Why Coding Goûter is not a class, is not a lesson, and has no teachers

Coding Goûter is about enjoying programming together

This is part of a short series of articles on Coding Goûter. Read them on ils.sont.la

Coding Goûter is a monthly event where kids and parents play with a variety of programming tools, algorithmic games and puzzles, development environments, and languages. Goûter is French for a child’s afternoon snack or party, so we eat cakes and candies too!

So, what’s so special about Coding Goûter? How is it different from coding lessons?

Knowledge flows from all directions

At Coding Goûter kids and adults discover and learn together, from each other. There is no pre-specified direction for knowledge to flow. That’s what allowed Emma, 11, to help Jim, 31, to quickly find his way around the Scratch environment :-)

It’s also a good occasion for the adults to try out new tools and to revitalize their rusty or nonexistent coding skills.

Hack this ‘hello world’ app!

Coding Goûter taps into our desire to take apart, tinker, and modify existing things.

Starting by copying and hacking a new feature in a simple example program is a natural way to learn new programming languages and tools.

That’s how many of us learned coding when we were 8 or 12 or 15…  We draw from these experiences to recreate an environment where learning happens organically.

Choosing is more engaging

Everybody love to learn and work hard – when they choose their own project.

In curriculum oriented programs, every kid has to take the same lessons, about the same platform and language, often at the same time. It’s a problem, because not every kid – or adult, for that matter – wants to do the same activity at the same time.

We keep Coding Goûter curiosity-driven, with many tools and platforms to choose from and explore, adding and testing new ones each time.

The kids decide on the creative direction

Adults tend to project their own desires and prior experiences when they design workshops and curriculum.

For example, a lot of books and workshops about Scratch are game-design oriented. Interestingly, we found that kids really like to use Scratch for interactive storytelling and animation.

If you speculate that all kids want to create games with bombs and aliens, you’ll push many kids away from programming. Let the kids show you the creative direction.

Demoing beats points as a reward

Coding Goûter has one or more ‘shows’ during the session, giving the kids the opportunity to demo what they have created.

Sharing their work with adults and peers is the best incentive for kids, and it works even better when each project is different.

Points, rankings and other external achievements are weaker than the intrinsic motivation of doing something special they are proud of.

It’s looong, so everybody can take their time

Coding Goûter last more than 3 hours. It’s a lot longer than many classes designed to last one hour, based on the opinion that “kids can’t focus longer”.

Collaboration, exploration, demo - this takes time. Longer sessions allow us to explore freely. Shorter sessions would soon find us with tutorials and fixed recipes to follow.

When you take your time you also have the luxury of *not* needing to be continuously focused. You can pause to eat cakes and candies, and chat, and draw. That’s good for the mood :-)

Naturally mixes age and gender

Coding Goûter has a wide range of kid’s age – 5 to 14 – and constantly slightly more girls than boys.

It’s a nice side effect of the invitation process. Instead of building a narrowly targeted (deliberately or not) workshop and gathering registrations, we tell other adults about the meeting, and they come with kids.

There is less of a self-selection effect on kids. As a result, we probably have one of the higher ratios of girls in any mixed-gender programming session.

Sharing creativity and fun of code

We are not our kids’ teachers!  We don’t want to *teach* our kids computer programming: we want to share with them the creativity, expressiveness, and fun of code.

The traditional ways of teaching are totally inadequate when creativity matters. This is a strong reason for Coding Goûter not being structured beforehand by a curriculum.

PS: It’s not about every kid becoming a computer scientist

Kids won’t become computer scientists just by participating in Coding Goûter.

Sure, kids will learn a thing or two about recursions, event-oriented programming, or even transform matrices when Jonathan discovers and explains LiveCodeLab.

But first of all, Coding Goûter is about enjoying programming together. It’s a discovery playground.

Thanks to Elifsu for her contrarian opinion. It pushed me to explain why I’m promoting other ways to teach kids to code than the traditional curriculum and lesson-oriented model.