Code Ninjas: Fostering STEM in Local Kids



Do you have a child with a growing interest in technology? Would you like to help them focus their interest in positive ways while learning new skills? Then, Code Ninjas may be just the place for you.

About: Code Ninjas (3622 West 135th Street Leawood, Kansas) (913) 735-9346. Student hours: Monday-Thursday 3:30pm-7:30pm (Drop Off By 6:30pm), Sunday 1pm-4pm (Drop Off By 3pm)

Code Ninjas is a new learning center in Leawood where kids ages 7-14 have fun learning to code by building their own video games. Using a Montessori teaching style, each student progresses at their own pace. With a specially designed curriculum students move from a White Belt to a Black Belt (just like martial arts), as they learn game development using Scratch® in white belt and then transitioning to javascript through blackbelt. The Black belt project lets kids work in a team and design, code and release a game on an app store. The curriculum is designed to be a 4 year program that teaches all aspects of coding.  As I watched the kids in action on a recent tour of Code Ninjas, I felt as though I were watching the ideal Voc-Tech training school for today's kids. 

Jason Hansen, the owner of this location, is excited about the opportunity to bring a new STEM education opportunity to the community. For local kids who love technology, Code Ninjas gives them a chance to explore their own creativity and learn to code. He has plans to open more locations across the metro in the coming year.

 

When they arrive at Code Ninjas, for the drop-in program, kids check in with their color coded wrist band (it matches their current belt level), and scan it logging into the system to work on the next level within the curriculum (this reminded me of Disney's Magic Band system). Once logged in, they use a laptop in the "Dojo" where tutors, known as Code Senseis®, are available for one-on-one coaching as the students learn to code. Each student works at their own pace, but they're all working through the same curriculum. One student may be sitting next to another who is further along in the program, when they ask a question to solve a problem, they will not only have the help of tutors- but other students often help each other solve problems. This model strengthens their skill and memory as they learn. The kids wind up teaching one another and this creates a community for them where it is cool to code. They celebrate successes together and encourage one another as they progress.

While students code, parents may drop their child off and run errands, or they may stay in the lobby where younger siblings enjoy playing with the Lego table and parents use the laptop bar, enjoy coffee, and take advantage of the chance to work or relax.  The Dojo does have a window where parents may watch what the students are doing, and before checking out for the night, kids may show their parents the progress they are making.

Students (ages 7-14) join Code Ninjas for a monthly membership fee and enjoy the drop-in program where they work for an hour per session, two times per week The drop-in program allows for flexibility. Students may come for their two weekly sessions any time through the week (similar to the gym), during drop-in hours.

In addition to the membership program, Code Ninjas  also offers Day Camps and Summer Camps where students learn and TinkerCad, Roblox, Minecraft, Drones, Robotics, and programming. Scout groups and other kids clubs also participate in special events at Code Ninjas.

Hannah Hancock, age 7, has been participating at Code Ninjas for about 3 weeks. She just completed her fourth game as a White Belt when I met her. She said that Code Ninjas is great fun, "You get to learn new stuff about computers. I love science and math and want to be a math teacher. I would definitely recommend Code Ninjas to my friends." I asked Hannah about some of the things she's most enjoyed in her time at Code Ninjas and she said she enjoyed developing a cat and mouse game where players move the mouse in different directions as the cat chases it. If the cat catches the mouse they win. When Hannah first joined, she tried the sample game as her family checked out Code Ninjas and she enjoyed developing a basketball themed pong-style game. Hannah's mom appreciates the early exposure to STEM education for her daughter, coding on this level is not offered at her school for students her age. She also likes the flexibility of the drop-in program.

Another ninja, Jason Butler, age 13, also a White Belt, agreed that the program is great fun. He said he joined because he wanted to create games and he has made friends at Code Ninjas. His favorite thing about the program is developing games with his own designs. Jason wants to be a programmer, so this is a great opportunity to grow in his interests.

Susan Hammen Whitford, mom of a student says, "This is my daughter's VERY FAVORITE thing to do. She doesn't just settle for the regular classes, but also begs to attend the Parent's Night Out, the Spring Break camp and the Summer camps. She cannot get enough of coding! As we arrive each time, she is ready to jump out of the car and rush inside to get working on her projects and games. She comes home and logs onto her own computer to show us games she has already made and then - and this is just incredible - starts coding right in front of us, letting us choose game options as she does the coding! I can't believe how far she has come, so fast, too! We love the staff - Sam the director is awesome and Jason, the owner is almost always there, too. The hands-on staff are very knowledgeable and engaging with the coders. The building is clean and organized and parents can watch their little coder right through an enormous window. I cannot say enough good things about Code Ninjas!"

It was exciting to watch the kids work, and to see them succeed. Each of the students leaves with a sense of accomplishment as they progress through the levels and build their skills. In today's economy, computer development is the cornerstone for most modern business and these students are being equipped with real-life skills and a great foundation for future careers.

McKenna Regan, a Code Sensei, is a High School Senior at Blue Valley Northwest, and she's been working at Code Ninjas since its opening. She started programming at school, liked it quite a bit, and took Intro to Programming at JCCC. This is an ideal first job for her where she can earn some money and continue to develop her skills while encouraging kids. She says, "I liked working with kids and I love programming, this job gives me a chance to enjoy my two favorite things in a positive environment." She said that the Sensei will verify the student's game and work. "I love to watch their excitement as they complete a level, and I love the sense of humor the kids bring to their games. I really wish this was around when I was a kid, I would have loved it."

If you're looking for an outlet for your tech loving kid, or a great STEM opportunity for your child, we recommend Code Ninjas

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