A Different Kind of Programming Course for Kids: The Back-story

About a year and a half ago, Pluralsight put out a call for programming courses targeted for kids. I couldn’t resist the challenge, and the resulting course “Amazing Things You Can Do With a Web Browser (And a Bit of Code)” is now available for free viewing on Pluralsight.com.

It’s not your usual kid’s programming course.

I know what a beginner’s course is supposed to look like. You start by teaching the most basic concepts and then build on them step by step. You add interactivity – things they can try and experiment with along the way. And that is a good solid approach – especially for kids who want to learn programming.

There are lots of great courses like that already. I wanted to do something different. In particular, I wanted something that might appeal to kids who weren’t necessarily interested in learning programming.

Every educational expert will tell you that the way kids learn best is through play. Personally, I think that’s the way adults learn best too, but that’s another subject.

When kids play, they do not start from basic concepts and build on them step by step. They go straight for the goal and fill in the blanks, making them up as needed. They don’t lecture each other – they engage in conversation and argue with each other. They like to mess with each other, prank each other. And they are much more interested in listening to other kids than to adults.

So I thought to myself, how do we make a course playful – the way kids really play?

I knew I couldn’t do it myself. I can have all kinds of theories and opinions of what would appeal to kids, I could even do market research – but I can’t really know it personally. I may have had the vision, but the kind of course I had in mind could only be created by a kid. A really smart kid.

Now those of you who have read my book “Developing Teen Leadership” know that I’ve volunteered for many years as a youth group advisor. Over the years I’ve met a lot of smart kids who were into programming – and let me tell you, the list of companies they work for and titles that they now hold would blow your mind. So I looked at our current membership and who was into programming, and had a chat with a 14 year old named Tom. We chatted, brainstormed and pitched the idea to Pluralsight, and they bravely decided to give it a shot.

The (long awaited) result was “Amazing Things You Can Do With a Web Browser (And a Bit of Code)”. The format is a conversation between Tom and me. Tom is the teacher – I am the student. The examples are… well, playful. We have a talking pirate. A geek test. A cool way to prank your friends. We make mistakes along the way and fix bugs as they come up.

This course is not the final word on kids programming courses. It’s not better that what exists. It’s different. An experiment – hopefully one that will inspire other innovation in this space.

One final thing that I want to make clear. While the original vision for the approach may be mine, the content of the course is Tom’s. We brainstormed the project ideas, but he had the final say. He wrote all of the samples. I did not tell him what to say. He really is the teacher of the course, and I had a lot of fun being the student.

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