Pictures of happy kids, shiny computers, big smiles, and enticing class descriptions … this is what you see on almost every website that advertises kids computer classes. But how do you tell if your kid will really learn? In fact, even after your kid has gone through the program and seemed happy, how much have they actually learned?
These are important questions because coding is a critical skill to master and schools teach very little of it. So, parents have to turn to after-school programs/camps to make sure their kids fill the gap. I struggled with these questions for years myself before founding Create & Learn. My daughter started attending tech camps in summer since age 6. But results had been mostly disappointing (and the most expensive ones often fell short the most). I spent a lot of efforts figuring out what she had learned and benchmarking. But for busy parents who don’t have time, or those who don’t have a coding background, how can you tell?
Luckily over the years, we have found some very simple but strong indicators of program quality that will only take you a few minutes to check without having to do hours of deep research. The key is to go beyond the fancy pictures and words, and get to the foundation of the programs.
#1: Class Size
Your intuition probably tells you smaller class size is better already. But do you realize it pretty much sets the ceiling for how good a program can be? Even the best teacher in the world will have his/her hands tied in a large classroom because the teacher can no longer adapt to individual student’s needs. Personalized attention is particularly important for developing students’ creativity and critical thinking skills. What we have found is that if there are more than half a dozen students per class, the teaching will likely be instruction-based following a rigid template, without sufficient attention to each student’s strength and areas of needs. For elementary or middle school students who are still learning how to learn, the lack of individual attention will fail to deliver the best learning.
#2: Differentiated Projects
When you see your kid’s projects at the end of a program, don’t just get excited about what your kids have done :). Take a look at how your child’s projects are different from those of other students’. In many programs, students produce almost identical projects. This is because instead of teaching kids coding, teachers just hand detailed instructions for building the projects to students, who then blindly follow the steps. There is little true learning, exploring, and creating. As a result, even after producing the projects, many students still don’t understand what they have done.
#3: Teacher’s Background
Most camps are staffed by high school and college students. They are great people, and some may care about teaching, but can they teach well? Teaching is a skill that takes many years to master. Think for a second examples from your own school days, of both good and bad teachers. Did they make a world of difference in your own learning? Effective teachers not only help your kid do one class well, but also nourish his/her passion for learning in general. The reverse is also true. The influence of a poor teacher can go far beyond a single class. So be very mindful about who teach your kids.
#4: Who Created the Curriculum?
Learning coding is not that different from learning skills like painting or swimming in that learning from the masters or Olympians will no doubt set your kids on a much more successful path. The experiences and accomplishments in the tech world of the people who create the curriculum determine how far the program can bring your kids. If you would like your kids to go far in the tech world, find out if the curriculum team has worked in the top tech companies and if they are insiders of both the tech and business side of the broader high-tech industry, not just someone who can code.
There you have it!
To sum up, check out these 4 things before signing up your kids for a coding class/camp:
- Class size — ideally no more than 5–6 students per class
- Whether students produce diverse projects
- Background of the teachers — do they have extensive teaching experiences?
- Who created the curriculum — do they just know how to code, or have they held important technical and business roles in top tech companies?
Here’s to all of our kids having fun, learning and flourishing! If you would like to get a taste of what a first-tier program looks like, sign up for a free class at www.create-learn.us.