“Why should we pay for software when there are loads of free programs that teach coding?”
We hear this pretty regularly. Usually it’s coming from someone who already knows how to code, or someone at the director level. And we get it!
The last five years have brought the world some incredible resources that teach computer programming. You’ve probably heard of Scratch, Code.org, and Khan Academy, and for good reason — they’re great! These organizations, and others (see the comprehensive list here), have developed platforms where anyone can begin to learn how to program computers, oftentimes for free.
So the question actually makes a lot of sense. Why pay?
Now Prenda is a business, and we do have some incentive to argue in favor of paying for these kinds of services. But if you can suspend your suspicion momentarily and give us the benefit of the doubt, I think we can make a good case for the fact that there is a much bigger problem at hand than just access to software.
We want code clubs in every library and school every week. Why? Because we believe that when someone learns how to code their life will change. Not only will incredible career opportunities open up, but the sense of accomplishment and joy associated with making a computer do what you want is addictive, and it leads to creation and learning in a way nothing else can.
We want everyone to have access to that empowerment.
The problem is, code clubs aren’t running in every school and library every week. Not even close. Our best guess is around 5% of schools and libraries are running weekly informal code clubs (we have no research to back that up – just an educated guess).
With all the free resources out there, you’d expect to see code clubs popping up like Republicans at a NRA conference, wouldn’t you?
But we don’t. Because there is more going on here than access to learning software.
The Real Problem
We overwhelmingly hear one reason why librarians and teachers are not running a code club: they don’t know how to code.
While that may not seem like a big factor, the implications add up. The two main effects of not knowing how to code are:
1. People don’t know how to practically facilitate a code club.
It’s not easy keeping a room full of kids occupied even when you are the expert, much less when you don’t know the first thing about the topic. Many librarians and teachers have no idea where to even start in facilitating a code club.
There are over 30 different coding websites, 1000 different lessons on each website, and no real clear path they can set the kids on to learn coding. Without having coding experience, it’s going to be very difficult to come up with a curriculum that starts in the right place and helps kids progress that incorporates the various platforms out there.
At the same time, librarians and teachers without coding experience know they won’t be able to help coders when they get stuck or have questions. Let’s be honest, from the facilitators perspective, that is going to feel uncomfortable.
2. People feel hesitant because coding seems scary or mysterious.
When you don’t know how to code, we typically think of computer programming as something reserved for the intellectually elite. “My friend with the computer science degree,” is usually who we connect with coding. “Not me. I can’t code.”
And with that mindset, hundreds and thousands of teachers and librarians are counting themselves out the running before the race even starts.
There is a Solution
We built our company to solve those “higher level” problems. We’re not trying to reinvent the learning platforms that already exist. We’re trying to empower non-coders to run code clubs.
We built a platform that integrates with the best learning systems out there (Scratch, Code.org, etc…). We’ve designed a clear learning journey where someone can come in with zero coding knowledge, and leave making apps, websites, or games. The system tracks their progress, and guides them to the next step.
In addition, we train and support teachers and librarians on how to facilitate self-learning environments. We teach them to never answer questions—even if they know they answer—in favor of helping the students who are stuck find answers from trial and error, the internet, and their peers.
Yes, we charge a little (most of our friends laugh at us when tell them the price). But if you think of our company as 80% of a service – training and ongoing support, and 20% of a product – the software, then paying a little bit makes a lot of sense.
At the end of the day, we’ve created a turn-key program that empowers anyone to run a dynamite code club. And we believe that is how code clubs will get up and running in every library and school, every week.