Start Your Engines: Launching the Next Generation of Developers

By Laura Lindeman, Assistant Campus Director

Education is obviously something we are passionate about here at The Iron Yard.  Our mission is to provide an alternative to traditional educational structures for adults who want something different. Our Academy classes have been the catalyst for many a career change, and we’re proud of the work we do to help people change their lives.

And what better place to provide education than for kids?!

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Kids Academy is an integral part of our approach in each city where we launch a campus. Our official website copy says:

We believe in investing in the local tech economy for the long-run, and that means impacting the next generation. We teach fun and educational programming classes to kids in the Atlanta area.

Our classes are free, which is really important to us. We want programming to be accessible to everyone, and by keeping the classes free we hope to remove some of the barriers to entry that may keep people from being able to pursue other courses like this.

We’ve taught two sessions of kids classes in Atlanta this summer usingMIT’s Scratch programming platform. Scratch provides a GUI to its users with drag-and-drop pieces of code that snap together like puzzle pieces. But, behind the scenes, it actually runs in Java, so it’s a pretty powerful little tool!

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Kids continually amaze me, and watching them use Scratch is no exception.At our class last week, I was listening in thinking, “Hmm, I understand what the instructor is saying, but I wonder if we’ll need to explain it a different way before the kids get it.” But when I looked down, I saw each and every student forging ahead, and even figuring out things we hadn’t brought up yet!

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Scratch is a great intuitive tool that lets us cover general programming fundamentals. Last session we built a Frogger-style game, and this time we’re taking a modular approach by building a small app every class. With these projects we’re able to introduce that a programming language allows us to give our computer instructions that it reads in sequence. Then we cover positioning using the Cartesian coordinate system, if-else statements, looping, and variables. Whew! And all the while the kids get to have a blast “playing” with Scratch.

We’ve also just started an HTML/CSS class for teenagers where they get to build a personal website. It’s great to see the students in our front end engineering class step up to lead this. It’s a great experience for them because they get to fully realize just how much they’ve learned!

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The cool thing about starting with something like HTML is that you get the instant gratification of seeing what you’ve built. Plus, the students get a real product out of the deal. As many of our adult students can attest, HTML is often the face that launched a thousand ships. It’s a slippery slope for a lot of people from HTML and CSS into other languages…and once you start sliding there’s no turning back (which is a good thing in this case)!

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There’s been so much interest in these classes that I wish we could offer even more. We’re trying them out on different days of the week, at different times, and for different durations to try and allow for as many different people to participate as possible. We want to bring in fun technologies like Arduino in addition to what we offer now. The current session of classes will end right before school starts up in August, and if you’re interested in getting alerts about future classes, please sign up here!

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About theironyard

The Iron Yard exists to create exceptional growth and mentorship for people, their companies and their ideas through code education and startup accelerators.