If your child is like most middle schoolers, college is the furthest thing from his mind. As an insecure tween, he’s got enough to deal with right now, and you have your hands full dealing with him.
But that’s exactly why learning computer science is one of the best gifts you can give your child. Studying computer science doesn’t just teach a cool, marketable skill. It helps your child build confidence, get life skills and it sets her on the path to success. It creates a self-assured student with a resume that stands out in college apps.
At KTBYTE, we’ve found that middle school (or even younger) is an ideal time for a child to start learning CS. According to Jenny Qiu of KTByte, “Usually, high school students are very busy with juggling classes, personal life, extracurriculars, etc. They are increasingly stressed about AP exams and college applications. It is a little bit late at that point to be starting on pursuing and getting good at a new hobby/subject matter.”
There’s also a developmental perspective. Kids’ brains are primed to learn at this age. They will learn CS faster and internalize the concepts better than if they start when they’re older. And with so many life skills and benefits, why wait?
Besides, he’s sitting on the couch for hours playing video games anyway. Take his interest in gaming and help him turn it into a real skill that will make a tangible difference in his life.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the benefits of CS and how they impact your child now and in the future.
Middle schoolers are constantly judging themselves against their peers. Unfortunately, they usually find themselves lacking. CS is an incredible confidence builder that carries over into other areas of life. Why?
- We live in a digital world. Everything runs through computers. Learning CS gives your child an understanding and ownership of the world around her. It empowers her to program her graphing calculator in math class, troubleshoot her laptop or build a simple website.
- Our kids are incredibly tech-savvy these days. The latest technology is a status symbol. Still, most kids don’t understand the inner workings of their phone and they can’t code. Most kids can’t create a video game or write a program to analyze the results of their science fair project. Imagine the confidence a child feels when he can do those things that amaze and impress his peers.
- In the name of college apps, we push our kids to all sorts of extra-curricular activities. CS is unique because even a middle schooler can reach college-level skills if he has exposure and practice. That’s not possible in sports or math club.
How does that confidence express itself? At KTBYTE we see our students taking leadership roles and initiative in all areas of life. They start clubs, enter science fairs, and volunteer in their communities. They believe in themselves.
That confidence comes across when they apply to college. Our students stand out from the competition. They weren’t forced to join school clubs or play sports to impress college admissions. Instead, they come with a resume of accomplishments that developed organically and authentically. Do college admissions pick up on that? You bet. And the demeanor of a proud, confident leader comes through loud and clear.
Problem Solving Skills
Contrary to popular belief, learning computer science is NOT about learning a specific programming language. Sure, for an adult whose main goal is to land a job, that may be a #1 priority. For a kid, though, the aim is to internalize algorithmic-based thinking and problem-solving skills.
Here’s a math example that we all can relate to. Remember back when you learned your multiplication tables? One approach is to make flashcards and memorize the multiplication tables from zero to twelve. It works and that drilling is part of our childhood memories.
But there’s another aspect to learning multiplication. That part is understanding what the facts mean. 7 x 6 = 42 is important to know. It’s even more important to understand that 7 groups of 6 add up to 42 and 6 groups of 7 also add up to 42. Understanding the theory of multiplication makes it possible to go on to division.
It’s the same thing with CS. Learning a computing language is memorizing a set of instructions like multiplication facts. It’s useful. It’s necessary. But it’s only a means to the end. The end goal is for the kids to understand the process and the algorithm.
At, KTBYTE, whatever language we use is a way to teach our kids to think. KTBYTE instructor David ——– says learning CS “forces kids to approach the world differently. It teaches them to tackle problems piece by piece.”
These problem-solving skills are reinforced when our students participate in CS competitions. Younger children might try the Bebras International Challenge on Informatics and Computational Thinking. According to the Bebras website, “computational thinking involves using a set of problem-solving skills and techniques that software engineers use to write programs and apps. The Bebras challenge promotes problem-solving skills and Informatics concepts including the ability to break down complex tasks into simpler components, algorithm design, pattern recognition, pattern generalization, and abstraction.” The children don’t code for this competition. Instead, they solve problems using CS thinking skills.
High schoolers or advanced middle schoolers can take part in the USA Computing Olympiad, or USACO. This competition does require coding, but it’s not language-specific. Again, the goal is to challenge the students’ algorithmic skills. According to David, even though the problems presented in this competition are often harder than interview questions at major tech firms, we’ve had many students become finalists!
What do colleges think about these competitions? At KTBYTE, we had a student who applied to MIT. MIT deferred him, but a short time later, he entered the USACO competition and won. He sent in those results and was accepted into MIT. He didn’t even major in CS, but he did use the many skills he gained from CS in pursuing his chosen path.
