The Gift of Programming

hackers

The first program I remember “writing” was on a TRS-80 connected to a TV for the display and a cassette tape recorder for the disk drive. The language used was BASIC. I did nothing more than copy the code out of a book. It made bars of different color appear on the screen. Fancy stuff! I was probably 8-10 years old if I had to guess.

I don’t remember touching a computer much after that until we had WordPerfect, the Oregon Trail, and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego in one of my middle school classes. I did try writing a few choose your adventure type things on a TI-86 calculator in high school, though I mostly used it to store formulas and notes for cheating on tests.

I didn’t really get into writing code until I switched my major from Accounting to Computer Science in the first month of college. I wish I’d been more interested in those earlier years.

Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer… because it teaches you how to think.

Steve Jobs

While browsing at Toys”R”Us to buy gifts for my nieces, I prefer to find something in the learning or creative sections because they get plenty of toys from everyone else. My mom had picked up a book of mazes for me to get Kennedy (6), because she’d been really into them lately. When I saw the Code & Go™ Robot Mouse Activity Set I was excited and didn’t hesitate to put it in my shopping cart.

Today I sat down with Kennedy and showed her how it worked. It took her a few mazes to get the hang of separating steps, but before long she had the hang of it and was even able to do her own form of debugging when there was a mistake. Here she is programming and testing card 9 after planning it out. I think this was the first one she did on her first attempt.

Like any good programmer, by card #16 she wanted to do away the planning stage and directly input her program. It worked out, but the 17th maze was long and complex. After having to start from scratch three times, she realized the planning stage was useful.We played for over 3 straight hours! After finishing all 20 cards, it was time to design her own mazes.

maze-21.jpg

Yesterday I had introduced her to ScratchJr on the iPad.

With ScratchJr, young children (ages 5-7) can program their own interactive stories and games. In the process, they learn to solve problems, design projects, and express themselves creatively on the computer.

I showed her around the app and she seemed to be having fun. I’m curious to see if she’ll use the app on her own and start building stories.

I think it’s a shame programming isn’t a core class in schools yet. It opens so many doors and will only be getting more important. Writing code and making a computer do what you want makes math fun and really does teach you how to think because you have to break things down and learn about logic.

Unfortunately many adults think it’s too late to learn to write code. It’s not.

The first thing many of us write in a computer language is called a Hello World program because the goal is simply to make the words “Hello World” display on the screen. Browse through Hello World Programs in 300 Programming Languages to see how simple many of them are.

If you’d like to get started Hour of Code has a lot of tutorials. Or grab a Raspberry Pi, which makes a great little dev machine. Issue 53 of The MagPi Magazine (free PDF download) has an easy to follow beginner’s guide to coding.

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