Note: This article, which originally appeared in our April 2019 print edition, has been lightly edited due to new facts that were presented to The Beat.
Walk into the computer rooms at Burnett or Pomeroy Elementary after the final bell rings, and you’ll find an increasingly familiar scene. Children as young as seven gather at a table with their school-issued laptops and play games, colors popping on their screens in all directions. Solve the puzzle correctly and out pops a fun, kid-themed animation. If they type incorrectly, students are left wondering where their computer work went wrong.
It’s easy to think these kids are blindly passing the time with games, but as far as local nonprofit Coding4Kids is concerned, that’s not the case. With these games, these second through sixth-graders are learning their first lessons in coding, the complicated language computers use to function.
“The Bay Area has always been known for being technology heavy, and Milpitas doesn’t have a lot of those coding classes, especially in elementary school,” said Mehak Garg, a former member of the club.
Garg is classmates with the nonprofit’s founder, Shivali Gulati.
In such a competitive tech market as Silicon Valley’s, learning to code early could very well give a person a leg up a couple of decades later. Even outside the tech world, jobs are becoming increasingly reliant on computers, which makes learning computer language all the more beneficial. And with students’ homework becoming increasingly digital, learning code can help pay off in the interim — for everything from teamwork to logic to problem-solving.
Gulati established two coding programs in Milpitas: one at Burnett and one at Pomeroy Elementary, as well as — through her connections — a similar program run by high school students in Virginia. Each class is an hour long and hosts anywhere from 30-45 students on each campus.
As tech machines become more ubiquitous in the classroom — and outside of it — coding becomes an even more important skill for children to learn. Virtually every elementary school in Milpitas has some form of computer-based work during the day, mostly on Chromebooks provided by the district. Math, science, and even reading work involve the use of computers. But rarely are students educated on how the computers themselves work.
If you’re wondering how a second-grader’s eyes don’t glaze over while staring at p-tags and source codes, then Coding4Kids’s curriculum has a solution for that, too. The nonprofit uses Scratch — a program developed by the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that allows children to create games and animations without any prior knowledge of programming text — and Python, a simple-to-use coding platform that uses many coding languages. All kids need to know is how to drag, drop, point, and click, similar to how coding-heavy websites like WordPress work — by offering a page where the user can directly type and click in, without using HTML.
Each coding exercise, when done correctly, codes into an animation or a kid-friendly webpage.
Students’ morning education isn’t overlooked at Coding4Kids either; they often have to use basic arithmetic and proofreading skills to ensure their code is working correctly. Coding is an exercise of meticulousness as much as one of math and science — one misplaced carat or forward slash can shoot out an error code, leaving students having to problem-solve on what they did wrong.
Coding4Kids has plans to expand its programs to the Milpitas Library and the Milpitas Teen Center for the 2019-20 school year, opening up more avenues for older children to learn code for their future professions, too.