Code for kids

– how the Norwegian movement to get kids coding came about – and what we’re up to

Jeg fikk lov å skrive denne artikkelen til Programutviklings blad «The Developer» som ble publisert før konferansen NDC 2013

Skjermbilde 2013-10-27 kl. 10.10.56

You have all seen the video from code.org, right? Where Hadi Partov assembled the brightest stars of the american computer industry – people who in their day jobs fight each other in a brutal and healthy competition. However, in this endeavour they are all united – as we are in Norway and many other countries. Our mission is to wake the population from a slumber – the slumber of allowing the young ones to only be consumers – not creators – of technology

“For young people: it teaches you how to think, it unlocks creativity, and builds confidence. It’s an amazing feeling for a young boy or girl to realize, “If I don’t like something, I can change it. If I wish I had something, I can create it.” This sense of empowerment is valuable no matter what path you choose in life. (And of course, if you choose to pursue Computer Science more seriously, it unlocks amazing career opportunities.)” – Hadi Partov, creator of code.org

Being on the advisory board of a local polytechnic (HiOA), I listened to the teaching staff complaining about the low number of qualified students entering the Computer Science programmes. I then realized that the focus on user-friendliness in computing has accidentally prevented the children from discovering that they can actually program the computers that surround them. And even though we are surrounded by more computers than ever before, there is less CS-related teaching in the primary and high schools than when I grew up!

When I was young, the only way of making my Commodore 64 do fun stuff was to program it. Being a son of a widowed librarian, I couldn’t afford the expensive games on sale. So I had to type in the game listings in magazines. As a consequence, I discovered that I had some talent in programming, and later on pursued a career in computing. As did many of my contemporaries. Now there is a dire shortage of new talent in the business.

Fast-forward to february 2013. The code.org video had made its mark, and I had been pondering for a while about the idea of establishing a local Meetup aimed at teaching the kids in Oslo to code. I had mentioned it to my partners on the eastern board of the Norwegian Computer Society. So I casually responded to a tweet by Olve Maudal, and challenged him to join me in making a programming course for children. He responded favourably, as did many others. I turned to Johannes Brodwall to help me establish a meetup group. And unwittingly turned on the fire hose!

Just like in the U.S, people and companies came in hordes. The first month was an unreal experience. The leaders in the developer communities and some members of academia in Norway all tweeted to make their followers join in, and soon enough we had sister meetups in the major Norwegian cities. Also the industry journalists, notably Eirik Rossen of digi.no, chimed in, and called to action. Then came Torgeir Waterhouse, director of Internet at ICT Norway. The two of us hit it off, and decided to run this project together. Lots of companies – personally represented by their CEO´s – stated that they fully supported this. And to top it all, the Minister of Government Administration, Reform and Church Affairs gave a  talk at the kickoff meeting, which was live streamed to hundreds of people in their homes and to peer meetings in the other major cities. After five weeks!

The voluntary organizations in Great Britain have shown the way in this field. Computing at School (Cas), Code Club, and Raspberry Pi foundation have already made a massive impact on the computer literacy of British children. Through our network, we have had the privilege of reaching the front persons involved, We recently had a phone meeting with Simon Peyton-Jones of CaS  – who you may also know as a major contributor to the Haskell functional language. Linda Sandvik of Code Club allows us to translate and use all of their material, and we have only just started to explore how being connected to CaS can accelerate the process of introducing CS in Norwegian Schools. BTW, the good people at Codeacademy.org of the U.S. kindly let us translate their material, too!

We have >650 members in nine cities, and tens of schools already busy introducing programming in their curriculum. The «inner circle» of the project counts some 80 persons in several working groups. We are a movement of doers, not bureaucrats. «Organizations organize, movements move». So we are currently focusing in five areas: To translate and establish teaching material, arrange local meetings for children and their parents, organizing a network of teachers and schools, establishing local code clubs, and building a website that allows people to find each other and seek the assistance they need.

One of the coolest things happening this spring, is the introduction of the “kodeklubben” section of NDC – we will have a special evening on june 11th with the young and their parents being introduced to coding.

I fully appreciate that I am just an ordinary tech bloke who accidentally triggered this – it was an explosion waiting to happen. There are many brilliant individuals and organizations who already have done a lot of work in the field. What we have done is to connect them. So recently, I have had the privilege of engaging fantastic people who I would never have dreamed of working with in my day job. This makes me and Torgeir filled with appreciation and humility, at the same time as we are bent on steering this project through. I feel privileged to have an employer – Bouvet ASA – who has been very patient with me – effectively sponsoring a favor to society.

In conclusion: Go seek up your local primary school and offer your services – or help establishing an after-school code club for the children in your neighborhood. If you happen to be in Norway, you can find us at www.kidsakoder.no. There you should find helpful persons, how-to´s and teaching material that quickly gets you going.

___________________________

Bio: Simen Sommerfeldt started out in telecom, ending up in Ericsson after a few acquisitions. He has been with Bouvet Oslo for ten years now, where he used to run the Java department and is now finding his way as CTO. He lives just south of Oslo, and has three children aged six to twelve – whom he tries to introduce to coding. His wife and their dog sometimes feel left out of the family coding community

Pictures: http://www.kidsakoder.no/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Simen-Sommerfeldt-2013.png

http://www.kidsakoder.no/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/logo.png

http://www.kidsakoder.no/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/IMG_2107-1024×275.jpg

http://www.kidsakoder.no/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/IMG_2096-624×467.jpg

http://www.kidsakoder.no/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/kodeklubb_in_black-1024×220.png

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