Technology and Computer Science Resources for Kids in West Michigan

Brittany Hunter meeting with participants at PowerUp Tech Fair

Photo Credit: The Midwest Tech Project

 

Earlier this month, I represented Atomic Object as part of a panel at The Second Annual Power Up Technology Fair put on by The Midwest Tech Project and held at Baxter Community Center. There, I spoke with parents who had variations of the same question: How can I expose my son or daughter to the opportunities afforded by a career in technology?

Eighteen of the 25 jobs on Glassdoor’s 25 Highest Paying Jobs in America for 2016 are related to the technology industry. Skilled tech workers are in high demand. Technology touches every area of industry: from the technicians who keep a company’s computers and servers in working order, all the way to the entrepreneur who invents a new business paradigm and uses technology to transform an industry.

There is a lot of flexibility and seemingly endless opportunity in technology. You don’t have to move to the Bay Area to get involved: West Michigan’s booming technology scene and its low cost of living mean it’s a great place for workers to do exciting, rewarding work and have a great lifestyle. It’s easy to see why parents would want to expose their kids to the possibilities and opportunities available in tech-related fields.

After speaking at the tech fair, I thought I’d compile a reference list of suggestions and opportunities. This way, next time the topic comes up (and it does, quite often!), I’d have a reference point. Here are some answers to questions I frequently receive on the topic of kids and tech in West Michigan. I welcome your suggestions and additions!

How can my child make his or her own game?

A lot of kids’ first interactions with computers take place through gaming. They enjoy playing games, and they have ideas of their own for games that they would like to make and play. Scratch is a FREE project by the MIT Media Lab that helps kids learn to build their own games, stories, and animations. As kids work with Scratch, they get to express themselves and see their ideas come to life. They are also learning the building blocks of thinking analytically and writing computer code. These are valuable skills that can help them in school and will come in handy if they ever want to actually learn a coding language.

Here are some additional posts about Scratch:

My kid likes to play games but isn’t interested in building them. How can I get him or her interested in writing code?

Check out Code.org for fun tutorials where kids write real code while they have fun playing games themed around their favorite characters. Think Minecraft, Star Wars, Frozen, Flappy Bird, etc.

Khan Academy is also a great place for middle schoolers, high schoolers, and even adults to go for completely FREE code courses. They have basic courses in computer programming, electrical engineering, computer science, and computer animation.

My kid wants to make a website. What do you recommend?

Making a website is a great way for kids to get started in technology. (I made my first website when I was 12 and on dialup internet. It had pink and sparkles. I was very proud. The rest is history.) When I was a kid, I got a bunch of books from the library (including Web Design for Dummies) and learned that way. This is still a pretty viable option!

Nowadays, I point kids to two newer tools: Wix and Pixlr, which are both free apps. It’s enough to get a good taste and exercise some creativity, without being overwhelming. From there, if they enjoy it, check out Codecademy or Treehouse for more web design tutorials.

What programs and organizations exist in Grand Rapids for getting kids into tech?

BitCamp is a day-long opportunity for 7th and 8th grade girls to write some code and learn what it’s like to be a software developer.

The Midwest Tech Project connects 7th-9th grade Black and Latino boys from the Grand Rapids Public Schools with tech mentors.

WMCAT, the West Michgan Center for Arts and Technology, offers after-school programs in various technical subjects. Their offerings change from year to year. Currently, their programs cover illustration, audio & video production, and game programming and design.

In addition, Girl Develop It and Black Girls Code offer classes, events, and hackathons for girls and women who are interested in technology or looking to make career changes.

I’m struggling to make ends meet. Where am I going to get a computer for my kid?

The Applied Intellect program at the Geek Group in Grand Rapids refurbishes computer towers, mice, and keyboards and makes them available to families in need for $40.

Finally, Comprenew’s E-Stores in West Michigan offer sales of refurbished computers and laptops, starting at $65.

I hope this list was helpful! Do you have additional questions, or do you know of resources I’m missing? Let me know in the comments! I’d love for this list to grow.