This term we have had a group of children learning to code in Minecraft. This course is not about learning to play Minecraft but about making modifications to a Minecraft world with code.
The course focuses on developing programming skills. As the course is targeted at primary school age children, we use an intuitive ‘drag and drop’ interface, similar to Scratch. All of the children have coded in Scratch before making it easier for them to get started. They learn how to create commands, write automated builds, change the weather with code, and so on. They can join the teacher’s Minecraft world or each other’s worlds.
Coding in Minecraft is a creative way of learning to code using a platform already enjoyed by many children.
In order to code in Minecraft students need a licensed copy of Minecraft Educational Edition, which is included as part of the course.
A day after the first lockdown was announced and schools in the UK were temporarily closed, we were prepared enough to pivot quickly to deliver our lessons online. So, 18 months’ on, I wanted to share some reflections on the experience of teaching coding to children online.
The first and most obvious thing to note is that the children were able to continue their coding journey uninterrupted. Moving entirely online has also enabled them to gain exposure to new platforms and accelerated the learning of new digital skills.
As I’ve writen previously, learning to code is likelearning to swim; as the children get exposed to and become more confident navigating between different coding environments, they develop problem-solving skills and computational thinking.
Older children now have a very good command of the technology we use for the lessons. They are comfortable giving presentations and showing others how their projects are evolving week by week.
Unfortunately, while some younger children have not been able to join us online, those that have are all doing amazingly well – thanks in part to their parents and carers who in many cases haven’t been far away and able to assist with keyboard and computer skills! I cannot thank them enough.
Your children are all doing you proud.
A new term is just around the corner and all our courses are now open for registration.
Over the summer holiday I had the chance to code with Scottie Go! – a coding educational game for primary school children.
Scottie Go! comes with a board and a series of cardboard coding blocks which can be snapped together to create an algorithm. The sequence of instructions can be scanned via a mobile App. The App has a series of screen challenging puzzles that can be solved using the coding cards. If the set of instructions are correct and your character arrives to its correct destination, you can then advanced to the next puzzle.
A child with some knowledge of Scratch can easily understand the instructions and make their own algorithms to solve the puzzles on the App. A younger child might need a little bit of help from an adult to set up and get coding.
I think Scottie Go! is an excellent idea for any child who needs the next coding challenge. I like the idea of combining offline and online learning in one game.
Using games to code not only keeps children entertained but also provides a fun learning environment.
During the last term of the academic year we offered the web design course for primary school children in KS2. Most of the children attending were in Year 5 & Year 6 and were already familiar with text based coding.
It was very challenging for the children to get started with HTML & CSS but once they understood the basic syntax, it was relatively easy for them to create their first web page. The theme of the course was to create a website about a pet or ‘virtual pet’. The course focused on teaching the children how to plan and prototype their website, then add the code to make it display on the browser and finally add the CSS to add the design elements.
We don’t use templates or existing code, so it was great to see a variety of websites that were built from scratch. They learned about image formats and file sizes, how to place the elements on a web page and create their own designs by adding CSS code.
A big well done to all the children that participated.
Year 5 & Year 6 students who signed up to the Game Design course learned how to make pixel games with Bitsy. It was a great opportunity to learn to draw on a 8X8 pixel grid and create a story board for their games. Here is a taster of what they created.
We have just completed four weeks of coding a platformer game using the Microsoft MakeCode platform. The students who participated are in Years 7 to 9. Over four weeks the students designed and created a game which they can play on a game device, such as the KittenBot.
Creating a Mario style platformer game allowed the students to develop a deeper understanding of the process of creating a game – planning the story; creating the main character (and their enemies); scene changing; and designing platforms to the physics of the game (gravity, velocity, and acceleration). One important part of the process is the ability to solve the inevitable technical challenges that they come across along the way.
It was wonderful to witness the students sharing and playing their games with their peers. I told them all they should be very proud of the effort and dedication they put into creating their games in just four lessons.
I’ve now been teaching Scratch to children for over 8 years and am very pleased to see some of those children deciding to take Computer Science at GCSE.
For primary school children, I use Scratch, which is a block programming language developed by MIT. They now hosts millions of projects created by children worldwide. It has transformed the way we teach computing to children.
Children gradually journey from learning to use the keyboard to creating games and animations with Scratch. It doesn’t happen overnight; it is like learning to swim. It takes perseverance, patience and practice.
A few lessons in Scratch at school or one ICT lesson every fortnight is in my view not enough if we want to nurture the next generation computer scientists. Likewise, one term of coding club is not enough to gain the digital skills that children need to navigate the digital world.
We also need parents fully engaged so they can help and encourage their boys and girls to take up coding. Being able to use a smart device or a play console is something that most children are used to doing (as ‘consumers’), but we need to teach them how smart devices and computers work.
Most of this particular group have been coding with Scratch for sometime and have a good understanding of basic computer programming principles. Most of them have also been learning online together since March 2020.
The group have also learned about coordinates, variables and functions, and used the knowledge they have gained to make their own Apps and interact with them. I’m grateful to Bitsbox for creating a fantastic platform that provides fun characters and scenes for playing with.
It has been rewarding for me to witness how the children have understood the concepts quickly and applied them to their own projects.
There’s also little doubt that this group have developed their digital skills over many months of learning and collaborating together online. It’s great to see how comfortable they are using online chat and sharing their projects with their peers.
Learning how to interact with the objects on the screen and use ‘event-driven’ programming to make their Apps come to life was really challenging, but the students rose to the challenge and created and shared some terrific Apps. They even created their own App icon to access them on their phones.
Well done to everyone who participated and I look forward to seeing you next term for our new Programming with Python course – registration is now open.
Why am I comparing swimming to coding? Well, I remember very well what it was like when my children first started their swimming lessons. There we were – on the poolside, every week during term time. There were times when it felt like progress was swift; tangible… and then weeks went by when they didn’t appear to make any progress at all – when everything seemed like it had plateaued. Practice and patience were the key. By the time they reached their teens they had become very proficient swimmers; they represented their school – and one even competed at regional level.
In order to become a confident coder, you first have to learn to code. It takes time to grasp the basic principles; it takes practice and you need to be patient. As any parent will know, patience is something that most children lack. They can get easily frustrated when something doesn’t work for them first time – or how they expect it to. Coding is about learning how to solve problems; how computers ‘do things’ and interpret the instructions we give them. Learning to do this is to understand computational thinking.
Once a child begins to grasp the key concepts of computer science, a whole new world begins to reveal itself. Creativity plays a part, of course, which is why at coding club we encourage children to create their own games and stories.
I believe coding is an important part of any child’s education. It is like reading a writing. It is a new literacy – equipping our children with the skills they will need to prepare them for the jobs of the future.