How a Coding Curriculum Works
There are as many ways to learn to program as there are ways to use your coding skills. You can learn this through college courses, books, online resources, or one of several growing bootcamps for developers of all ages. We spoke with the founders of two of these bootcamps: David Graham of Code Ninjas for kids 7-14 and Michael Choi of Coding Dojo for teens and adults. They explained their different approaches that enable students to create their own applications.
Michael Choi learned to program in Korea at age 12 with the help of a friend who would make entire computer games in a day. When he entered college, he found that their computer science lessons did not meet his needs. Its Coding Dojo program teaches students in just 14 weeks.
“Our goal is how to get people to be self-sufficient developers?” says Choi. In the first 3-4 weeks, students learn to “think like a computer” using five basic concepts: if / else statements, loops, functions, variables, and object-oriented programming.
The next 10 weeks will be spent learning specific languages and how each language handles these five concepts. This part is useful not only for first-time coding students, but also for working developers who want to expand their career options. “They have used the same language throughout their careers, but now they have to choose something new,” says Choi.
Coding Dojo can teach a developer a new language in 3-4 weeks, Choi says, compared to 6-9 months of self-study. But most of the work is done in the form of assignments, not in lectures. One of the reasons college courses were not suitable for him was because they included lengthy lectures. “People only save about 20 minutes of a lecture,” he says, so he consolidates lessons as much as possible, allocating 4-5 hours of work based on that lecture.
While Graham’s Code of Ninja follows the same principle of learning by building, it works on a much broader scale. The full curriculum lasts 3-4 years, and children take it like a martial arts program, earning colored belts as they progress through the different levels. Students explore each concept using it to create a video game. They can even draw their own art for the game. This makes the class less like another school subject, and more like a fun project – learning to code becomes a game in itself.
Children come up with wild games with characters that scare with rainbows. “This was not in our original program!” says Graham. “Their imaginations are limitless. I thought it would be some kind of coloring by numbers. We found out that children do not have those boundaries and walls in their thinking, as adults do. ” He is convinced that Super Mario Brothers, where plumbers stomp on mushrooms and turtles, must have been influenced by children.
Graham staffs the school with high school and college students who treat children better than adults. (He also points out that because coding jobs are paid so well, he simply cannot afford to hire adult programmers.)
Graham stresses that his curriculum teaches coding for real: “Any kid can do something from a template,” he says, but with the Code Ninjas black belt, you can create an App Store app from scratch. Or maybe – Choi has a full curriculum planned, but Code Ninjas didn’t open until March 2017, so his first students only reached an intermediate stage. (Code Ninjas is expanding rapidly and currently has 264 locations in 32 states.)
Graham and Choi agree that young people have an advantage when learning to program. Graham, who also taught adults to program, says kids move faster because they’re just more used to learning and following instructions. “Critical thinking is good, but it’s not so quick to learn.” Choi says younger students may be “a little easier,” but his students are between 16 and 60 years old.
You can of course learn to program without a camp. You can still learn on your own or start alone before moving on to camp or another social method. Choi recommends teaching materials at W3Schools and the edX online version of the Harvard CS50 course . But about the latter, he warns: “It goes deeper rather quickly.”