Computers are not magic boxes!

In today’s world, computers are everywhere. While most of us know how to use them for basic functions, there are still many people who are intimidated by the growing use of technology.

“I really think that many adults feel computers are magical, and that they don’t understand how they work,” explains Gary Armstrong, Senior Web Developer at Natural Factors. “When it comes down to it, computers are very simple calculators. If you take things back to the basics, a computer is a machine that decides whether to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ very quickly. This is the concept behind coding.”

Gary insists that coding is about more than being a programmer. He expresses that it’s about logical thinking. The idea is being able to identify patterns and then knowing how to get the computer to repeat that pattern.

“The logical thinking skills you learn when coding for computers can be used in other areas of our life,” says Gary. “We can teach children to use these computers as tools so that we can become creators, and coding helps us to do that.”

With a desire to share his passion for coding with his daughter, Gary came up with creative ways to teach the concept to children in grades 1–3. In 2017, he introduced coding using chocolate squares – breaking it down into binary numbers “1” (chocolate) or “0” (no chocolate). His idea was definitely a bit hit with the children and made the experience fun for everyone.

“Mr. Armstrong has been an amazing influence on how the students see themselves as programmers,” acknowledged Yong Yong Chan, Nootka Elementary School Teacher. [He] has truly helped lead the students towards the path of programming in the future.”

With the fundamentals in place, Gary wanted to build on last year’s knowledge of how information is coded for computers and teach the children some basics about writing a program using a Lego maze. This year’s challenge will be to navigate a character through the maze using a series of basic commands, such as “go forward” and “turn left”. When the children pick up on the repetitiveness of the commands, Gary will introduce the idea of loops to show them that you can instruct a computer to repeat a step many times. His hope is that they will get to the stage where he can discuss algorithms, which is the start of creating their own computer program. Now talk about making learning fun!

Gary points out that as we use technology to consume more and more media, that it’s important to focus on how technology can positively impact our life. “If you know how to code, then you can tell the computer what to do. You go from being a consumer of technology to a creator of technology – a creator of wonderful things. This can empower children to do whatever they want to do!”