This week is Computer Science Education Week, which President Obama kicked off Monday with an Hour of Code at the White House and related announcements, such as a $20 million philanthropic commitment to train 25,000 new computer science teachers for US schools by fall 2016. Of course, the hour of code is somewhat symbolic -- sure, we've all got to start somewhere, but learning will require a longer term approach.
That's why we're seeing bigger picture attention -- including the aforementioned growth of computer-related curricula for students -- from the federal government, private business, philanthropic organizations, and schools to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) educations and skills in the US.
While the IT skills shortage debate rages on in the US, many STEM education programs are focusing on learning STEM subjects and developing related skills long before someone enters the workforce. Many of those new computer science teachers will work in elementary schools, for instance. There's a reason that Code.org's featured Hour of Code activity during CS Education Week is Frozen-themed -- you might have noticed that was a popular Halloween costume choice this year.
[Does someone on your gift list need a basic computer? Read 10 Windows Tablets, Laptops Under $200: Holiday Steals.]
The choice of that theme also speaks to a fundamental of getting children interested and invested in learning: It helps when it's fun. Fortunately, there's a growing universe of Web-based resources, many of them available free of charge to students, parents, and teachers alike. We've rounded up eight fun sites (in no particular order) for early STEM learners here, from programming to engineering to cybersecurity to outer space.
1. CyberChase (PBS Kids)
Join the cybersquad. Good guys only, please. PBS Kids show CyberChase offers a range of online resources for future CISOs, including activities and games geared toward learning math, code, and similar concepts.
2. NASA Kids Club
Want to build a rocket? Have at it -- and plenty of other space-related projects and activities -- with the NASA Kids Club.
TechRocket's courses for coding, game design, and graphic design are built on the premise that "you're never too young to learn STEM skills." This site includes a heavy focus on building mobile apps and games, from iOS development to Minecraft mods.
5. Engineering, Go For It (eGFI)
Created by the American Society for Engineering Education, eGFI's aim is to foster educational and pre-professional interest in engineering and other STEM subjects from kindergarten through high school. In addition to information on the myriad branches of the engineering field -- from biomedical to computer to mechanical and beyond -- the site features descriptions of professional paths for each, including profiles of real people at work in the field.
6. Zoom (PBS Kids)
Check out activities, games, and downloadable offline projects from PBS Kids' series Zoom, a show made "by kids, for kids" that encourages curiosity and ingenuity across a range of subjects. My almost-5-year-old and I particularly enjoyed the Goldburger to Go game. In related news, I might need some remedial schooling.
7. CS Education Week's "unplugged" programs
No computer? No problem, at least once you've downloaded the lesson plan for My Robotic Friends or another "unplugged" activity. My Robotic Friends, as with other unplugged programs, teaches coding, debugging, and related concepts without actually using a computer, which could be handy for schools and homes working with tight budgets and outdated PCs. The CS Education Week website features six unplugged activities.
8. Kinetic City
Budding scientists of all stripes will dig Kinetic City's collection of science projects, experiments, and educational games -- including activities that pull the young scientist away from the screen. Do you or your children have your own favorites? Share them with us in the comments.
Employers see a talent shortage. Job hunters see a broken hiring process. In the rush to complete projects, the industry risks rushing to an IT talent failure. Get the Talent Shortage Debate issue of InformationWeek today.Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses. View Full Bio