Turning fads into education: Coding toys teach the next generation of tech workers
Like taking medicine with a teaspoon of sugar, sometimes teaching STEM to young learners needs some subterfuge.
Developing an interest in STEM from a young age does more than create a stronger workforce in decades to come — it promotes a more diversified one. Before they reach 16, most young women have decided they don't want a cybersecurity career. And many girls never consider it. Minorities continue to be underrepresented and underpaid across tech positions.
Like taking medicine with a teaspoon of sugar, sometimes teaching STEM to young learners needs some subterfuge. Masking education within timeless sci-fi franchises and toy lines can teach rudimentary skills and logic processes of coding in young learners and plant the seeds for a technical career later in life.
These six products and programs are chipping away at the technology talent pipeline problem one eager kid at a time:
1. Kano's Harry Potter coding kit
Starting in October, kids can build their own coding wand and bring the magic of Hogwarts to the technology of the muggle world with Kano's Harry Potter kit.
2. iD Tech's Fortnite camp
With 125 million registered players, Fortnite has taken the gaming industry by storm, much to many parents' chagrin. But an interest in video games can lead to an interest in coding for many gamers.
Now, capitalizing on the game's craze, iD Tech is offering a Fortnite summer camp to teach basics of game development. With the building blocks of design, user interface and coding, a recreational passion can turn into a lifelong career. ID Tech also offers a variety of coding, robotics and development courses in STEM for young learners.
With some parents encouraging video game playing, even going so far as getting their kids tutors for popular games, in the hopes of future scholarship money or popularity, encouraging transferable technology skills through gaming never looked so easy.
3. LEGO Education
LEGO Education is offering hands-on, STEM-oriented programs for young learners. Its LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3 set teaches learners hardware, programming and data logging skills as they build a creation and code simple programs with drag-and-drop icons.
LEGO Education also offers STEM learning curriculums for primary and secondary school classroom and has a partnership with FIRST for STEM competitions for students from around the world to compete in events.
4. littleBits Marvel and Star Wars kits
Modular electronics toymaker littleBits is incorporating coding into beloved sci-fi franchises like Star Wars and the Avengers. In April, the company added coding to its Droid Inventor Kit; learners can use Scratch Blocks' drag-and-drop coding platform that was built with Google and MIT's Lifelong Kindergarten team.
In August, the company unveiled an Avengers kit in conjunction with Marvel Entertainment, with which learners can create and customize hero gear and superpowers using in-app block coding
And looking past the individual level, as of this spring littleBits also offers customizable STEAM and coding education solutions for classrooms, schools and districts.
5. Barbie's coding lessons
Barbie's maker, Mattel, partnered with computing platform Tynker in February to introduce coding lessons to 10 million kids by 2020 in the hopes of incentivizing them to pursue careers in fields such as robotics engineering and veterinary science.
The Barbie project followed an earlier collaboration between the companies that brought programming experiences to 4 million kids under the brands of Hot Wheels and Monster High.
6. Minecraft's Hour of Code
In 2015, Microsoft partnered with Code.org, a non-profit dedicated to promoting computer science education, for Minecraft's first "Hour of Code," a tutorial to introduce learners to coding. More than 85 million users have logged onto the sandbox video game for an introduction to code, with more than 154,000 events registered in 2017 alone.
Microsoft is taking the venture further and developing three additional adventures for Hour of Code.
With close to 75 million monthly players, Minecraft is one of the most popular games in the world, and its platform, characters and effects offer new learners a familiar environment to pick up new skills, including computer science, algebra, history and chemistry.
Correction: This piece has been updated to distinguish LEGO Education from LEGO and to clarify a FIRST partnership with LEGO Education.