LearnHow Do Kids Learn Tech?


Joy Kesten
writes on August 1, 2014

Hi, my name is Joy. Let me tell you a little bit about what I do.

I’m a school teacher. After a rousing school year in my 5th grade our class gathered for the last circle of the year. We shared, one at a time, what we appreciated the most this year. They could have reflected on anything, but the one thing the kids reminisced about was learning how to code. Yes, that’s right: I taught 5th graders how to code. I take that back; they played with code and they taught themselves amazing things.

Over the last two years I’ve made it my goal (in my public school classroom) to teach every student in my class how to write computer code.

I opened my first class with a question; what did they know about computer languages. I asked them how computers work, and what kinds of things are controlled by computers. Unsurprisingly, they knew the names of a handful of computer languages and were able to identify things around the room that had been programmed.

After a short, but important, talk about using the information they were about to learn for good and not evil, I asked the question, “so… what do you want to make?” A pensive silence filled the room. Then one student said, “I want to build a game.” Of course he did; they all did. Kids love games. I directed the class to a page of possible tools they could use on my class website, and with a little instruction, they were off. Students were trying stuff, sharing ideas, asking questions, then concentrating intensely. All hoping they would, one day, make the game of their dreams.

It was no surprise when none of the kids made a game that first day. However, there were high fives all around at the end of class when students projected what they had been building on the whiteboard. Most just looked like pictures, some had color, and depending on the platform they had used, some had motion, but the most impressive thing was that each one was unique.

As the year went on, different kids approached me with ideas they had, or bug fixes they couldn’t master, or ask how to remix something their friend had made. Students stayed up late, skipped recess, and couldn’t wait to show me things they had made over the weekend.

By the end of the year, every student had achieved his or her goal – to make a game. They had also improved their game over time, integrated ideas from other students, added complexity based on feedback, and felt a proud ownership of what they had built.

I think we would all agree that the Common Core, standardized testing, quizzes and tests have their place in our children’s education. They are, in my opinion, important parts of the learning platform, and provide teachers with a meaningful data set in which to plan future lessons. But, I think children need something else. An addition, a substitution, or an extension to the existing curriculum. Call it what you will but it needs to fire their brains and provide an outlet for all that passionate creativity.


I left my job as a public school teacher to join Treehouse. And now I’m excited to be planning a new project that will get kids coding. A project that will motivate them, challenge them and ignite the fire in their bellies. If you know some kids that want to learn tech stay tuned for a very exciting Treehouse project that is aimed at teaching kids to code.


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23 Responses to “How Do Kids Learn Tech?”

  1. Juli Litchford on August 7, 2014 at 9:58 pm said:

    I was surprised at the initial negative response that you received. I would encourage anyone opposed to teaching coding in schools to watch the Andrew McAfee Ted Talk about the future of the workforce. Things are changing, and they will continue to change faster and faster. I applaud your efforts, and I am excited to see how much technology advances and how much our world changes over the next 10, 20, and 30 years.

  2. I wonder if 5th grade might be kind of a sweet-spot for learning programming.
    Some people think that kids that age still have some of that early childhood linguistic ability. Did your kids have an easier time than you’d expect adjusting to programming semantics?
    Thinking about cognitive development, Piaget would put fifth graders toward the end of the concrete operational stage. Programming seems like a nice bridge toward formal abstract thinking. Programming tends to create “concrete” models of more abstract “formal operative” concepts. You have variables that hold numbers or other informational objects and functions are a kind of machine that takes something in one side and makes it into something else out the other side.
    From your experience, would you start the process even earlier or later?

    • Great observation! To answer your question, yes, I think end of 4th beginning of 5th for most students seemed to work out the best. The 3rd graders were still a little young, especially if they were asked to write actual lines of code. That being said, 3rd graders could grasp the logics and were little wizards on apps like Hopscotch and Scratch.

      If started at an appropriate age, children have a way of accepting new knowledge as just that, and don’t try to overanalyze or fight it. Some of my older 7th and 8th grade students had this problem. In the end, programming is a language and therefore the earlier the better.

