Teaching Programming to Kids

It appears that the next phase of “online education” industry’s growth will now be squarely focused on teaching computer programming skills to kids.

Tynker has raised $3.25 million in funding. For a product that seems a direct rip-off of Scratch that’s come out of MIT (specifically its Lifelong Kindergarten group led by the talented and awesome Mitch Resnick) in 2006, I had to wonder what was going on in the heads of those who agreed back up Tynker.

Delving deeper, it’s clear that it’s not the product, it’s the implementation that is different. Having it hosted on cloud and providing teachers (or groups led by educators) tools to create lessons, track progress, etc. as premium services is probably where Tynker hopes to find its sweet spot.

However, if Tynker is based on Scratch, there are bunch of other cool ‘derivatives’ that are inspired by it too: Berkeley’s Snap! and Google’s Blockly immediately come to mind. And then there are new and upcoming products like Hopsctotch which is aimed at iPad.

Interestingly, Scratch’s wiki actually lists out a bunch of alternatives to Scratch including paid variants like Stencyl.

I am sure that there will be a sort of “gold rush” to adopting this BYOB approach to create children-focused tools and software to teach them computing skill. And if Tynker offers any clue, with the real hard-work of core framework already done and in place thanks to Scratch and its community, it’s going to be relatively easy for others to follow suit and provide alternative and maybe even better implementations since the money is largely in the hands of educators who’ll use those tools to prepare their courses and curriculum.

What’s cool and a possible area of innovation for some future start-ups is marriage of BYOB approach of Scratch with robotics kits. A working model of that is already in place in LEGO WeDo, perhaps thanks to Mitch’s previous work with LEGO MindStorms.

Then there are some refreshing approaches like Code Spells which teaches children Java code by letting them create spells written in the language, and could very well become the “missing link” between BYOB approach of Scratch and the more traditional CLI or IDE-based programming.

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One Response to “Teaching Programming to Kids”

  1. Derek Says:

    If CodeSpells ever gets adapted to help children learn Python (way better than Java for a first language), then I am *there*!

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