Frequently Asked Questions
There are quite a few options out there for kids to learn to code - but we think our approach is a little different.
- We believe that kids are ready to learn practical and real skills so we start them off with building a webpage on the first day.
- We teach real coding - not drag and drop.
- We use cloud editors and online tools so that the kids can work from our classroom or at home and still be able to access their work easily.
- We provide a real development environment and their own workspace so they can create what they want outside of class.
Not necessarily better, but after 6 years in the trenches with lots of feedback, we feel that we know what kids like and what works for them. They like to be challenged, but in small and manageable doses. Kids today have a lot going on . They like to work in real environments - not drag and drop. They like to create websites and tools they can show their friends. And they like to win contests. Just ask our four who won the Facebook Hackathon this winter for DC area High School students 🙂
We use cloud editors for all of our coding classes so students need:
- a base level laptop
- a connection to the Internet
- an internet browser installed such as Firefox, Chrome, or Safari.
- a microphone and speaker
- Our LabCatsCode stock of laptops that we use for classes are basic Windows 11" laptops - we have mostly Lenovo 110s with 4M of RAM.
- You can use a Chrome book but if you are going to purchase a laptop we would not recommend one. They are slightly cheaper but you cannot always install the software you want or need. Depending on our courses or you child's interests - they may want to install some software like editors, FTP tools, compilers, etc.
- They can use a Mac, a Windows or a Linux machine. Given that we do everything on the cloud...it doesn't matter.
- For the majority of our classes we use CodeAnywhere.
- For our Python classes, we use PythonAnywhere which is free for a Beginner account.
- For some of our advanced classes, we also use phpMyAdmin which is online database tool for MySQL databases.
Definitely. We can set up a whole curriculum and figure out what type of partnership works best for you.
After doing this for 6 years, we are constantly amazed at how quickly kids pick complicated concepts up at time and how slowly they are to sometimes figure out how to find and synthesize information to solve a problem. Here, we are not just teaching your kids how to code. We are, in the words of the immortal Steve Jobs, teaching them how to think.
What does that mean?
- That we like them to get a little stuck and frustrated. Then, when they finally solve the problem or we point out the solution, they will have the joy of the "aha" moment. And more importantly, they will have learned how to do something that they are far less likely to forget.
- We want them to at first try to solve the problem on their own. Write down some code, think about it, get stuck, try again..then ask for help.
- We will provide all the material they need - the answer on how to solve anything is in the online course material. They just need to learn how to look.
- We won't just teach them to code. We will teach them how to identify the problem. How to develop a solution in very detailed logical steps.
We'll leave you with the full Steve Jobs quote.
Our standard courses are $275 for a 10 week session. Summer camps vary depending on the length and amount of teaching time.
Definitely on a needs level. Because every child should learn to code! Email us.
Our classes are for kids entering 6th grade and up. We teach mainly middle school and high school students but our classes are applicable for college age students and older.
The name comes from the original groups of students. Our first class was 14 4th graders at Murch Elementary School. By year 3 we were down to a core group of 7 and I was teaching 3 other sections. To clarify which class I was talking about, we named the original class the LabCats.
- We always joked that they got the brunt of experimental teaching. Some things worked out well, some not so much. I learned how much to teach in one week and how much homework. And even more importantly, what worked to get them enaged and excited. So they were the "lab rats".
- Classes moved in year 3 to my house mainly to have a better working environment - DCPS while a wonderful school system was challenging in providing a consistent wifi network. I have three cats who would often come participate in class. Thus, lab rats became the lab cats. Much cuter.
- The LabCats still exist! They will be in their 7th year of coding and often act as my TAs.
About Our Classes
We recommend that everyone start by learning how to make a website: Website Building 1: Using HTML & CSS. Why?
- Critical Skill: websites are the backbone of the majority of software solutions.
- Fun: the joy of having the instant feedback is awesome and goes a long way to getting kids excited about coding.
- Easy: It's easy to learn how to do a basic website and using online tools makes it even easier to teach and learn.
- Foundation: our curriculum is built upon this base of essential web skills.
- Basics of Python: if you want to jump right into real programming with Python - you can take the Basics of Python. Python is great for learning coding concepts in a clean and easy environment. Plus, it is great for games or data science down the road.
- Build a Website with WordPress: if you like playing around with technology and have more of a front-end/graphic design bent - WordPress is perfect. The majority of websites built today used it and it's easy to learn. Plus, it is a very useful skill. Lots of people, non-profits and small companies need websites.
Most of our classes are 1 hour. Some of our more advanced classes are 1.5 to 2 hours as the students are working on independent projects.
The breakdown for an average class is as follows:
- 5-10 minute check in and review of everyone's work since the last class. Kids often make the same mistakes so everyone can learn from what kids did right and what they struggled with.
