My teenage son and daughter love math and have parents in tech, but even so, its been hard to cobble together a pathway for them to become proficient
coders. They messed around with Scratch in their younger years, took a robotics elective in middle school, and then
did AP CS online in high school. Along the way we've reluctantly coughed up the $800 – $1000 weekly tuition for iD Tech summer camps for them to learn robotics, photography, Java, Maya, Unity, and C++. Tech camps have been
proliferating all over the country to fill growing demand among well-heeled families. The camps promise the moon to justify their high price. "Get School
Ready. College Ready. Job Ready" touts iD Tech. My kids have had great experiences that introduced them to new skills, but after the one-week immersion,
it's a bit like dropping of a cliff. It's back to our usual routines and schoolwork, which doesn't include coding.
Thinking a one-week camp will get your kid into coding is like sending them to a one-week sports camp and thinking they'll learn to play. It just doesn't
work that way. My son's been playing basketball since first grade with the same coach and a tight group of peers in our local community center. He's played
for his middle school and high school, and has practice all year round either through the community center or school. This is the consistency and social
support that it takes to get good at something. We just don't have that with coding and a one-week tech camp is a drop in the bucket.
Nowadays, we are blessed with an abundance of free and low cost online learning resources, like Code.org and Khan Academy, and for older kids, platforms like Udacity and Codeacademy. When these platforms started rolling out several years ago, I had the bright idea that we'd forgo
the pricey summer camp and learn online for free. My son liked the idea of saving us some money, but he found the online exercises boring and formulaic,
unlike the creative project-based learning he did at iD Tech. The even bigger issue was that he didn't have fun peers and counselors to learn with. Sure,
some highly self-motivated kids find peers and resources to keep learning online, but they are the the ubergeek 1%. For girls, who are less likely to feel
affinity with coder culture, that's an even more unlikely proposition.
So what's a parent to do? If you can afford the pricey tech camp, by all means give it a try to jump start an interest. But be aware that its not going to
lead to proficiency on its own. To become real coders, kids need ongoing social support from peers and mentors, and hands-on projects and activities. In
the learning sciences, we call this kind of social, project-based and relevant learning "connected learning." Here are
a few things a parent can do to build a connected learning environment for coding.
– My #1 (biased) recommendation – sign up for Connected Camps, a virtual learning
community in Minecraft that I co-founded to provide kids with connected learning experiences and community year round. We offer accessibly priced summer camps in coding, game
design, engineering, as well as a
free year-round Minecraft server
moderated and staffed by trained high school and college counselors. We also offer girls-only camps.
– Seek out a local makerspace, hackerspace, Black Girls Code workshops, Girls Who Code club, or Coder Dojo that is a hub for geeky learning and
projects. Volunteer and get your kids involved. We're lucky to have LA Makerspace,TXT, Hack the Hood, Crashspace, DIY Girls, and Coder Dojo LA in our SoCal region.
– Talk to your local library about kid and teen programs they run – more and more libraries are becoming community hubs for STEM learning. For example, LA
Public library has Full STEAM ahead! There's often a lot happening in the summer at public libraries.
Most importantly, keep things fun and relevant! Seek out projects and keep an eye open for opportunities. If kids can connect coding to things they want to
make and do, and to meaningful relationships, the learning will follow.
(Image: Geek Squad camp provides hands-on technology skills,
Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office, CC-BY; 2015 TechGirls at iD Tech Camp at American University)