An Invitation for Kids to Learn Programming
I wrote in my last entry about the class I’m teaching this school year for kids learning programming in the Haskell programming language. After the response there, I talked it over with people involved, and we decided to extend an invitation to other children to be “virtually” part of the class!
- Know a child who would be interested in learning programming, and
- Know something about computer programming, and know or are willing to learn the basics of Haskell
Then I’m inviting you and the child you know to join our journey for the year! You’d be volunteering to do the teaching, but at least we can have a group of kids all learning at the same time.
Here’s what that means.
We’ll work throughout the year on a sequence of increasingly involved projects involving computer graphics, ranging from drawing pictures to creating computer games. I went into a lot more detail about the plan in the previous entry, so I encourage you to go back and read it if you didn’t before.
The key point here is that we want to provide several opportunities for kids:
- The thrill of building something they are proud of, and getting a computer do what they want, rather than the other way around.
- Practice in abstract thinking that will prepare them for mathematics, logic, and life in general.
It’s not really a goal at all to prepare students for a computer programming career, nor to teach the programming language we’ll be using (Haskell) in any comprehensive sense.
First of all, everything we do in the class will be summarized on this blog, in posts in the “Haskell for Kids” category. My students will be assigned to come leave comments on each post with questions, comments, or thoughts they have about what we did that week. We encourage you and the child you’re working with to do the same. Please respond to each other’s posts, and talk about what you find interesting as well. Our hope is that not only will everyone learn programming, but that we’ll also be able to build a community of kids who know each other and care about each other’s accomplishments.
One of the things we’ll be doing the first week (which is next week.., wow!) is recording videos where students introduce themselves and talk about what they hope to get out of this. We’ll put these on YouTube, and I’ll embed them in the first blog post. Any other children participating are encouraged to do the same. If you leave a link to your own video, I can embed it in that post as well!
I tend to be in favor of letting people have awesome experiences, rather than obsessing about safety… but a few common-place restrictions are needed here. Please don’t post comments in the Haskell for Kids category with profanity, insults, etc. Let’s be a supportive community. Please also make sure kids don’t post phone numbers, addresses, or other contact information that really could compromise their safety. I’ll be watching comments on these posts a little more closely than the rest of this blog, and I will try to actively remove comments that are problematic, more than I do elsewhere.
One of the really cool aspects of this is that we’ll be building stuff — in the beginning pictures, then animations, and finally games! It’s way more fun to share the stuff you’re building with others. So I’ve set up a version control repository for all the kids’ projects. The goal here is to let people easily get, compile, and try out the projects of others. I’ll be happy to add anyone else that’s participating as a committer, so that you can add your students’ projects to the group, too; just ask in a reply to your child’s comment introducing themselves, and ask.
For anyone that doesn’t want to figure out how to set up darcs or use version control, you’re also welcome to email me your child’s source code in a zip file, and I’ll handle getting it checked in; but there might be delays of a day or two before others can get your code if you do it that way.
Every kid that’s participating will have a teacher: for the kids in the physical class, that’s me. For the kid you know, that would be you! I considered trying to set up a way for all of us teachers to talk to each other about lesson plans, feedback on what to do and what to spend more time on… but then I realized that there’s no real reason to be secretive about it! We can use blog comments as well, and if kids read it and find it interesting, so much the better!
For rare (hopefully nonexistent) occasions where we really do need adult-only conversation, a lot of the people involved in this are already using Google+, so we can coordinate building up a mutual circle for adults involved in this project, and communicate there… if you want to be part of this, we’ll coordinate it after kids do introductory posts next week.
The students I’m teaching are in the 7th grade in U.S. terms, so about 12 years old, turning 13 during the school year. Kids younger than that are always welcome to participate, as long as you (“you” meaning the responsible adult) feel like they will be able to keep up, or at least that it’s worth a try. Kids older than that are welcome up to a point…
That point is defined by the idea that we want this to be a group of peers, and something that kids are doing for their personal development and fun. I don’t want to set an age limit, but if I did, maybe it would be 14-15. In the end, though, it depends on personality: some teens are happy to learn alongside younger kids and interact as peers, and some are not so happy about it. And, if an older teen is learning programming as a possible job prospect, I wish them well but they are also not likely to find this the best way to do that. You presumably know the child you’re thinking about, so feel free to make a judgement call!
Of course, children of any age — even those that are middle-aged, or collecting pensions — are welcome to read the blog, and pipe in with helpful comments and encouragement!
My first in-person class will meet a week from Tuesday. Sadly, a fair amount of the first two weeks is likely to be taken up with getting software installed: the Haskell Platform, for example, and a text editor, and becoming accustomed to using the console, changing directories, and typing commands. We’ll also talk about the high-level ideas of compilers and programming languages and how they fit together, and play around with using GHCi as a calculator and with entering and running simple programs.
You can expect the first “real” blog post (the first one that follows an actual class) to appear Wednesday of next week, and that’s when we’ll ask kids to start commenting. See you then!