Here at Thimble.io, we celebrate National Coding Week with a shared mission: to foster the love and learning of digital languages, and, more prominently, to close the skills gap in the United States. While we certainly value learning for learning’s sake, we’re aware of the economic realities that students will face once they graduate into the workforce. 67% of all new jobs in the US are in Computer Science and Information Technology, according to the NSF. We see this as a great opportunity!
What is National Coding Week?
National Coding Week began as a grassroots movement started by Richard Rolfe and Jordan Love, inspired by their first-hand experience teaching coding to unemployed adults, many of whom went on to secure a job in the technology space. Here at Thimble.io, we’re seeking a similar impact! You may have heard of Spencer Kulbacki, our own former student, who walked into a job interview at Apple with a Thimble.io kit-turned-invention. He successfully landed this job. This is just one example of our vision of empowering millions of kids with a solid STEM education. I sat down with CEO and Founder, Oscar Pedroso, to hear his thoughts on the “bigger picture” of what it means to educate young adults in a new language.
Why is learning coding important in our changing world?
Oscar: I guess in one word, it would be exposure. Kids don’t have access to these types of programs; while most schools have some kind of STEM program in place, it’s not just about teaching the skills, but also understanding how they can be applied in the real world. Back in my day, it was such that you could go into medicine, law, finance, and that was it. But that’s no longer the case.
We want our students to ask: Why do I need this and when am I going to use it? Our goal is to help students answer that question, and create a new medium for kids to learn in.
Take the Thermometer project in the Creator Set for example. When I was in High School, I don’t remember if I knew what an Environmental Scientist was. I don’t know if it was introduced to me as a concept. This is part of our Career Explorer guides. It’s a direct connection. Kids play around with sensors to determine the temperature, pressure, and humidity, then use their coding skills to create a server to create local forecast data, etc. By introducing the concept of Environmental Scientists, you’re giving life to these skills, and when you frame it in what an ES does it changes the picture for them- that’s when you start to pique their curiosity.
What are your hopes for the future these kids will grow up in?
Oscar: Take my generation as an example: we lived during the creation of the internet. We started writing papers on Microsoft Word. 20 years later, kids are growing up with iPads or iPhones. The hope is that future generations will be lightyears ahead of us, and that computer science and robotics will become fundamentals in elementary school, maybe even as early as Pre-K.
One of the things I think a lot about is comparing education systems. Take Norway or Finland for example. They report some of the highest rates of happiness among modern societies. When I wonder about why that is, I think of access to all different types of subject areas that aren’t your traditional curriculum.
What could this mean for our own ecosystems?
Oscar: It would mean people who are more aware of what they could become when they grow up. It could mean people staying and contributing to the economy as opposed to leaving, better infrastructure and technology for the country itself. In short, they provide the education and get to reap the benefits of the outcome.
How do you see coding getting us there?
Oscar: It’s one thing to learn how to code, it’s a little different when you get to do something cool with it. Some of our students, Rihanna for example, who built the automatic scoreboard, win competitions. She didn’t have to spend any money on it, that’s where I think it could make a difference. Rihanna could grow up and create a cure for something, it’s going to open her mind to think more broadly about whatever she does. It’s like learning a new language. I took French in school but wasn’t able to use it until I actually got to go to France. With coding it’s like that: once you get to actually use it for what it’s intended for, that’s when it gets interesting.
A STEM education teaches students soft skills that are invaluable no matter what they choose to pursue. So how could learning to code positively expand your child’s mind? Here are 10 ways:
- Critical Thinking: Coding encourages children to think logically and analytically. They learn to break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable steps, fostering critical thinking skills that can be applied to various areas of life.
- Creativity: Kids can use their coding skills in a myriad of creative ways, which is a concept we introduce in our own STEM curriculum. For starters, they can tinker with existing code to create their own versions of our projects, but our kids also love to get crafty with some paper and glue to make their robots come to life! Coding provides a solid base which allows them to play and express their creativity and imagination.
- Problem-Solving: Coding involves debugging and troubleshooting errors in code. This helps kids develop problem-solving skills as they identify issues, test solutions, and learn from their mistakes.
- Mathematics and Computational Thinking: Coding often involves mathematical concepts such as variables, loops, and algorithms. Students can reinforce their understanding of math through coding activities, and computational thinking helps them approach complex problems systematically.
- Persistence and Resilience: Coding can be challenging, and students may encounter errors and setbacks. Learning to code teaches them the value of persistence and resilience as they work through problems and persist until they achieve their desired results.
- Digital Literacy: In today’s digital age, information is power. Learning to code gives children a better understanding of how their technology works, making them more digitally literate and better equipped to navigate the digital world safely and effectively.
- Future-Ready Skills: As technology continues to advance, coding skills are increasingly in demand across a wide variety of industries. Learning to code at a young age can provide children with a strong foundation for future career opportunities, no matter what they choose to pursue. Having a STEM foundation gives them options.
- Reading comprehension: The ability to understand and follow instructions is a foundational and transferable skill- in fact, it’s a key skill tested on most standardized tests! But beyond this, it’s a crucial life skill, and lends to a more engaged and empathetic world.
- Collaboration: Whether or not projects involve direct collaboration- some of our students work in pairs of groups- learning a new language fosters communication and collaboration among peers.
- Confidence and Self-Esteem: Successfully completing projects and seeing their creations come to life can boost kids’ confidence and self-esteem. It teaches them that they can tackle complex challenges and achieve their goals with effort and determination.
Thimble.io has been deepening our work with schools all across the country, in pursuit of making STEM education more accessible to students and educators alike. Less than half of US schools teach Computer Science and IT in their curriculum, and this percentage is even smaller among Title 1 schools. We see this partially as a result of the rapidly evolving nature of technology- its exponential growth and therefore economic relevance in the past couple decades-, and partially due to a lack of information on the kinds of career options that might be available to students should they choose to pursue STEM.
As part of our new curriculum, we’ve created “Career Explorer” activities which encourage students to research the endless career possibilities that will be available to them should they choose to pursue STEM in their continued studies. We can all recall a time when we declared with fervor to our parents and teachers, “I want to be a ______ when I grow up!” The goal is to harness this passion that students have while they’re still young, open their minds to their limitless potential, and give them direction in pursuing their goals. If they identify a particular passion early on, they have ample time to figure out what they need to get them to where they want to go!
While some go on to become “traditional” programmers and engineers, others may find themselves interested in emerging and cutting-edge occupations such as Wearable Technology Design, Molecular Technology, and the pertinent field of Sustainable Energy. Sustainable Energy will only become more crucial with each passing year, and we believe a STEM education can play an important role in fighting the climate crisis. Wearable Technology Design is making strides in creating accessible and sustainable solutions for those with mental and physical disabilities.
Thus, National Coding Week goes beyond its most basic denotation. With Environmental Science and Disability Design all lending from STEM, coding is a gateway to a more sustainable and inclusive future. Learning to code not only prepares your children for the “real world”- but helps them dream up an even better one!