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TYNKERI am by no means “old” but when I was in grade school computer programming was not something that was taught or even offered as an extracurricular activity, but that didn’t stop me!  I had an Apple IIC, a Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer, and eventually an IBM PC.  I was equipped with a ton of floppies, a very very slow dial up modem and a noisy dot matrix printer.  It really didn’t matter that the baud rate was so slow, because there was NO INTERNET back then (shocking right? ). Instead I used the modem to connect to a BBS  (bulletin board system) where I could live chat with friends, play games, and read and leave messages in a forum like format.  This was all done in text mainly using a simple ASCII character set.

Apple 2C, & TRS-80 COCO, floppies

Apple 2C, & TRS-80 COCO, floppies

It was these “tools” that inspired me to learn to code when I was about 12. There were quite a few books available and even some for kids. I started with BASIC and learned how to generate a calendar, and create games such as card games, mazes, checkers, hangman and simulation games. I created a few programs in C++ to convert currency, temperature and to solve mathematical problems. I even created a few animations.  I pretty much stopped all of this once I went off to college, but  fast forward and less than 10 years later I was learning to code with HTML, Javascript, CSS3,  Visual basic and whatever I needed to get a project done. All of it was self-taught through trial and error.

When I visited ISTE in San Antonio this summer I was instantly brought back to my childhood when I visited Tynker’s kiosk.  I was already familiar with Gamestar Mechanic and Scratch, but I hadn’t yet experienced the world of Tynker!  When Gino from Tynker gave me a demonstration visions of creating apps, games and more danced in my head!  How awesome would it be if I could get my own kids excited about coding their own app or game rather than just playing the “hot app” of the moment?

I was first drawn to its colorful and inviting visual platform (oh I like shiny and colorful things), but in all seriousness what I liked best is the design of the TYnker 1program.  Tynker is a web based platform that easily engages kids and teaches them how to code.  There is no pressure, because there is no actual code to write. It is all fun! Kids drag and drop visual code blocks to program their own animations, stories, games and more.

Tynker Code Blocks

Tynker Code Blocks

The colorful blocks help kids THINK like programmers; by teaching them the logic behind programming without having to focus on the things like syntax, symbols and rules. (thus building critical thinking and computational thinking skills)  Users engage in interactive self-paced tutorials to learn different aspects of programming. After each tutorial they are “quizzed” on what they learned and awarded a badge when they complete a milestone.

Why should kids even learn to code?  Today’s economy and society revolves around high-tech.  Tynker helps kids build a strong foundation in STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math) and helps prepare children for future degrees and careers. Schools  have recognized this and are focusing more on these subjects because of their relevance and need in the “real high-tech world”  By learning how computers are programmed and understanding the logic behind it, kids become active creators instead of just passive users.    Think of all the “cool” and useful apps that you probably used today.  These were all a result of someone tinkering away on a keyboard.

The company offers both a school and home edition. Tynker For Schools is built with special features for educators and has different editions to suit specific needs. Educators love Tynker because it offers them an easy to use cloud-hosted system for delivering a customized Computer Science course. Tynker is being used to learn programming in over 4,500 schools and in hundreds of homes. Since their launch, over 150,000 projects have been created by children using Tynker worldwide. (COOL!)

Learning to make characters talk

Learning to make characters talk

Tynker For Home is a fun and engaging 16-lesson course “Introduction to Programming”  for children in grades 4 to 8 to learn computer programming at home. My son and I have been working with the Tynker for Home edition.  He has just started the 16 tutorials and absolutely loves it.  He is working through the self-paced tutorials and gaining confidence as he goes along.


programming steps to free a robot

Each of the 16 lessons is filled with a plethora of fun activities, for example, you learn how to make people and creatures talk, and later you program steps into a robot to free it from a maze.

He plans to use the modules to build an animated story book.  He also has a few ideas for video games and apps that he would love to develop and he can’t wait to learn more so he can build the framework!

Tynker giveaway!TYNKER HOME EDITION GIVEAWAY The home edition costs $50, but in the spirit of the week of code and the season of giving I am going to GIFT a home version of Tynker to one lucky reader courtesy of Tynker. To be eligible leave a comment below by 12/22 and share this article via Twitter or Facebook.   You must be 18 to enter. Retail value of prize is $50 US dollars. Winner will be chosen at random and I will notify the winner by responding to their comment.

Hour of Code!

Tynker is one of the curriculum providers for the Hour of Code initiative by CSEdWeek and code.org. They have built 8 new free tutorials  specifically for the Hour of Code which as of this post has 3,587,803 participants!  These free tutorials will give you the opportunity to see what coding is all about!  Learn more about Tynker’s Hour of Code.