Coding for a Rainy Day

Ah, summer is upon us and you may be thinking of going down the shore, BBQs, baseball, and having fun or just lounging around your back yard.  Well, I hate to rain on your parade, but it will rain at some point this summer.  If you are like me, that will happen sometime when you are using a well-deserved vacation day.  So what should you do if you want to try something different or, gasp, you have to find something to occupy house-bound kids?  Perhaps you could code something.

Coding is the art of using a computer programming language to create something, like a web page, game or even just make the cursor move all over the screen.  There are even kits you can buy that have lots of nifty electronic parts that you can program to do different things, like turn on a sensor light or lower the air conditioner temperature.  Many people do not realize it, but coding is actually fairly easy to learn with many of the free online tutorials and the sites can show you how to do something basic for fun, like power a toy, to a usable work skill like creating a website or an app for your phone.

I recently was at a family dinner and we were talking about how computer games used to require you to actually type the instructions into the computer before you could start playing the game, not just download an app and start tapping a screen.  This falls in the what is old is new again category since there is now a big push to get STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects back on track in the schools.  As part of that initiative, many companies are encouraging kids to learn to code by creating the free tutorial sites and using simple examples like games to get them more interested in seeing how coding produces results.  But the fun should not be limited to just the kids, so I encourage everyone to take a look at the following coding sites to see if something appeals to you.  What the heck, you may only be wasting part of a rainy day anyway!

Beyond One Hour of Coding – Code.org has probably gotten the most press coverage of the free coding sites because of a joint Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates event in 2013 that encouraged schools around the country to offer an Hour of Code.  The website still has the original Hour of Code information for teachers, but the Beyond One Hour section includes tutorials for learning the basics (for ages 6-106!) and links to specialized and more advanced coding projects.  Most of the tutorials are broken down into short chunks of video or step-by-step projects so you can work at your own pace and learn a little or a lot at one time.

Code Academy – If you are looking for tutorials on how to code for web-based products, such as websites, social media site apps, or online games, this is the site for you.  In addition to showing you how to code a website in HTML, you can learn Java, PHP, or Ruby.  Or, you can opt to jump in and just try it out by doing a project, like the 30 minute Animate Your Name, where you code your computer to display your name in animation.

Scratch – One of the first programs designed to teach coding basics was created by MIT and offered as a program you could install on your own computer, Scratch.  The program became so popular that MIT created a web-based version so all you need to do now to get started is visit the website and hit the Try It icon.  If you sign up for a free account, you can save your projects and share them with others who use the site.  If you are just curious about code, click on any of the examples and then the See Inside button in the upper right-hand corner to display the code.  Once the code is displayed, you can opt to remix the project by adding your own instructions.

TouchDevelop - Create your own apps for or on any device, including iOS, Android, Mac and Windows 8 devices.  The site includes a short tutorial video and links to other coding sites.  The app coding works within a web browser or via a free app.  Once completed, apps can be shared with friends by using a QR Code.

Khan Academy – This site is less hands-on and more for those looking for a video tutorial to get started with the very basics and then move up to more advanced concepts.  Plus, if you get bored coding, you can always opt to explore another subject area, such as microeconomics or art history – all the videos on the Khan website are free.

W3schools – This is another site dedicated to teaching website building skills, including the new HTML5.  You can also explore JQuery, SQL, and JavaScript using the tutorials and the Try It Yourself side-by-side editor that lets you type your code and see how it will appear as a website.

Programmr – If you get really good at this and want to challenge yourself or just show off, move up to Programmr and take part in their daily projects, create your own stuff to add to their showcase or just stop by to use their free compilers to test the code you are working on.

Finally, if you want some additional information on coding, the website Mashable has a coding section featuring the latest news and trends.  Some recent entries include a list of the programming languages you need to learn for 2014 and free tools for learning to code.

Also, if you do have kids hanging around the house and you are looking for something for them to do, check out the library’s program calendar for the summer, a few branches are holding programs on coding for kids and teens.

- Laura N.

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