April 19, 2013
Right now, Jeremy Keeshin is on a two-month roadtrip to bring programming workshops to high school students across the country. As cofounder of CodeHS, he wants to prove that computer science can be fun and accessible before college.
According to Keeshin, only 5 percent of high schools currently offer AP computer science. On top of that, he says, many districts have a shortage of computer science teachers and many students don’t see the point in learning it. It’s a far cry from his experience at Stanford, where he was surrounded by an enthusiastic group of learners eager to put programming into practice. He thinks the difference is not just age or interest, but the way the subject is taught.
“The Wall Street Journal reported that Software Engineer is the best job of 2012, and jobs for people with CS backgrounds have rapidly increased over the past few years, even during the recession. Additionally, CS is a very empowering skill that is helpful for solving problems in every field, from biology to economics to history, and many more,” their website says.
CodeHS uses a beginner’s programming language called Karel, which Keeshin and cofounder Zach Galant both worked with as TAs at Stanford. Instead of using Stanford’s version – Karel the Robot – they use Karel the Dog. CodeHS offers you a starting scenario and ending scenario and asks you to write commands to get Karel there – using basics like move, turn left, and pick up the tennis ball. The idea is to teach problem solving, before you learn the rules of more complicated programming languages. For example, Karel can only turn left, so students eventually write a function (left-left-left) to get him to turn right.
All this takes place in a web browser, punctuated by several-minute instructional videos. Students can quickly learn to write games like Snake or Tic Tac Toe. And – diverging from many of the “learn to code” sites – students can get feedback and help from CodeHS tutors. If Keeshin learned anything about teaching programming at Stanford, it was that everyone stumbles and needs help from time to time.
You can try CodeHS’s first lesson for free, but full membership is $25 per month or $75 per month (with tutor help). Teachers can also pay to use CodeHS lessons in their class and, hopefully, increase the ranks of computer science majors throughout the country.
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