      In addition, if we are going there 🙂 I also found it to fall in line with Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development theory. Because variables and order of operations were things the students were learning in their 5th grade math class, it translated well when they were asked to apply those same terms to a programming task. I also made sure to scaffold the assignments appropriately, using easier tools for harder tasks. If I wanted them to write a function for a linear equations on a coordinate plane, I used an easier language like Scratch. For easier tasks I used harder tools, such as telling a joke or dialogue between two characters, I had them demonstrate their learning in a harder language like JavaScript.

  3. Awesome! Your & Treehouse’s passion for teaching and helping people breakdown barriers to learning is such a great resource. With what the team creates, I would see potentially the ability to use in informal (afterschool, summer, etc.) education for areas it might not be an option in schools. Allowing YMCAs or similar to facilitate the coding courses would be such an asset to any community. Thank you!

    • Joy Kesten on August 6, 2014 at 12:53 pm said:

      Absolutely Nathan! I’m testing it out myself this fall with two after school programs to get first hand insight into how it can be most successful. If you have anyone in mind, or want it at your local after school program please forward my information on. Thank you again for your kind words!

  4. This is really really cool I believe in what you’re doing and that kids can learn a lot from coding, whether or not they continue with it as a career. Excited to hear more about this!

  5. This is great! It is so important for kids to learn the skills necessary to compete in our ever-changing and quickly-evolving world. What a wonderful thing you are doing! A great gift for these children as it may open their eyes to a whole new hobby or even career path.

  6. Gill Carson on August 4, 2014 at 1:53 pm said:

    Okay the images are fixed now. Thanks

  7. Gill Carson on August 4, 2014 at 1:46 pm said:

    Hi Richard I will look into it. Thanks!

  8. RIchard Beddington on August 4, 2014 at 8:48 am said:

    The two images in this blog article add to over 14mb. I don’t think I’ve ever posted a nit-picking comment on a blog but for a web tutorials blog that is absurd?!

  9. Hi!
    I found my interest in coding in year 9 (I’m in the UK) over 3 years ago and sadly, my school had nothing in place that could teach me more and guide me. I have used treehouse since then and earlier this year i left college and have a full time job as an iOS developer! Treehouse has been vital in my journey and I’m really pleased they’re aiming courses at younger children now!

  10. Harry James on August 2, 2014 at 1:50 pm said:

    I’m from the UK and here, we don’t actually do anything programming-related at school. The furthest we’ve gone so far (I’m 14) is using Scratch of which, not only is limited but is also full of bugs as well (Literally, when making a game your character would go through the walls…).

    Programming is just something I wanted to do as, I love technology and always wanted to understand how programming worked and try it for myself (I try to get involved in everything from movie making to music, to programming!) and, luckily I found Treehouse to make this possible 🙂

    Now, I’m thinking that programming might actually be a good career choice for me to take in the future as, I have gained to love it so much (And the pay is really good as well, haha).

    Sadly, in the UK, we don’t actually have any GCSE for programming as of yet so, on my school papers, I will have no evidence of anything to do with programming (IT/Electronic Products would be the closest) but, things like the Treehouse Profiles make this possible so, I will actually have a record of doing programming if I’m ever asked for one.

  11. It’s a big shame a scheme like this doesn’t exist in the UK (as far as I know). I work in a company that provides IT support mainly for Primary Schools (ages 4-11) and they would absolutely love to do this kind of stuff.

    Gotta applaud Treehouse for trying to make a difference at such a young age!

  12. Why would you do this?

    This puts us at risk and we might be out of a job soon, jobs are already so scarce teaching young kids to code now will end up too much kids applying for coding jobs.

    It’s up to them to decide when in college don’t force it down their throats now and create and influx in designers and developers in the future.

    I’m apauled by what is going on and would like this to stop asap!

    • Do all kids become scientists or mathematitions ? No they don’t yet they are taught these subject at a very early age. Even if programming becomes mandatory in schools there will still be people who are uninterested by it or find it hard. It won’t change much in the industry especially seem as courses in schools can’t be updated fast enough to keep up with the technology they are teaching.

    • If you add that along with “tech code for womens(and why not boyts btw?-oh yea, affirmative action-)”, there will not only be less jobs, but also smallers salaries.

      Same demand + increase supply of coders = less jobs + wage price going down

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