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.
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