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The Source Code

A Blog on Learning Coding and STEM skills

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

Camp fairs never fail to impress me with the wide variety of activities available to kids. Any parent will tell you they agonize over how to keep their kids busy and entertained over the summer, and what kids do during the summer can bring vivid memories of childhood for them when they are older. I haven't planned my childrens' summer yet, but I have agonized over our camp schedule. Games, Minecraft, and Robots camps will be the most popular camps. Mobile, Web, and AI camps were some of my favorite last summer because the technology is cool. I also added Graphics, Java, Web II and Wearables this year, to complement Python and to introduce new platforms and languages like Photopea, micro:bit and Javascript. Gotta keep innovating!

Regarding the competition, parents looking for coding camps for kids have a wide variety of options. There is Code Galaxy, iCode, Code Ninjas, Coding With Kids, Hello World, Fun2LearnCode, Future Set Tech, Digital Media Academy, Gameworlds, IDTech, and even some STEM shops that offer coding like The Scholar Ship and Idea Lab Kids. It's great to see that coding is mainstream and that families recognize the need to learn to code and that kids embrace coding. So how do we set ourselves apart?

  1. First, our staff of coders leads classes. We don't have proprietary software built to store student records and progress; our instructors know each child's name and strives to provide excellence in teaching coding.

  2. Secondly, we teach coding year-round in our studio. If a child finds her passion in one of our camps, she is welcome to stay and continue her coding journey once the school year starts.

  3. Next, we are not a franchise. We are a small local business started in Austin that supports our local schools.

  4. Next, we are priced competitively to most camps other than the ones that are around 1K. I don't know how parents spend anywhere close to 1K on one week of camp! One coding camp owner told me he got started in his business when he saw the outrageous prices some coding camps were charging.

  5. Lastly, we have small ratios of 6:1 and aim to give each child the support they need to learn to code. We started our studio because we love to code and want to share the rewards.

Many of these programs offer camps as well as classes. How are the formats different? 2020 will be our second summer as a business, having set up shop in fall 2018. The hustle and bustle of the summer with so many spirited kids walking through our doors is definitely uplifting and humbling. These campers don't have time to come during the year so are looking for one week of intense exposure. Our year-round programs are a different crowd, mostly kids who are serious about learning how to code and want to invest time and energy in the art and process. This year, we had a tween student from Summer 2019 camp return for weekly coding classes in Python. We also had a student from one of our after-school programs come weekly to learn Unity. It is a pleasure knowing that we served them well in these one-time camps/classes such that the families would trust us to teach them on a regular basis.

From a student perspective, attending regular classes will provide the necessary practice to get good at any STEM skill we offer, whether coding, digital art, or chess. A one week camp is great for introduction and exposure, but year-round classes allow a student to learn more deeply and allow a student to incorporate it into their regular education to develop the skillset through practice and reinforcement.

If you were to ask me whether I enjoy camps more or year-round programs, it would have to be the year-round programs because that is where we get to know the kids and get to go deeper with coding. It's where the magic happens and the passion is ignited. While it is possible for a one-week camp to ignite a spark, it is less likely because a week goes by quickly and the students often move on to something else. When I opened the studio, I did not realize how seasonal business would be because I expected kids to code all-year round in order to get good at it. In actuality, the parents' schedule also affects whether they are able to code with us on a regular basis! Families drop in and out with other kids' activities and some are only available during the summer. In the end, any format that works for a family and any time that can be devoted to STEM education is the most important factor!

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

I recently suggested to Austin Kids DIrectory that they list our business in a category called STEM along with Mad Science. Idea Lab Kids would fit here too. I have also recently introduced Robotics and Graphics, which are broader STEM topics that may or may not involve coding. Why?

I want to appeal to a broader audience, including girls and kids that might not like the stereotype of coders. I hope that by inviting new students to our studio, they may be exposed to coding and change the way they think of coding. I think being a part of a community is important in the way that young people view themselves and in instilling excitement about what they want to do in the future. However, at the same time, while we do include math in our coding projects, we do not plan to conduct science or cooking experiments. Our end goal is to develop coders, not to just pass time coding. Coding is a skill that will enrich kids' lives regardless of their future career path.

Many programs in Austin are designed to engage kids under the age of 10 with cool activities like making flashlights or backpacks or dessert. Engagement is wonderful and necessary, but at My Coding Place, we want to train brains to think logically and to create a community of innovators. This is not limited to teaching coding. Solving problems with digital solutions is our mission, and to get there, I think we need to foster the following:

  • Mindfulness - students should think about coding outside of their time at the studio

  • Creativity - students should seek different ways to apply their skills

  • Passion - students should be engaged and seek to learn more

We are working on developing mindfulness, creativity, and passion. We have a handful of students that have been with us from the start that clearly demonstrate these attributes, but it is our job to instill these values through our programs. If we hire the right people, that will be a first step, but we must then train them to ask the right questions and continue to evaluate and improve our programs to differentiate from the many options in Austin for kids to learn to code.

Video games and entertainment will always win if kids have free time in front of a computer. Countless businesses are addressing what we can do to utilize that time in a way that benefits children. Platforms like Code Combat disguise coding in video game fashion where characters must write correct code to get to the next level. We use this platform as a motivational tool but realize its limitation for learning as students are often clicking through to complete the level without processing the educational value. I studied educational technology in graduate school because I was intrigued by the potential of technology for education and learning. It is a challenge I continue to think about on a regular basis, how to channel technology to optimize learning. While MCP has branched out to STEM, our focus remains on coding and reaching as many kids as possible with the rewards of coding.

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

When I first moved to Austin in 2003, I was looking for organizations to volunteer with and chose GirlStart. I supported after-school robotics for girls in a local middle school and wonder what those kids are studying now, whether STEM or another field. While I think the pipeline problem is important and needs to be addressed, I think an equally significant and perhaps bigger problem is post-graduation, with retention of women in technical fields.

This weekend I volunteered at Chicktech High School to support high school girls in an IoT workshop, building and coding a Micro:bit watch. The workshop teacher worked at Microsoft philanthropy training computer science teachers. It was very exciting to meet the ChickTech leadership team and fellow volunteers and mentors. All the women had their own stories of how they were introduced to computer science or resisted it because it was their parents' choice of discipline for them. I met the woman who brought ChickTech to Austin four years ago and really enjoyed her story. I also met teachers, software developers, and technical writers. We talked about how more women are needed in development and sales engineering, and how women tend to be in customer success or professional services such as training or consulting. While their presence and voice adds badly needed diversity to tech leadership, we still need women in the more technical domains . Women need to be recognized and respected for their abilities to design algorithms and write code, otherwise coding is still mainly for men.

I think what contributes to the lack of women in development is the lack of women in development. We don't see people that look like us on software engineering teams, so it is easy to feel isolated and lonely if you are female. It also takes a certain personality to have longevity as a developer, rather than branching out to other areas of a software company that are customer-facing. Unfortunately, because developers are mostly men, their leadership is men as well, which makes it hard for women to feel like they belong and feel like they have a voice.

For this reason, I applaud organizations like Women Who Code whose purpose is to create community among female coders. However, the challenges are great, as female developers will not see many fellow women on their development team or at development conferences. I think there needs to be more support at the corporate level and more leadership training and mentoring for women. The organizations supporting and growing the pipeline of girls and keeping them in computer science are doing a great job, and now the professional community must unite to recognize the challenge that female software engineers and sales engineers face and help them navigate and succeed in their male-dominated teams.