Learning to code is not the only obstacle to make programming accessible to everyone
Since graduating high school over 25 years ago, coding has become a skill synonymous with technology. One of my hobbies in high school was developing my own website, whose domain I still own today. Since then, I have taken my website down, but the skills I have learned back then are ones that I continually hone but with the use of more friendly website building interfaces. In addition, in college I took C and C++ as electives, back then there were just a limited number of computer games available and creating our own and sharing was the easiest way to have more available. However, I realize how daunting and intimidating text-based coding can be as I try to teach myself Java and Python. With the advent of block-based coding or programming, such as Scratch and Blockly, learning to code has become accessible to so many more people. Rather than memorizing commands and dealing with syntax errors, all the commands are represented as blocks that people can drag and drop. Though block-based coding make a great introduction to coding, the virtual nature of what we program still makes it a difficult task. Video games still require artwork and different elements of the artwork to recreate movement and action. This requires learning software to create these images that you want to incorporate into your video game. Fortunately Scratch and similar programs offer a variety of images that any user can easily incorporate into their image, animation, etc. This is great for many users, but not for those that really want to create something completely original. With LEGO robotics, children are already familiar with building with LEGOs and even if they are not, building with LEGO is very intuitive. LEGO has motors and a variety of gears and different sensors that connect with LEGO blocks that can easily integrate into a LEGO creation to make anyone’s creation move and respond to external stimuli. Rather than requiring children to make something virtual which might require learning how to illustrate on the computer, uploading images, and/or using the stock images provided by block-based coding programs, anyone’s LEGO creation can be programmed using the LEGO block-based coding language to respond to sensors and move using the LEGO motors. Also modifications to their LEGO build can be done quickly, which is not so simple when a student tries to create and modify their own virtual creations. In addition, for students already familiar with MIT Media Lab’s Scratch, can use Scratch to program their LEGO Education WeDo and WeDo 2.0 creation. Though learning how to code and memorizing different coding commands is becoming an essential skill as coding has become a marketable skill in this digital age, it is quickly becoming outsourced to individuals in other countries that can do it quicker, longer and for less pay. What is truly important about knowing how to program is developing unique applications of that code, being creative and inventive. As educators we should be teaching coding to lay the foundation but we also need to boost creativity and innovation in our children. Similar to learning a language, after we learn the lexicon and grammar, how can we use that information to create something novel.