LINCOLN PARK — In the grand Chicago tradition of making no little plans, Codeverse has opened its first outlet on the North Side with the slogan: "Teaching a billion kids to code."
Someday, a la McDonald's, the business might be able to tout "1 billion served" on a marquee, but for now the first of those billion students are learning computer code in an elegant whitewashed building near the New City development at 819 W. Eastman St.
"I think it's really critical for kids to learn how technology actually works," said Katy Lynch, one of the owners of the new venture. "The reality is technology is disrupting every industry. So having that skill of coding — whether you're young, old, whoever you are — it's an asset."
Have a strong foundation, the thinking goes, and one can build almost anything upon it.
White on the outside, Codeverse is colorful and open on the inside, with a main room that can be divided into smaller units.
The emphasis is on personalized, hands-on instruction for 6- to 12-year-olds in learning an elementary computer language called KidScript, built on the same tenets as Python and Java Script, among others.
The 3,600-square-foot "hackable classroom" includes lights, robotic arms, television screens and 3-D printers, among other gadgets, all of which can be programmed through coding.
Lynch said one 8-year-old recently came in and immediately began programming the lights, adding, "It's incredible how quickly kids pick this up."
She drew parallels between computer language and spoken and written languages, in that it's better to start the learning process earlier, and it helps develop a youngster's mind in "phenomenal" ways.
"In many ways, coding is quite similar to a foreign language," Lynch said. "You always want to encourage a kid to learn German, Italian, French at a young age, because the way kids absorb that information is very different."
When students sign in at the front, they immediately receive a personalized welcoming message at the door, and one of the pads on a shelf of them lights up to go to work for them.
The main room has a "command couch," a cushioned bank in front of a wall of TV screens, which can be programmed independently or as a whole. Elsewhere, there's a table of robotic arms and other areas that can be divided off for smaller lessons.
"We're dubbing it as the classroom of the future, because it is," Lynch said.
Off to the side in a room of its own is "mission control," including a couple of extended tables lined with Apple computers, which Lynch called "our take on a traditional classroom." It's about as conventional as Codeverse gets, but keep in mind that the room also has an entire wall made of moss laid out to form the Codeverse logo.
In the back, there's a quiet room, but also what Lynch called the "black hole," a darkened room with a sectional sofa on one side where kids can basically tune out the rest of the world and immerse themselves entirely in their computers and pads.
Codeverse is the brainchild of Lynch, her husband, Craig Ulliott, and their partner, Dave Arel, and they envision it going nationwide and global, starting with the Chicago flagship and three other suburban outlets to follow over the next 1½ years.
Codeverse is already open, offering a basic package priced at $225 a month, which includes weekly visits and the opportunity to use KidScript at home. Weeklong camps start Aug. 7, running from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays and riced at $800, but that includes lunch, snacks and field trips to the Apple Store at North Avenue and Halsted Street, as well as the nearby Whole Foods and other outings. Of course, instruction is more intensive as well, and to cater for working parents there's early drop-off and late pickup.
"We've had massive demand from parents," Lynch said.
Class sizes are set at 20, and Lynch said the first week of camp is all but booked. Codeverse has hired certified elementary-school teachers adept at computer code, with the intent to maintain a 5-to-1 ratio of students to teachers.
Wearing a T-shirt that bore the Codeverse slogan of "Teaching a billion kids to code," Lynch said simply, "We're on our way."