Teaching computer code to Pre-K kids

New business in Oak Park gives kids a leg up on technology

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Oak Park could be home to the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, due to a new business offering computer programming classes to kids pre-kindergarten through 8th grade.

Code, Play, Learn, located at 30 Chicago Ave., is the brainchild of former Maine Township D207 computer programming teacher Wil Greenwald, who also teaches a course in integration of technology into curriculum as an adjunct professor at Roosevelt University in the College of Education.

Greenwald said that after teaching programming to 9th through 12th graders, he realized that "starting in high school is probably too late to expose our students."

"A lot of the conceptual nature of programming you can learn much younger," he said.

The classes, which will be no larger than 15 students, will offer instruction in Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Scratch 2.0 and App Inventor programming platforms, he said. 

"Once you get familiar with a programming language, all the programming languages are virtually the same," he said, noting that they all operate using the concepts of loops, variables and sequencing.

Students also will work with plastic electronic modules called "Little Bits" that snap together with magnets to create hundreds of different projects, such as doorbells, flashlights and fans. He said that after students become familiar with the modules "I can say, 'Build something that does this,' and they can look at the pieces and say 'I can build that.'"

"Ten kids will look at it and build it seven different ways because there are just so many different ways to go at it," he said. "There are a lot of ways to create the output, and the question is, 'Are you trying to do it the fastest way or are you trying to do it the least repetitive way?'"

He said that with the classes, kids are learning the concepts of input and output, but "it doesn't seem like rote education."

Greenwald said that in his high school classes, students often said they are not interested in programming, but he explains that even if they are not working in programming, they likely will have to work with programmers in some capacity. He said one of his high school students, who hopes to be a musician, told Greenwald that he wouldn't need the training in order to play his instrument.

"Well great but just so you know, that requires you to be in a recording studio and that's going to require you to use all sorts of software that's available," Greenwald said. "And someone might build software for you some day, and people who build the software, you need to be able to talk to them …"

Becky Stewart, department chairman of the Career and Technical Education Department at Maine East High School, said in a telephone interview that as a former computer programming teacher she discovered that educating students about the modular nature of computer programming teaches kids a new way of thinking.

"They don't have to write the code, but putting the code together is valuable," she said.

Stewart taught programming at Maine East High School in Park Ridge for 11 years and noted that programming classes across the nation are being offered to younger kids every year.

"Kids need to know that they can build simple programs," she said. "They should know there are easy programs and easy ways to write as long as you can think about input and output."

More information about Code, Play, Learn is available at http://www.codeplaylearn.com.

Email: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Matthew Kuntz from Western Springs, Illinois  

Posted: January 11th, 2014 3:42 PM

We have been doing Scratch http://scratch.mit.edu/ at Lincoln School in Oak Park (D97) for the last few years. I have fifth graders who are amazing at developing their own games using code. We had over 75 students at Lincoln participate in the Hour of Code last month. http://csedweek.org/

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: January 9th, 2014 7:45 PM

Another free resource online is www.KhanAcademy.org As IT Mom mentions, coding is not just for kids. I started to learn how to code as well, and it really is fun. There's another website with online tutorials, and is an advocacy website, www.Code.org, that is promotes coding, and getting it into the schools. They have an "hour of code" video, encouraging everyone to do one hour of code.

IT Mom  

Posted: January 9th, 2014 11:14 AM

It's great for kids to learn to code, and count me among the many parents who are shocked that programming is not taught in D97. (And no, clicking on an ipad and learning to use Google is not programming, sheeeesh). But why not learn along with them? MIT's Scratch program (which this business is teaching) is free and fun and there are tons of free tutorials and resources online. You don't have to outsource everything with your kids. They will be gone before you know it.

Dave from Oak Park  

Posted: January 8th, 2014 10:02 PM

I'm a man in IT, and I fully support it. Not all kids will grow up to be developers--but with our lives so dependent on tech, learning the fundamentals of coding isn't _detrimental_ to anyone, and if it gets kids more interested in STEM subjects, I'm all for it!!

Carrie from Chicago  

Posted: January 8th, 2014 8:34 PM

Great opportunity for kids!

Angela Dugan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 8th, 2014 6:08 PM

So I've started quite a discussion on Twitter. Everyone who has responded positively is either a Woman in IT or is related to or married to a woman in IT. Consensus is that you PLEASE make an effort to make this a diverse class. Try not to discourage girls with a biased curriculum. It's easy to make it more attractive to boys, even if you don't do it intentionally. You have such an opportunity here...

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: January 8th, 2014 12:13 AM

My daughter, who is 10 years old, just started coding, using an online tutorial, and she LOVES it. If I knew about coding earlier, I would have started her earlier. Looking forward to seeing what CodePlayLearn has to offer!

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