STEM

DADS CODE: Dads Advancing Daughters & Sons in learning to CODE #FathersDay

swift code

This Father’s Day, consider how you can explain, show, or demonstrate the benefits and the “how to” of programming using a computer programming language, or code, to a child.

Do you remember when your Dad, Uncle, or big brother helped you learn how to do something new or at least expanded your horizons so that you were aware of something that you never knew about before?  I do, and I’d like to share why we as Dads, brothers, or mentors, can help girls and boys learn to code.  That is, how can we expose, engage, and educate our own kids in learning how to write computer programs including apps for mobile phones.

My dad had learned how to be a mechanic driving and working on trucks in World World II.  When we were growing up in Kansas, he would buy used cars that seemed at least ten if not fifteen years old and fix them up.  He never took his car to the mechanic.  Often, he would be outside in the backyard in the dark, with a light fixed on the engine, trying to repair or rebuild the engine.  Sometimes, he would call me outside to press on the brake pedal while he was fixing the brakes. I would want to hurry inside and go back to watching TV or whatever I was doing.  But once in a while, I would listen to explanations on how the engine worked.  One of my brothers, took it a step further and started to work on cars himself.  I wonder what would have happened, had I taken more of an interest in what my Dad was doing and saw the benefits of learning how to fix my old cars.  Shouldn’t we be involving our children by showing them how we work on code and what’s underneath the hood, so to speak?  If we can tell them the benefits of being able to write their own programs in terms of being able to help others and make a great living, then we have accomplished much.

Similarly, I remember my older brother showing me algebra for the first time.  He was in ninth grade and I must have been in elementary school.  He explained it to me the best he could and it made me marvel that I could even begin to comprehend this “advanced” mathematics.  Shouldn’t we be showing our younger and older children alike this “advanced” computer programming.  It will help them see that they can comprehend it.

My biggest direct experience in coding came when my brother that studied aerospace engineering let me play with one of the research computers at his summer research job. The computer didn’t have a monitor but only a teletype and line printer. The game he logged me on was a version of Star Trek that would use printed characters to print out locations of Klingons and positions of battleships. I could see how many photon torpedoes and shields I had left. I was fascinated with how the computer could play this game with me. My brother also took me to an arcade and we would play space invaders and Pac Man all day. My exposure to computers got me curious as to how to make computers and program games. Little did I know it would lead to a graduate degree in electrical engineering and a job as a humanoid robotics and AI professor.

This week, after having spent at Apple’s WWDC, I was inspired by the African American 12 year old girl, Kiera, that had won a scholarship to attend.  She has written a couple of apps and learned through the encouragement and training of others.  I decided to show my youngest daughter how to program in the Swift 2.0 playground and she enjoyed it so much she took my laptop away from me and tried to do some programming on her own.  Although we just made it through how to do constants, strings, and plot sine functions in a for loop, it was a great start.  I want to spend more time with her showing how programming can help her learn math concepts, geometry concepts, or how she can program a game to help other kids learn new things while having fun.  Through WWDC, I met another father wanting to teach his daughter how to program her first app.  When I reflected on how many fathers or potential fathers were at WWDC, I decided that it was time to create an online community of Dads that want to help their daughters, sons, as well as those children who don’t have Dads learn to code.

For those you who are into acronyms, here’s what DADS CODE means:  Dads Advancing Daughters & Sons in CODE.

  • C – Character
  • O – Opportunity
  • D – Designing and Developing Code & Products
  • E – Encouragement

If you are a Dad, or a mentor, please make a commitment to showing a child or young person the benefits and “how to” of learning to code.  Follow us Twitter @dadscode or like us Facebook and let us know what you’ve done or what your plans are.

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