Tech know: The rise of after school coding programs for kids

How to find the right activity and instill a love for tech in your student.

School is back in session, and with it comes homework and the non-stop after-school activity circuit that runs the gamut from band practice to football games. But now, some parents are looking beyond the sidelines to a different kind of extra-curricular option—one that helps their kids get hands on with what they’re learning in their schools’ science and math classes.

If your kid’s calendar already looks like it could go toe-to-toe with a Fortune 500 CEO’s for busiest – and you’re their personal chauffeur – it may feel like a Herculean task to add one more thing to the mix. But early exposure to everything from coding to robots can instill a love of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) that could benefit them in the classroom and beyond.

As Pamela Rice, MVP, Technology at Capital One, shared, her early attraction to math and science was encouraged by her parents who allowed her to explore those topics as a child, which ultimately put her on the path to where she is today. “My father was both in electronic surveillance for the military and an inventor in his own right, which translated to many projects at home with radios, engines, and ‘creative’ solutions. My original career goals were around flying and space, but once I started coding it was game over. I enjoy building solutions in my life and at work. My parents were super supportive and let me use the home as a test lab."

Offerings for today’s kids have expanded from fiddling with radios in a home lab to camps, after-school classes and even hack-a-thons—many of which are led by professionals. “I’ve done a variety of mentoring,” says Janine Nock, Creative Architect and UX/UI designer at Capital One. While mentoring at one hack-a-thon in particular, she remembers her colleague pointing out a group of nearly all female high school students who were taking apart an LED screen. “I walk up and start chatting with these young ladies,” she says. “We talked about electrical wiring and I got them to slow down, organize, see what they’ve got and what they can reuse… female mentors were rare, so I had made their day.”

Whether your STEM skills top out at helping your kid create the obligatory fifth grade egg bungee or you’re an engineering whiz in your own right, after-school STEM classes give kids another way to dive in and learn. And the good news is: They’re not in short supply.

STEM for all

Wondering how to find the right program for your kids? Check out some options below. While each program has its own unique approach, almost all offer options for kids at any skill level—from never-touched-code to CSS master.

For the kid who wants to create the next working mobile app – no experience necessary

Capital One has its own program, Capital One Coders, which is a 10-week course in 35 schools across the country aimed at teaching middle school students about computer science and software engineering.

For the Capital One Coders program, middle schools and non-profit organizations work with Capital One to help students develop their own Android app. Classes of 20 to 25 students are then matched with volunteers from Capital One who teach the students about problem solving, teamwork and the basic principles of software development and coding. At the end of each course, students will have created a working mobile app that they can share with their friends and family.

“No technical aptitude is necessary prior to Capital One Coders,” says Sinclair Scott, from Capital One’s HR Tech Talent Team. “If kids do come into the program with previous tech skills or knowledge, we ask those students in the classroom to help others. It’s a good peer to peer facilitation that we’ve seen in action.”

And Scott says the group has big plans for next year, including a “new curriculum that includes web design and even some robotics.”

For the kid who wants black belt status in software programming

Check out Coding with Kids, a computer coding academy that teaches elementary and middle school kids how to program in different languages.

The organization takes a much more academic approach with its after-school classes for middle and high schoolers. Its philosophy: teach kids how to code well, then introduce new programming languages as kids complete varying levels of difficulty. Similar to martial arts classes, achieving the top level of coding essentially gives kids black belt status in the software programming world.

And if you don’t have the time to commit to an after-school option, Coding with Kids also offers camps and code-a-thons for kids to learn coding skills.

For girls who want to learn it all

Two programs immediately come to mind: Girls Inc. and Girls Who Code. At Girls Inc., it’s all about eliminating the “yuck factor” of STEM through their Operation SMART program. The free after-school computer science clubs at Girls Who Code are dedicated to mentoring and cultivating the next generation of #GirlBosses. It offers girls an alumni network of tens of thousands of girls and industry experts across the country who are using computer science to solve problems they care about.

Through their efforts, these two organizations focus on an even larger issue than lack of coding skills among kids: They work on bringing girls into the mix by encouraging them to form supportive bonds and follow their interests, while gaining exposure to everything from coding to robotics with 2-hour after school clubs. It’s an initiative that is gaining traction not just in girl-specific courses like these, but in other kids coding courses as well.

Forward thinking

For kids currently involved, success is already here, according to Rebecca Leaf of Capital One’s Tech Communications team. “We have students from previous years who are eager to come back and mentor the new set of students,” she says. Now that’s an after-school activity worth clearing the kids’ schedule for.

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