- 15-25 minute formal teaching. This is sprinkled with real examples of code and lots of questions from the students.
- 15-40 minutes working time in class. This allows kids to get started on the homework and ask questions. Often these questions result in bits of teaching time to the greater group.
- Classes in the beginning of any course tend to skew a little more heavy to teaching time and those towards the end more heavily to working time as they learn more and are working on more complicated assignments.
All course material is online along with instructional videos which mirror the classroom lecture. One thing we can't duplicate that way though is the questions that come up in teaching.
We love having and teaching in person classes. The kids love the camaraderie and it creates a bond that keeps some kids coding. It is also a lot easier to corral a group of kids in person then via video. However, with the corona virus outbreak - our on site classes and summer camps in Washington DC are on hold right now. One thing we have discovered via this stay at home time, is that online classes work a lot better for the busy kid. We will continue to offer them even when things return to normal. For now, all our classes are online via Zoom.
A self-paced class consist of a group of students going through the same course, or even just the same courses on a given path - at their own pace.
- Instead of logging on to a set Zoom Session to learn all together, you learn at your own pace by reading the course material, doing the in-course exercises and doing the homework.
- We will have 2-3 drop-in Zoom lab sessions a week - depending on demand - where you can get answers to your questions, get motivated and see what others are working on.
Yes!! We try to keep it between 1-2 hours a week. Honestly, we would do more as the best way to learn how to code is to spend time doing it so that you really learn the concepts - like muscle memory for your brain. And when you work through and solve a frustrating problem mostly on your own - you remember what you learned and there is a great sense of accomplishment.
Plus, working on a coding project is not something you can easily dive back into. It takes some time to remember what you were working on and to start back up. However, kids today are busy so we try to make our classes move at a pace where they are challenged but it fits in with their schedule.
If you have a kid who loves to program - don't worry. The programs get much more challenging as you work your way through the courses and there are plenty of opportunities to add on extra functionality.
We keep our classes size to around 5-8 students. 6-7 is the ideal. Enough for camaraderie but not too many for chaos.
We try to keep age ranges together when possible. If you stick around with us and get into some of the higher level classes - those can be a little more mixed by necessity. If you want to organize your own group for a class - coordinate with us. We are more then happy to help that happen if we can.
We have online forums, where students can post questions. There will be a forum for each particular class as well as one for each course subject. We will respond to all questions within 24 hours if not shorter.
Primary teaching responsibilities will fall to Elizabeth Mettler - the creator and founder of LabCatsCode. Elizabeth has 25+ years of coding experience, a BS in Computer Science from the University of Virginia and 6 years experience in teaching kids.
If a class is larger then 4 students, TAs will also participate to help in answering questions and providing support. These TAs are all students at Wilson High School but have 6 years of our coding classes under their belts plus previous experience TAing.
Our Beginner class is Website Building 1: Using HTML & CSS. Students who have created websites in the past can skip the course and move on to the next course on our 3 paths as shown below. Students will have create a sample web page so that we can be sure they have the skills necessary first.
- Python - > Basics of Python
- WordPress -> Basics of WordPress
While we strong encourage taking Website Building 1 - students can also start with Basics of Python or WordPress.
Yes. If you look at our paths - you can see the prerequisites marked clearly on our Getting Started page.
Just by logging on to their account, the student can see exactly where they are in any of their courses. We also do leaderboards for each class in order to make sure everyone stays on track.
- Knowing a particular language matters some but just learning how to program is the hardest thing.
- C# is a more advanced language and is built on advanced concepts like object oriented code.
- If you take all the courses in either one of our series, you will learn basic to complex programming skills. This will make learning a more complex language like C# or Java or Lisp or Swift much, much easier.
- If you take the Python series, we go through a series of advanced topics in the next two courses - modules, functions and object oriented code. You can then learnFlask to allow you to do Web Apps. We will be adding on a Python games class at some point this year too if the demand is there. Python is an incredibly easy language to learn advanced concepts in.
Or...where should I start? Website Building? Python? WordPress?
While our FAQs does address this question, we get it a lot so we added a comparison table to try to help you decided.
|Description||Building web sites and apps from scratch.||Jump right into real coding||Learn to create websites using the most popular tool.|
|Pros||Quick payback - you make your first web page the first day||A simple language to learn and you get to learning core programming features quickly||Fun to do and easy to learn|
|Cons||Takes a while to get to real programming - second course||Not as easy to make websites with...have to wait a few courses||Not "real" programming|
|Who should take it||Great introduction if you are on the fence if you will like programming||If you love puzzles and solving logical issues||If you are more into graphical design and creatiing a cool website quickly|