Soft circuits at primary

One of the schools I work closely with had their Learning College program in late Spring. I had the opportunity to work with twelve children, who learnt the principles of electronic circuits, sewing and working collaboratively to produce an electronic bug and an interactive bookmark. It was great to see a 50:50 gender split in this workshop, which I hope to repeat again. If your school is interested, please get in touch.

The electronic bugs were made of felt and a sewn in with conductive thread that completed an electronic circuit. A switch button turned on the eyes (LEDs). In the process, the children learnt about electricity, sewing and how electronic circuits work.

 

We also used felt material for these bookmarks. The children sewed in a circuit with a push button behind the ‘nose’ that when pressed, lit up the cat’s eyes.

 

Chatbot in Python

Year 5’s and Year 6’s learned to make a chatbot with the Python programming language. The chatbot consisted of a ‘bot’ assistant that interacts with you by asking questions and giving answers based on the responses given. This is a challenging task that children can modify according to their interest. Here are some examples of chatbots talking about dinosaurs, food and scary elevators!

We use Trinket, our favourite Python online editor.

Making Apps with JavaScript

JavaScript is the programming language that powers the web. It adds interactivity to a website and applications are written in JavaScript everyday – ranging from a single page application, games, apps, programming drones to the Internet of things.

At Coding Club, the children have been learning how to program apps with JavaScript using Bitsbox. Bitsbox is a paid online learning application, but anyone can sign up and start using the free tutorials or the hour of code. They also offer a monthly subscription with lost of goodies.

The Bitsbox interface consists of a phone simulator and a text editor, so the results can be seen straight away. A QR code can also be scanned so the apps can run on a phone or tablet. This is a great way to introduce text-based programming to young people.

Most children in Year 4 and above who are confident with Scratch should be able to write apps with JavaScript and understand the concepts. Bixtbox has definitely been a big hit with the kids.

Making apps with JavaScript

Is the micro:bit the answer to inspire girls into coding?

I organised and led a popular Summer of Code last July.

We ran a well-attended session on the micro:bit – the electronic device developed by the BBC with the aim to introduce more children to coding. We had a packed room… but only a few girls.

The girls who attended the session were particularly keen on the micro:bits. They loved giving it instructions and seeing the displayed results. I enjoyed seeing them actively participating, playing each others’ games and showing me their creations.

It became clear to me that the micro:bits are great for introducing girls to coding. They can see how code interacts with the physical world and as their coding skills develop, they can start making their ideas happen.

I believe that introducing girls to coding from a young age is so important. Digital literacy is not just for boys and parents need to realise that micro:bits, computer games, Minecraft, etc are part of every child’s digital world. Parents should not make gender assumptions when it comes to computers and electronic devices. The earlier the girls are exposed to technology, the more they will be interested in STEM subjects later on.

So here it is a big plea to parents: give your daughter a micro:bit and let her tinker away.

Look out for any coding activities in your area where your daughter can participate.

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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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