Back in the day, Computer Science and programming subjects were reserved for a specific lot. Someone who was innately passionate about the subject, the technical geeks or people who had access to higher technical education! However, programming today has expanded its horizons beyond the fixed structure of the education curriculum. It is boundless and caters to every age group.
We all use underlying coding concepts in our daily tasks. A morning routine, cooking a recipe or tying shoes are some examples of real-life algorithms that we subconsciously implement. Code fuels everyday technology, from microwaves, refrigerators to sophisticated programs that operate in offices and buildings.
Coding is the present and it will change our lives in the future like never before! Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Robotics, Virtual Reality are not mere terminologies anymore! Therefore, it is imperative for our children to have basic coding acumen. The job markets are flooded with opportunities for a programmer and its scope will only get better in the future.
Having said that, children can enjoy programming without the pressure of a future career opportunity. Through coding children can express their creativity, learn problem solving and critical thinking skills that will come in handy anywhere in life.
So what is programming?
Simply put, coding or programming is a way to communicate with a computer! This communication involves giving a set of instructions to the system to perform a particular task. Computers have a language of their own called ‘Binary Language’ consisting of only 0’s and 1’s in their dictionary.
At Cuemath we have a robust learning platform that ensures children learn programming basics. This platform is supported with high quality audio-visual content. They can enjoy learning to code by getting introduced to fundamentals through block based coding and not get overwhelmed with the syntaxes of a language. Learning programming will arm the children with problem solving and critical thinking skills.
Every programming language rests on some fundamental coding principles. They serve as a strong foundation which will help children easily segway and pick up different programming languages. Every child wanting to master a programming language must have a strong hold on the concepts listed below. Let’s try and understand these concepts in detail.
An algorithm is a set of instructions written in an order to complete a task. It has a definite start and end point with a finite number of steps. Algorithms are the most fundamental concept in programming. It is sequentially instructing the computer to carry out tasks. Programmers use algorithms as a starting point to build a code.
Although not familiar with the term, children are already familiar with algorithms. Everytime children follow a step-by-step procedure to perform a task - say getting ready for school, solving a puzzle, making art, they are working with algorithms.
The most simplest way to represent algorithms are flowcharts. The image shown below shows an algorithm to make instant noodles. It demonstrates the steps to be followed to make the perfect instant noodles!
If algorithms tell us what steps must be taken to solve a problem, sequencing tells us in what order those steps should be taken. Sequencing is nothing but executing the algorithm in multiple steps. Children work sequentially while building a lego model, or while building a castle or putting a sandwich together! Sequencing and algorithms are inter-linked and inevitably work together.
We encounter various situations in our day to day life where decisions have to be made. Simple ones like what to wear to work or what food needs to be cooked and major ones like which is the best insurance plan or a property to buy. Conditionals as a concept helps programmers to instruct the computer to see if a condition is true or false and act accordingly. A powerful concept when decisions have to be made with large data sets.
This simple flowchart here checks and makes a decision if a number is even or odd. Any number that is divisible by 2 is even, otherwise odd. However there are situations where multiple condition checks need to be made. Let’s look at an example.
The above flowchart is used to determine if a person is a child, teenager or adult based on their age. To help us check conditions and later determine the sequence of actions we use ‘if’, ‘if-else’, if-else-if’ and ‘switch’ statements while coding. While learning to code, children will recognize when to use conditionals and how to identify them when they occur.
There is no aspect in programming that is not relatable to real life. This fundamental concept in programming is called loops and just by the name of it, children will have an idea. What is a loop? Something that performs an action repeatedly.
In coding, we use loops to instruct the computer to repeat a sequence of commands continuously for a certain number of times. It makes the program more efficient. A loop is run based on different conditions, if the condition is met the exact number of times or is true then it keeps running. If the condition is not met then it stops.
‘for’ loops, ‘while’ loops and ‘do while’ loops are types of loops that help programmers write an efficient code. Children will identify when to use loops and when not to as they progress through the course. They will also see how algorithms incorporate sequencing, conditionals and loops as a unit.
While coding, we often use the same block of code more than once. Rather than writing the same set of instructions at different places, we can use functions. A function is a sequence of instructions. It is an independent code entity that can be easily used anywhere in the program. This simplifies a complex program and reduces the number of lines in the code.
The example above demonstrates the use of chorus. Although the chorus occurs multiple times in the poem, using functions we just need to ‘call’ it wherever required, instead of typing the same set of lines multiple times.
Functions promote reusability and once children are able to identify repeated patterns in the code, they will be able to apply functions to make their code more compact and efficient.
Let us talk in a literal sense for a moment, what would you do if you found a bug in your garden or in a pot? Yes, remove it so that no harm is caused to the plant. To err is human and so is making errors while coding. Debugging is figuring out the errors and fixing them.
Debugging is one of the basic and important programming fundamentals. Children can be impatient and would want the answers instantly. Debugging not only teaches children how to find errors in the code and fix them, but it also builds essential skills of resilience and problem solving that are essential for their future.
The Cuemath Young Coders Program offers coding classes to children of different age brackets. The program provides an expert teacher along with an interactive platform. The teacher ensures giving the child personal attention and the interactive platform ensures a personalised learning journey.
At Cuemath we believe that learning to code at an early age is crucial. Cuemath provides live 1:1 Live Online Coding classes and Math classes. Book a free demo class with Cuemath and have your child experience the magic of coding!
-By Akhila Sankarabandi
Akhila is a teacher, artist, and a content creator, who is currently a part of the Cuemath family. A graduate in Computer Science, she began her career with Infosys Ltd. Apart from teaching, she also curated general knowledge and travel content for children at Greycaps Ltd. Teaching computer science to school students, got her involved in building teaching-learning methodologies and different lesson plan structures. She is an avid reader, traveller and a keen listener. That's probably why children enjoy her company. She has stories to tell, lends a listening ear and invites good laughter!