CS students apply problem-solving skills to many other areas of life, like technology, art, academics, and sports. The kids’ grades improve, they do better on standardized tests and they’re not afraid to try new projects. Once again, these are benefits that help them now and give them a leg up when it comes to college applications.
Perseverance may not be classically listed as a college prep skill. Yet, Victoria Tillson Evans lists it as one of the three keys to your child getting into a good college. (Her articles were as a Fox News Editorial. We’ll get to the other two skills later.)
According to Evans, “Facing conflict, challenges, and blunders builds children’s character, transforms them into problem-solvers, and guides important decisions they make in adulthood. It will also allow them to develop “grit,” and consequently become much more interesting to schools.”
Computer science is all about building grit and solving challenges. Even the youngest children, writing the simplest program must face overcoming failure. Coding is a process of solving a challenge, seeing a program crash, and debugging it again, and again, and again. The payoff comes with finally tasting the success that comes from perseverance.
When the students get older they can participate in research-based classes, solving real-world problems. That’s when CS gets hard. Really hard. Students learn that hard is ok. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed at first. It’s ok to make mistakes. It’s ok to fail and have to try again from a completely new angle.
For all you adults reading this, you know that this is what real life is all about. From jobs to relationships, this is what it takes to make it in the real world. CS prepares kids for life and, as Evans wrote, colleges look for this crucial skill, too.
If you still picture CS as the lonely geek holed up in his room with his computer, think again. Welcome to the 21st century. Those of us out in the big, bad world know that today it’s not about what you know how to do. It’s about how you can communicate that information with your clients and your team. That is equally true when it comes to CS.
Our CS students get communication practice from the earliest age. Even our youngest students learn how to put their ideas into words to explain them to our instructors and our other students.
Older students need to create a clear plan before starting any project. They must communicate their goals for the project and how they expect to achieve them. While working on the project, they interact with members of their team and with their instructor.
Students who take part in science fairs or other competitions discover that communication is key. The students must explain their projects to the judge, clearly and persuasively. In the words of KTBYTE student, Sidharth Anantha, “I think learning how to present is really a big part about the inventing process. You need to know how to sell it because there are people who can create brilliant things but don’t know how to communicate its advantages that well.”
Or look at the example of Andrea Danila, another KTBYTE student. Andrea is a talented communicator who won the first-place prize in the state science fair for her outstanding presentation. She used a university grade algorithm to create a custom computer program. Her topic? Identifying Harry Potter fan fiction. We love this example of our students using CS applications to follow their interests in life!
How does this apply to college apps? A better question is, how doesn’t this apply to college apps?
The entire application process including personal essays, interviews, and college visits hinges on the student clearly and effectively articulating her goals, her strengths, and her experiences. Not to mention that being a TA or an intern is really impressive to the colleges.
Welcome, once again, to the real world. With so much information out there, no one can know everything, but anyone with the proper skills can research a new topic and educate themselves.
Computer science is unique in the wealth of self-teaching materials out there. When KTBYTE students start any project, first they have to research their topic. Younger children will just need some basic information. Older children may have to learn a new coding language or explore a subject in business, medicine or any other application.
Kids in higher-level classes develop an entire set of advanced research skills such as:
- Time management
- Writing skills
- Determining the probability of failure
- Finding resources
- Assessing access feasibility
CS students also have a chance to get accepted into research programs like MIT Primes. Guess how that looks on a college application!
As with all the skills we’ve mentioned, these abilities spill over into every area of life. Having this background is crucial for a college kid dealing with dorm life, class projects and term papers. Colleges look for students who are likely to succeed in the college atmosphere.
We saved the best for last. Or maybe we saved the one that is the hardest to quantify for last. Evans divides this into two categories: love of learning and pursuit of passions. In her words, “The deeper [students] can go with their intellectual interests, the better off they’ll be when applying to college.”
Put another way, “the cultivation of a unique area of expertise may help a child to feel special and subsequently raise self-esteem as well as enhance relationships with peers who have similar interests. Ultimately, it is these fine-tuned long-standing talents that may receive recognition at local to national levels and may significantly increase the probability of acceptance to a top university.” That quote is from Jessica Fields, a Princeton grad.
Who is more interesting to potential colleges? Is it the student who simply learned what was presented to her in school? Or is it the student who explored her interest in computer science, applied it to other disciplines, or completed projects of her own pursuit?
Who is better prepared for college? Even more important, who is better prepared for life?