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Computer programming courses for kids works best in small class sizes

Published on July 10, 2018 | Posted in  

This is what I know. Computer programming courses for kids work best in small class sizes! My experience is from 35 years as both a mathematics student and an educational business entrepreneur.

I still remember my first-year university physics, calculus and linear algebra classes with 75 to 100 students per professor. This was in the 1980s. Most of the students simply worked as “scribes”, copying down whatever the professor wrote on the overhead or chalkboard. I would estimate conservatively, that less than 15% of these students were actually following the mathematics or mathematical argument being presented. I would follow the math around 50% of the time, but would also sometimes convert to a “scribe” like the majority of the other students. Scribes don’t learn much.

In the second, third and fourth year honours math classes, this all changed. It was harder to hide in the herd, during this period, because there was no herd. The class sizes were suddenly reduced to 15 or fewer students.

This means a good professor could call us out by name and say something like, “Elliott, what comes next?” So I had to follow the mathematics more closely so to be ready if I got called out! I absorbed a lot from these smaller honours math classes.

In the 1990s I ran a math tutoring service that had the smallest class size possible of 1 student per tutor. A good tutor could get his or her student to “do math” during the session, as opposed to simply “lecturing”.

In mathematics, physics or computer programming, kids learn by doing as opposed to only watching.

These educational experiences had a profound impact on me.

In 1999 I co-founded Real Programming 4 Kids, an educational service that offers class sizes of at most 4 students per instructor. Since 1999 we have taught thousands of students and would never increase our class sizes since the educational benefit of the small class of at most 4 students is so strong.

We can do what my honours math professors did by asking students questions during class, and getting them to solve the problems on their computers during class. Watching the handful of students immediately attempting to solve the problems and begin coding their answer was amazing to witness.

The small class sizes facilitate the students doing as opposed to simply watching. Both the students and instructors can “ask questions”. The instructors can immediately see which students are struggling and which students are comprehending the material.

Our instructors can help out a struggling student, while the remaining 1 to 3 students can work on the problem. Alternatively our instructors can help a prodigy with his or her more complex and specific game programming questions.

We are still teaching the small class of a max of 4 students and our large Ontario growth is partly due to sticking to this format. We are also hearing back from former students who have gone on to become professional game programmers.

Below are links to other articles on the small class phenomenon.

Hope this article was helpful!


Elliott Bay B.Sc. (Honours Math) M.Sc. (Math)

Owner & President, Real Programming 4 Kids

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