Summer of Code 2017

The Summer of Code took place for five days at the end of July in partnership with the Curzon Cinema in Clevedon. The event would not have been possible without the generous support of our sponsor, Costain. We organised five different workshops for young people on each of the days.

Summer of Code 2017

On Monday we had 6 and 7 year-olds ready to learn how to code on their tablets with ScratchJr. This group had never done any coding before – so we gave them an opportunity to learn how to make an animated story.  They produced stories involving cats, wizards, ducks, fish, whales… and their very own drawings.

On Tuesday we had a room packed with children learning how to make a Minecraft game in Scratch. Even though this was a more advanced workshop and most children already had some understanding on how Scratch works, there were plenty of challenges. The children learned how to get special Minecraft sprites, how to create a list to collect survival tools, how to switch from day time to night time, how to control the main character in their Minecraft world, etc. It was good to see so many variations of the game.

Since the workshop, a few parents have told me that their children have spent considerable amounts of time on Scratch at home.

On Wednesday we introduced the children to app making using Kano Art. Although Kano is mainly used with the Kano computer, we were still able to use the desktop application. Once the Kano application was introduced to the children through a series of activities, they were able to take on the task of making their own app and the session finished with a ‘show and tell’.

Thursday was a real hit: we got out the micro:bits. We let the children set them up, create and download the code and see the results on the micro:bits. We had many ‘wow’ moments and plenty of smiles as they created guessing games, played rock-paper-scissors and drew ‘smiley’ faces. Some children even created their own Pac-man game.

On our last day we introduced the children to Python. We chose ‘Tina the Turtle’ to guide the children through a set of activities that involved Tina drawing, moving and receiving commands. There was so much to cover that we ran out of time, but I hope to build on these Python activities next time.

I’m so grateful to my colleague, James Irwin, who joined me at the Summer of Code every single day to give a helping hand when needed. He is a STEM ambassador and total star. Thank you, James.

The Curzon cinema in Clevedon continues to support us with our mission to get more young people into coding. A big thank you for the fantastic support and all the work they put into the event to make it happen.

If your child was at any of the workshops, we would love to hear whether they have continued to use any of the programs we covered at the Summer of Code. Please do send your feedback.

We plan to return next year with a third Summer of Code.

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Micro:bits start at primary school

During the last term of the school year, I ran five sessions on how to program the micro:bit at Yatton and Mary Elton primary schools.

The micro:bit is an electronic device created by the BBC to encourage children to code. The BBC distributed micro:bits to secondary schools in 2016; since then the micro:bit has grown in popularity and it is now available for anyone to purchase for their own use (for less than £20).

I got my hands on a micro:bit as soon as it was available with a view to introducing it to primary school children. I then bought a further 10 micro:bits – enough for twenty children to work in pairs. The devices have been fantastic and the children have loved programming them.

We used the JavaScript blocks editor, as the children are already familiar with the Scratch block programming language. Once the children understood how the micro:bit worked and how the code is downloaded and transferred to the micro:bit… the fun really started.

The children were challenged to display letters, numbers, play games, build a compass, check the temperature and listen to music notes. I was pleased to see the children’s enthusiasm; it was like ‘a pet’ that obeyed their orders and commands. It made them laugh and they loved going around the room sharing with their friends.

The micro:bit is not just for secondary school children. As more children become more confident with coding, they are ready to be challenged, and the micro:bit is the perfect device for this. It is easy to set up and get started.

I look forward to running more micro:bit sessions in the next academic year and continue to challenge the children.

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micro:bit workshop

During the half-term I ran a workshop about ‘Getting started with micro:bit’ – an electronic device created by the BBC to get children coding.

The session was a couple of hours long – enough time to cover all the basics and for the children to write their first programs.

We opted to work with the JavaScript block programming interface. The children that already had some experience of coding with Scratch found it relatively easy to get started. The ‘drag and drop’ interface makes it more accessible for younger children.

All the children had the opportunity to get setup with a micro:bit. Seeing the childrens’ smiles as their first ‘Hello World’ program displayed on the micro:bit was a great moment.

Once the children understood how to download their programs to the micro:bit and test them, the tinkering and the fun started. We took advantage of the micro:bit accelerometer and created a ‘guess-the-number’ game, which was played by shaking the micro:bit. The children *loved* shaking the micro:bit and seeing the results on the display.

Tinkering with the micro:bit is a great way to get young people into coding and understanding about the connection between the code and its interaction with the real world.

As always, thanks to The Curzon Cinema in Clevedon for hosting us.

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Is 14 too late to start coding?

Girl coder

Clearly, someone can learn to code at any age. I would not go as far to say that children who learn to code at primary school age should be taking a GCSE in Computer Science – but it is my view that those choosing their GCSE options when they are 14 who haven’t already been introduced to coding will be far less likely to choose to pursue Computer Science at GCSE.

Coding allows children to be creative and to develop many skills such as problem-solving and applying mathematical concepts. They also learn to collaborate with their peers. All this will help them throughout their time at school and beyond.

However, children who do coding from an early age – in or out of school – may go on to become the technologists of the future.

I truly believe that introducing coding from a young age open up a child’s options. Children have free spirits, learn quickly and have very creative minds; they like exploring and tinkering; most of all they have fun.

I have 7-year olds at coding club who are already creating their first games. I have also seen young coders move on to secondary school and continue to code on their own.

I’d like to see more secondary schools offer creative coding workshops to help children discover there’s a lot more to coding.