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'Creative Engineering' Class Teaches Kids Coding and Programming

By Camille Bautista | December 29, 2015 10:09am
 Ada and Leo, a series of classes aimed at teaching young children coding and programming, will be open to students in January.
Ada and Leo, a series of classes aimed at teaching young children coding and programming, will be open to students in January.
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Kate Cortesi

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Kids can get an early start on cracking computer codes through a new series of “creative engineering” classes being offered in Bed-Stuy.

Ada and Leo, a 12-week workshop for children ages 6 through 9, starts this January.

Brooklyn-based programmer Ben Wheeler is offering the introductory classes out of his Putnam Avenue home in hopes of sparking kids’ interest in technology, he said.

“The biggest thing I hope that they get out of it is to see themselves as the kind of people who make things with computers, who create technology,” Wheeler, 36, said.

“So that when they hear about a programmer as an adult, or a project a teen did, they’re imagining that’s something they might do.”

Students can 3D-print their own designs, learn circuitry work and construct their own robots with LEGO MindStorms kits.

Wheeler and teacher Audrey Fox guide participants through programs such as Tinkercad, a free online design tool, and Scratch from MIT.

The father of two has already hosted one 12-week session this past fall where kids have created their own games, he said.

Wheeler was motivated to start Ada and Leo after teaching adult programming classes and seeing the creative spark in his young daughters.

“I saw the way my daughter, who is six, and her little sister were becoming creative with drawing with markers, writing and starting to make little picture books,” Wheeler said. “There’s really meaningful work and meaningful expressiveness at the end of that.”

“I want to find the same kind of things they can be doing with computers. How could I make them feel the same kind of delight in the simple version of coding the way they do with drawing?”

He aims to introduce children to programming and engineering by immersing them in the technology as much as possible, he said.

In addition to the LEGO kits and wires and batteries for circuitry, students work with Chromebooks to exercise their skills in different programs.

The classes are named after Ada Lovelace, dubbed by some as the world’s first programmer, and Leonardo da Vinci.

Wheeler said he chose the names to get away from tech buzzwords, evoke personality and emphasize the familiarity and human aspect of technology for kids.

“Calling him ‘Leo’ is a way to remind them that this is another person who came up with ideas and shared them with people. It leads us to be able to talk about creators that way,” he said.

“Using Ada in the title for me is really important to emphasize to girls who might think of computers as being associated with boys, to emphasize to them that this is something women have been amazing at from the start.”

Ada and Leo will start in January with a total of 10 students. The sessions cost $360 for 12 weeks and include all class materials.

Scholarships are offered for children through an application process. For more information or to sign up, visit the website here.