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Kids talking “SMAC”

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coderdojoI talk SMAC all the time — current and emerging technologies that impact Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud. It’s a natural part of my job as a member of IBM’s cloud computing team. But it’s a whole other thing to hear a room full of young people talking SMAC. Not college kids huddled in dorms furiously developing apps — I’m talking about the elementary and middle school set already learning the foundation to build killer apps of the future.

My 7-year old son attended CoderDojo in Los Angeles last week — part of the free worldwide movement of coding clubs for kids. Aptly marketed as a way to teach kids to code in Lalaland, the event at Google’s office in Venice Beach was packed with aspiring young coders hungry for the basics.

coderdojo2Using Scratch, a graphical programming tool for kids that was developed by MIT, my son learned to make little characters move and interact by dragging-and-dropping command blocks to create scripts. He even used loop commands and simple variables to make his first game. Quite a feat for a two-hour class.

CoderDojo has been around for a couple years, gaining momentum fast. In fact, it’s a hot ticket here — spots fill up minutes after registration opens at the various venues catering the event including IdeaLab, Sony and Creative Artists. The brainchild of James Whelton and Bill Liao, the nonprofit originated in Ireland as an after-school program when a group of kids expressed interest in learning how to code following Whelton’s famous iPod Nano hack. Now Coder Dojos are popping up everywhere.

It’s encouraging to see an increase in this kind of open, community-building education.

When IBM made an open call to kids last year for ideas to foster a smarter planet, one result was a compelling suggestion from a young Dutch girl to improve crosswalk safety with flashing sidewalks.

Microsoft offers programs like the Kodu Game Lab where kids can create games for the PC and Xbox, armed with a classroom kit, lesson plans and cool prizes — a recent Kodu Cup winner got to meet President Obama at the White House Science Fair.

And of course there’s code.org, the nonprofit advocacy group encouraging opportunities for all students to learn how to code, with evangelists like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg promoting a simple message to teach what most schools don’t teach. As Steve Jobs said “Everyone in this country should learn how to program a computer … because it teaches you how to think.”

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