Teaching web development to kids after school using chatgpt

This is basically the pitch for AI Coding Educator. What is this project about? What is unique about it? Why is it needed? What is the plan? These questions are answered here.

The Premises

  • Learning about web development is an introduction to coding that is highly engaging and accessible to a diverse range of kids.
  • ChatGPT is a revolutionary primary resource for coding education that can make learning to code more accessible, easier, and cheaper than ever before.
  • After School programs are an important venue for web development instruction.

The Unique Importance of Web Development

Learning web development is one of the most accessible introductions to coding. Rather than dive into abstractions, kids can learn about code by quickly building something practical. And this can make the process engaging by connecting it to their interests.

The fundamental concepts involved in building websites are accessible to kids as early as elementary school. And related concept in design, marketing, user experience, accessibility, and quality assurance are not only accessible but offer new coders an overview of many paths to employment.

In addition, with some knowledge of all these related skills students gain perspective on project management by looking with a comprehensive eye at all the inter-related elements of their work. This kind of perspective, and early coding more generally, offer a fast and easy path to the kind of outcomes provided by STEM programs.

A Revolution in Coding Education

STEM programs in public schools move the dial on employment outcomes, but many of those outcomes require the kind of time, money, and stability that a lot of kids just don’t have. In addition many STEM jobs are not high paying or numerous.

But recently, interactive large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT have created an unprecedented opportunity in coding education, providing a faster, easier, and cheaper path to many jobs in the tech sector.

While there are many way to learn to code, most are limited by two main issues. Many instructional options are either too basic and underestimate beginners or they are are too involved and assume prior knowledge.

In contrast, LLMs like ChatGPT can simply be asked to offer more or less detailed answers. You can paste some code into ChatGPT and it will tell you what it does or why it’s not working. Ask it how to center some text and you get one correct answer, most often with helpful notes about usage. You can even ask it for a lesson plan on any topic. And it can work with many languages.

Nothing has existed like this before now and while other educational tools do have value, specifically at more intermediate levels, these new tools offer more people than ever a path to tech jobs.

The Magic of After School Education

Most public schools do not offer coding or web development classes as primary curriculum, even as they would seem to fit well into a STEM program. Where then are these opportunities being offered to children?

While there are coding summer camps and coding classes at certain magnet schools and even educational businesses, most kids simply don’t have access to this instruction. Currently the most common option for many are free after school programs. But most of those programs just aren’t offering the kind of bridge to employment that a development class can really be.

After school programs offer a uniquely beneficial environment for technical learning. They often have computers with internet access. Program choices are largely voluntary, giving kids a sense of ownership over the choice to attend. And after school programs allow instruction by people without a teaching credential, like most tech professionals.

Taken together these benefits make after school programs an optimal place for this kind of instruction. If we really want to create pathways into the tech sector, after school instruction should be one key focus for investment of time of energy.

The Lesson Plan

  • Start at the beginning
  • Teach kids about the broad set of skills used in website development.
  • Focus on specific skills and strategies most used by a web development professional in order to limit the scope.
  • Teach kids how to prompt ChatGPT to get answers to their questions and facilitate their own learning.
  • Create and implement a lesson plan that results in each student building a live website owned by them.

What’s the Mission?

The most important part of any lesson plan for learning web development is starting at the beginning. What is a website? Why build a website? What is the purpose of the elements we generally find on a website? What do I need to be thinking about as I plan, design, and build a website?

This approach is so significantly different than showing a beginner some code and explaining it. Starting from first principles, many web design and development practices make a lot of sense. But without a clear picture of the intent, web conventions may seem arbitrary and confusing.

The Big Picture is Empowering

Once kids are introduced they will likely be more interested in certain parts of the design and development process. And those interests map to potential jobs. So a broad approach that includes many aspects of the process can be a compelling way to engage kids and move them toward employment options. Relevant topics include html/css, web design conventions, user experience, accessibility, SEO, content management, and quality assurance.

Instruction on all those topics also gives kids the broad view of a project manager who looks at all the moving parts and knows how each contributes to the whole. And this involves active critical thinking that’s generally beneficial regardless of specialization.

Only What’s Really Needed

While introducing many related topics, it’s easy to overwhelm new student with so many details that they become intimidated. The full scope of web production is fairly endless. That’s why it’s critical to narrow down the specifics to a level manageable by beginners.

One obvious strategy here is to teach new students only what developers are actually using on a daily basis. There are so many facts and code elements that are rarely if ever used. By excluding these and allowing beginners to learn about them only when needed, the scope of instruction can be managed.

Your New Digital Assistant

While web development instruction is beneficial in encouraging and facilitating learning, the real truth is that we really teach ourselves to code by doing it. In the past that involved a lot of searching for answers and combing through half-baked solutions.

That really did change overnight with the debut on ChatGPT in Nov of 2022. While LLMs have many limitations, they are surprisingly good at providing information about the basics of coding and assisting in the coding process.

Where before you would have to search Google and then dig through questionable websites filled with various possibly accurate answers, now you get one generally correct answer with notes provided about its implementation. And you can ask follow up questions.

Learning how to prompt an LLM is now considered a job skill. The quality of answers you receive is tied to the quality of the questions you ask. For this reason, ‘talking’ (in any language) to an LLM can test your linguistic flexibility in interesting ways that are educationally beneficial. And so helping beginners get comfortable with interacting with an LLM is an important part of any modern development lesson plan.

The Motivations

  • Expanding employment opportunities
  • Taking advantage of an unprecedented resource
  • Encouraging after school instruction

Teaching web development after school would offer many benefits to kids. And unlike paths into academic or scientific jobs, many coding jobs require limited formal education and monetary investment, meaning they are more accessible to people with less time and money.

We are also entering a new period for employment in tech where knowledge and use of AI tools is becoming mandatory. As many are saying, the jobs eliminated by AI will be the people not suing AI. But more than a competitive necessity, this technology opens a bridge to maybe the easiest path to technical literacy ever created. Utilizing these new tools to help people enter the field is important.

Finally, if public schools aren’t going to provide this path to employment, we need to take advantage of available options, in after school programs, to bring this option to where the kids are at. Most after school programs are very interested in skill building and so there is little likely resistance to this plan.