3 FREE Tools for Teaching Kids to Code

Sam Chada
Oct 16, 2013

This post is dedicated to by friend, Gabe.

As the conversation about education shifts towards helping students develop useful skills in life beyond the classroom, a new spotlight on computer coding has emerged. Computer coding teaches vital problem solving, creativity, and communication skills. Plus, it’s fun!

According to organizations like Code.org and Computing in the Core, non-profits dedicated to growing computer science education by making it available in more schools, 9 out of 10 schools don’t even offer computer programming classes. This is a major issue because computer science is today’s highest paid college degree and computer programming jobs are growing at two-times the national average.

But there are more benefits to learning how to code than just job opportunities. Mitchel Resnick, LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research and head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, believes there are much deeper and broader reasons for learning to code. Resnick reports that “In addition to learning mathematical and computational ideas (such as variables and conditionals), they are also learning strategies for solving problems, designing projects, and communicating ideas”.

Just like learning a foreign language there are many (free and awesome!) tools and resources available to help get you started:

1.) Scratch

Scratch was developed by the MIT Media Lab and was released in 2007 and over one million projects have been shared on the site. With Scratch, you can program interactive stories, games, and animations and share the creations with others online.

Scratch is available free of charge, and runs on Mac, Windows and Linux computers. There is also a Scratch Wiki available as a good resource.

** The Library is hosting our second Scratch Program for tweens and teens on Saturday, November 9 from 2:30 – 3:30 p.m.  It’s so much fun!  

2.) App Inventor

App Inventor was developed by the MIT Centre for Mobile Learning and lets you develop applications for Android phones using a web browser and either a connected phone or emulator. You can store your work and keep track of your projects using the App Inventor servers. I really like that the app appears on the phone step-by-step as you add pieces to it, so you can test your work as you build. Once complete, you can package your app and produce a stand-alone application to install.

The App Inventor is available free of charge, and runs on Mac, Windows and Linux computers. The App Inventor’s tutorials are available as a great place to start.

3.) Alice

Alice is a free and open source 3D programming environment designed by the folks at Carnegie Mellon University. Alice makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. This tool is designed to be a student’s first exposure to object-oriented programming.

Alice is compatible with Macs, Windows, and Linux computers and has a great community of users posting questions, answers, and tutorials.

I’m not sure if computer science will become a baseline subject like math, writing, or social studies in the future, but the lessons learned from computer science – logic, critical thinking, problem solving – are crucial. So let’s teach kids to hack while they’re young!

The above three resources are sites that I’ve actually used but there are many other programs geared towards the K-12 level. What are some sites and resources that you have used?