire skill. "I see coding (computer programming) as an extension of writing," he says. "The ability to code allows you to 'write' new types of things -- interactive stories, games, animations and simulations."

Just as there are many reasons for everyone to learn to write, says Resnick, "there are powerful reasons for everyone to learn to code."

Students learn many things in the process of learning to code, Resnick adds. "In addition to learning mathematical and computational ideas (such as variables and conditionals), they are also learning strategies for solving problems, designing projects and communicating ideas. These skills are useful not just for computer scientists, but for everyone -- regardless of age, background, interests or occupation."

To see what he means, have some fun with your daughter at Resnick's MIT Media Lab project Scratch (scratch.mit.edu).

Is it worth it? The offerings on EdSurge's list of summer coding camps suggest that they average $1,000 a week, so your local option seems like a good deal. Whether it is worth it in the context of your family budget is something only you can determine.

If the camp price is too steep, make learning to program a family affair by using some of the 40 tools in the EdSurge guide.

The late Steve Jobs famously said, "I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think." As your daughter enters her teen years, that outcome alone might make the investment worthwhile.

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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