Sunday, July 30, 2017

Enriching Education: CodeSpeak Books

CodeSpeak Books, recently launched on Kickstarter, is geared toward children 2-6+ years of age. The first book is delightfully titled How to Turn Your Grownup into a Robot, an exciting way to engage children at such a young malleable age. 

Jen Chiou, Founder of CodeSpeak Labs, established computer programming classes for students from PreK-12 in classrooms in NYC and CA. Prior to founding CodeSpeak Labs, Ms. Chiou worked in tech – where she was shocked at how difficult it was to recruit a diverse tech team. 

The biggest challenge for parents who don’t know how to code themselves is figuring out how to help their children learn. That’s the beauty of CodeSpeak Books. It also serves as an educational tool for parents, so they can learn together with their toddlers as the stories increase in complexity along the CodeSpeak Books’ Step Into Coding system. 
As outlined by CodeSpeak Labs, there are three types of coding stories:
  1. Build the foundation: Learn the major concepts through stories: Sequences, Logic, and Events.
  2. Learn functionality: Computational thinking with visual block code. Repeat loops, Conditionals, and Functions.
  3. Ready to code: Transition to real programming code with syntax. JavaScript, HTML, and CSS.   
One of the incredible elements of CodeSpeak Stories is the use of actual code used on the leading online coding platforms – making it an easy transition for parents who eventually want to help their students plug the code into a computer. This is one of the reasons why CodeSpeak Labs is creating partnerships with Scratch (MIT),, and Bitsbox. It’s kind of like continuing education on code, but for elementary and high school students. 

How to Turn Your Grown-Up into a Robot and Other Coding Stories is an old fashioned picture book with a twist. It’s an actual physical book to engage the young reader and encourage them to interact with the book, tapping and choosing from different options, using many of the tactics that make devices so entertaining for adults.

The tech sector is one of the fastest-growing fields, and there aren’t nearly enough people with these skills. Jen had worked in education previously, and it been a passion of hers for many years to update our education system. Her goal – and the goal of CodeSpeak Books is for all kids regardless of gender, race, or income level to have the ability to shape the world in which they’re growing up.

I had a chance to interview Jen to learn more.

What was the inspiration behind CodeSpeak books?
My oldest son, now 3.5 years old, loves books, so I spend a lot of time reading picture books with him. And, whenever something important is coming up I'll find a book about the subject to prepare him-- like when his baby brother was born.
At the same time, CodeSpeak Labs--- my company that runs computer programming classes in schools-- was getting more requests from parents and schools to teach younger grades. We needed to figure out age appropriate ways to teach the fundamental concepts, and stories seemed like a great fit. 

Why is it so important to build knowledge of coding at an early age?
Like a foreign language, code gets more intimidating the older you get.
I didn’t learn any code until college. I went to Stanford and signed up for my first introductory class and felt totally overwhelmed. Just looking at the code on the screen gave me anxiety. Mean while, I looked over and I saw peers who were breezing through it-- guys primarily who all learned how to do this much earlier on in life and were light years ahead. 
I want to get kids comfortable with code while they’re still sponges who are game to explore anything and everything, especially girls.
For our kids' generation, code literacy is just as important as reading and writing. Technology impacts everything we do, and I want all kids to be able to understand how technology works and how to create and control it-- not just to use it passively. 

How can books be such a useful tool in developing coding knowledge?
Code is a set of instructions for a computer-- a recipe for doing something awesome--- and lends itself well to the story format. 
The building blocks of code-- things like logic-- can be taught without a device! 

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