how to get kids interested in STEM
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How to Get Kids Interested in STEM

November 28, 2018

A local app developer and mom of two boys shares classes, games and apps that will introduce kids as young as 3 to coding and tech skills.

By Brandy Foster

We all know that STEM is the future. What not everyone knows is that it’s way more than just working in laboratories or solving enormous equations. Engineering, health care, hardware and software development, design and, most importantly, innovation all fall under the STEM umbrella.

In truth, innovation is the key to the future, but innovation requires diversity. As we solve the world’s problems, it is vital that we have different minds from varied backgrounds coming together in the process. That’s why people get second opinions in the medical field, and why scientific breakthroughs require experimental replication. Seeing is believing, and the more points of view available to us, the more we are able to see. We have to do what we can to increase the diversity in our problem-solvers, especially since the problems they’re solving may include how they’ll care for us when we are old.

Securing our future starts, of course, with children — children of all socioeconomic statuses and backgrounds. Encouraging coding and developing skills in kids — and getting students involved in tech from an early age — can set them up for a successful career as an adult in tech, as well as provide the building blocks for success in life. You know the old saying “choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life?” Creating something out of nothing — for me, creating apps out of code — is like that. And the foundation of building that career can be laid early on.

Many of our educational institutions have caught on and implemented some kind of STEM focus in the classroom. But despite how far school curricula have come, there remain a lot of gaps in tech education, both in our school systems and in learning opportunities outside of K-12 walls. This presents an obstacle for interested and exploring youth. So how do parents, guardians, teachers and mentors assist and encourage our youth to investigate technology as a passion, and possibly a profession? Innovate!

One of the key things I’ve learned about being a good software developer is that it takes way more than ability to write code. Strengthening our teamwork, personal development and communication muscles is key. Curiosity and critical thinking are essential — being able to ask “why,” not just “how,” when faced with a data set or problem to solve. And being able to look beyond the “what” to imagine “what could be” is also important. The great thing is that all of these are skills any adult can help a youth learn.

Activities that support these design, logic and problem-solving skills are readily available in both structured and unstructured environments. Here’s a quick look at what’s out there for the tech-hungry kid in your life.

In-person classes

Organizations such as Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program, BlackGirlsCode, JOURNi and AccelerateKID offer K-12 students courses in computer programming, game design and robotics after school and on weekends. Clubs like Girls Who Code, which aims to close the gender gap in technology, are also great options.

Online learning

There are hundreds of websites that teach kids basic programming skills for low or no cost. The internet may be the best place to turn for younger children with an interest in developing software. Here’s an age-appropriate breakdown of some of the best resources:

Ages 3 and older: Scratch

Ages 5 and older: Hour of Code

Ages 8 and older: Khan Academy and Code Academy

Ages 10 and older: SoloLearn

Ages 12 and older: Udacity

Ages 14 and older: Coursera

Mobile apps

As more kids have access to mobile devices, coding education has become more available on the go, including apps such as ScratchJr, Swift Playgrounds and Daisy the Dinosaur — all of which are free.

Other options

The Hour of Code is a global effort that offers free one-hour introductory code tutorials in more than 45 languages. Designed to make code visible and accessible to anyone, the grassroots campaign is supported by over 400 partners and 200,000 educators worldwide, reaching students in more than 180 countries. These workshops can be held at any time, although they primarily take place during Computer Science Education Week Dec. 3-9.

Kid-friendly DIY computer kits that teach both physical making and coding skills are on the market, including Kano’s Harry Potter-themed coding wand kit that uses Bluetooth to interact with a tablet or computer. Or, if you have a board game lover, Code: On The Brink teaches youth to use logic to solve puzzles.

Home-based activities

Outside of structured courses, whether in-person or online, adults with interested kids can foster critical development skills in many low-tech ways, from encouraging free play with Legos and puzzle-building, to something as simple as using paper and pencil to work through a question, reading about the tech industry, and finding and watching video content about the industry.

With so many options, adults can create a curriculum for the next generation of technologists. What will be most important in setting them up for success is adult involvement and encouragement. Adults can use this opportunity to learn more about technology themselves and share in the journey with the young people in their lives.

Brandy Foster is an Android application developer at Detroit Labs, a custom software development company and maker of mobile, web and vehicle app. And because she’s always “doing the most” she is also known as the Detroit Labs’ Diversity and Inclusion Coach, the mother of two epic boys who constantly force her to re-think what is life, a Facebook poet and a lover of all things science fiction.

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