Teaching Kids to Teach Computers
Caleb, a software engineer and remote worker for a California I.T. company, dedicates his time every month to sharing what he loves with children at the Cottonwood Public Library. He is a High Impact volunteer, teaching programming for the Coding Club.
The kids come for the fun of it. Most of them have the intention to apply what they learn to game development, but they leave with a marketable skill that crosses disciplines.
“It’s technology education for children who might not have that outlet, for free.” Caleb tells me. But it’s more than that: “Coding is logic.”
He explains that programming teaches youth to think analytically, to reason and understand structure.
“What do I want the computer to do and how do I get it to do that?” Fill in the blank with a word other than “computer,” and you have the essence of what Caleb is explaining. Logic allows people to figure out how the world works, how to influence other living beings, things, and systems to respond in an expected way. It’s a brilliant life strategy.
At its most basic, coding is giving a computer instructions, telling it precisely what to do. Caleb uses a program called Scratch. Scratch makes it fun, something between a game and a puzzle that allows the kids to begin to assemble code, to build structures of information and direction.
When I arrive, he is just finishing up with the club, and his instructions are punctuated with the enthusiasm of the kids who sit focused intently on their screens. It’s a fantastic combination of camaraderie and learning, and they linger as long as they can, reluctant for the Club to end.
During the interview, his daughter is curled up on the bench, reading a book. I ask Caleb what he does for fun. He defers to his daughter, “What do I do for fun?”
“He really likes coding,” she tells me looking over the top of her book. “A lot.” It’s true; he confirms this.
Caleb is easy to talk to, even though I don’t speak his language… A self-proclaimed introvert, Caleb speaks the language of technology comfortably and knowledgeably with the budding programmers that circle the table once a month to learn how to code and have fun while they do it. He’s fluent and they are taking to this second language naturally, a language of introverts the world over.
Although he loves computers and video games, and has for as long as he can remember, he’s not anyone’s stereotype of a programmer, there isn’t an aura of black-out drapes and Big Gulps surrounding him. He loves to spend time with his family and their dog, hiking and exploring the outdoors. He enjoys reading Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and he balances this with Science Friday on NPR. His interests are a good mix for a software engineer: fantasy and science. The world needs both right now.
At the end of the interview I ask an open ended question, just for fun. I ask Caleb if there is any mystery he wishes he has the answer to. He hesitates, this is abstract, a different language. “Science has already answered so many,” he says.
Then he smiles, because this is a perfectly logical answer.
Coding Club is held on the 3rd Saturday of the month in the 2nd floor Teen Zone from 11am to 12:30pm. All skill levels are welcome. Requires basic math and reading ability. Computers are first come, first served but participants ages 11-18 are welcome to bring their own laptops if they have one.