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Programmers: The Next Generation

My December print column, called Frameworks, is about Microsoft's Small Basic programming language, and how it makes it easy for kids as young as 10 to learn the basics of coding. I wanted to expand upon this a bit and point out that Microsoft has gone further, and put a lot of free resources online for teachers.

One site with a lot of promise is Teaching Kids Programming. It's 14 weeks' worth of software that teaches principles in bite-sized chunks. All the material is free, and there are videos which demonstrate using each of the chunks, which they call "recipes." There's some software to download, but the system requirements are minimal, and most homes and schools should have capable computers. The key is that the teachers (whomever they are -- parents, teachers, older brothers or sisters, etc.) don't need any programming background to teach the lessons; everything they'd need is provided. The site features step-by-step guides, including quiz and homework ideas.

One caveat is that the sites I've seen aren't updated very often, leading me to wonder if they're being orphaned, or if there's just nothing to update. The Small Basic blog, for example, was last updated more than three months ago, and a question on the Teaching Kids Programming site about the recipes not compiling was asked more than two months ago, with no response. Yo, Microsoft -- if folks aren't going to be helped when they have problems, they won't come back.

Still, the evolution of Small Basic and the teaching tools available are encouraging signs. We should be exposing children to software development at a young age, to spark their interest -- waiting until high school or college may be too late for many of them.

With Steve Jobs gone and Bill Gates out of the loop, it's time to start raising the next generation of developers who could change the world. Let's get going.

Posted by Keith Ward on 11/08/2011

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