This post was written as part of a compensated partnership with Microsoft
Over the weekend I sat down, flipped through The Washington Post, and was immediately drawn to a piece in the Opinion section titled “Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous.” Obsession? Dangerous? STEM? I can’t say that I ever thought that those three words belonged in the same sentence but it got me thinking and asking if we really are obsessed and why.
STEM. Science. Technology. Engineering. Math.
Thrown together as an acronym, these four subjects have been dominating the landscape for years now in what seems like a giant PR campaign designed to foster an interest in subjects to help our kids compete on a global scale and I admit, I fell for it. But I had a good reason and here’s why.
As a former teacher, I see where our education system is falling short and as a mom who always wants the best for her kids, I recognize that I need to foster interests that aren’t being cultivated by classroom instruction.
It just so happens that my 11 year old daughter, Emily, developed a love of technology and coding. She urged my far tech savvier husband who has a background in computer science to teach her to code and together they settled on learning Python. And while I can’t help her with Python (html yes, Python, no), I’d still do anything in my power to help my daughter maintain her interest in technology and coding.
A girl with a natural interest in technology and coding is a rarity (7 out of 10 girls are interested in science. Only 2 out of 10 will pursue it as a career.) but the opportunities that I search out for her don’t differ from the ones I’d be pursuing for my son. Instead, I seek out quality resources that will help my kids continue to develop a love of learning about technology and coding just as I foster their other interests.
Whether or not you have a child who is interested in technology and coding at this very moment, it’s important to be able to recognize their interest and support them. Because everyone needs to start somewhere.
When Jasmine Lawrence was 8, she saw the movie “Bicentennial Man,” thought robots were the bomb, and decided she wanted to be involved with them somehow. Emily Fickenworth wasn’t much into robots, but she did grow up loving theater, and developed a passion for costume design. Karishma Maraj watched as her older sister created computer games, and was captivated by it, wanting to do the same thing.
Now Jasmine, Emily, and Karishma code for Microsoft. Jasmine works on the Xbox team, Emily started with Xbox and now works on Project Siena, an app that lets people who don’t know how to code create their own apps, and 16 year old Karishma is a junior in high school who spent last summer interning for Microsoft.
Jasmine, Emily, and Karishma believe that if they can code it, anyone can. They also believe that everyone needs to start somewhere.
Instead of paying big money for after school activities, camps, and other endeavors that feature STEM prominently in the title, start small before diving head first into something your kids may or may not love right off the bat.
Start a Conversation About Coding
Have your kids ever dreamed up an app or mid-game wished that there was a different feature? Coding can be the tool that helps solve a problem or meets a need. It serves as a way to explore a real world problem in an interdisciplinary way, involving other academic areas as well as creative problem solving. Isn’t it exciting to think about our kids being the ones who will be creating the technology of the future?
To start this conversation in your house, ask your kids about what technology innovations they appreciate and can’t live without. Perhaps they’ll mention Minecraft videos on YouTube, apps like Snapchat, or devices like a tablet or a mobile phone and this seemingly random list of tech things has a commonality- there was a person who created each of these things and had to have knowledge of technology and/or coding to execute their vision.
4 Resources to Get Kids Started with Coding
Once you’ve sparked your child’s interest in technology and coding, start small. A board game like Robot Turtles is a fun hands on way to expose young kids to the idea of coding. A portable solution for young learners is LeapFrog’s My Robot Friend ($3.99 for iOS) app.
If there seems to be a building interest in coding, spend some time exploring Hour of Code. This grassroots effort is designed to inspire 100 million young people worldwide to try coding. When you’re ready to dive in, Hour of Code can serve as a great family bonding activity when you sit down to tackle coding together. Chances are it will be a fun experience that you and your child will both learn something from and doing it together increases the chances that it will be something that you’ll do again.
Code with Anna and Elsa. Fans of Frozen can explore the beauty of ice by creating snowflakes and patterns while ice skating to make a winter wonderland. Good for ages 8+
Write your first computer program with drag and drop programming. Featuring Angry Birds and Plants vs Zombies characters, kids can learn basic algorithms that are essential to coding by helping the red bird catch the naughty pig.
Create with Scratch. One of the most popular first programming language because of ease of use, Scratch allows kids to create their own interactive games, stories, and animations. Best for ages 8+.
3 Resources for Experienced Kids Who Code
Just like any parent who wants the best for their child, I’m trying to further my kids’ interest in technology and coding because they’re naturally curious. Maybe their interest will turn into a career or maybe they’ll be content just knowing that they have the ability to do something really cool. If your kids are ready for something more, these resources from Microsoft can help.
- Microsoft Imagine connects student developers of all ages and skill levels with the tools and knowledge they need to create, code and develop their ideas. Kids can create an app, get free coding tools from Imagine Access, or even host your web app or website for free thanks to Microsoft Azure for DreamSpark.
- Learn to code at your own pace thanks to a wealth of resources available from Microsoft Virtual Academy that are available whenever you’d like to learn.
- Microsoft YouthSpark helps kids achieve their dreams. Established in 2012, YouthSpark is a global program designed to help 300 million children in 100 countries get an education, find work or start their own business thanks to a wealth of resources that I can’t even begin listing. It’s just better to dive in and take a look because the possibilities are endless and can certainly help a young coder or technologist take their ideas to the next level.
This post was written as part of a compensated role with Microsoft as an Office Ambassador. I am also a Windows Champion and receive product for review purposes. All opinions are my own. Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.