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.
I always encourage my students to make games when learning to program. They have to think about the aim of the game, the characters, the controls, the visual effects, and so on. Once they know all the basics, they can create their own and experiment.
Our group of Year 7 & 8 students have learned how to make Arcade games with Microsoft Make Code Arcade. This is a step up from Scratch programming.
We had a full term packed full of activities that led to a final ‘space shooter’ game where the students put everything they learned into practice. They created some fantastic games featuring some great characters.
Back in early March I was still travelling to schools across North Somerset to deliver after school coding clubs. This is something I have been doing for several years; everything changed almost overnight.
It is right that it has been a national priority for all children and young people to return to full-time education, but unfortunately many schools are unable to safely accommodate additional learning opportunities at the end of the school day. In response, we pivoted very quickly to deliver our coding clubs virtually – and accelerated a change we had in mind to make at some stage anyway.
Technology has never played such an important role in our lives and we all are having to adapt to new hybrid ways of working and learning. The school day now looks very different to previous years – with staggered start and finish times. Moving our coding clubs online has only highlighted the importance of digital literacy and teaching children and young people critical thinking, problem solving and digital citizenship. These vital skills and learning to code are now as important as reading and writing.
Coding is for everyone – not just for boys who love playing games on their mobile devices or consoles. Of course this doesn’t mean that everyone is going to become a computer scientist. It’s more about nurturing the skills they need to understand and navigate the digital world today and tomorrow. We help children to become digital makers – rather than simply consumers of technology.
Our coding clubs are now open for registration to primary school children from Year 3 – 6 and secondary school students in Years 7 – 9. We also provide one-to-one sessions- contact us for more details.
Since March, dozens of young coders have been actively and enthusiastically participating in online coding clubs – interacting with their friends via video chat and presenting their projects to their peers. All have learned some really useful digital literacy skills that will help them in their coding journey.
I’m grateful to all those parents at Backwell Junior School, Yatton Schools, Mary Elton in Clevedon and WinscombePrimary who encouraged their children to participate so fully in those online sessions.
We will be back coding in September 2020 for any child who attends school in North Somerset.
The online sessions will be targeted for children in Years 3 – 6 and we will have a new class for those in Years 7 and 8.
If you are interested in your child participating, please get in touch.
Over the last five weeks (Term 5), I took the opportunity to move our existing coding clubs online. This was a natural extension to what we do – after all, most of our programming skills are learned and demonstrated online.
After a successful term, I would like to extend this offer to young students from other schools from September 2020.
Those students who’ve so far had the opportunity to participate, also now have very real exposure to the world of online working and collaboration. They learned not only to communicate online with their tutor and their peers, but also to learn and understand about a new platform and tools. This has taken their learning up a notch or two.
Mastering digital skills is so important and children who learn when they are still at a young age get confident at ‘doing’ and not simply consuming the technology.
The students have already solved problems they will inevitably encounter later on in their digital lives – such as commenting on each other’s emerging work, online chat (and etiquette), importing digital images, and so on. Together we work through the do’s and don’ts of digital communication and technology.
On top of learning to navigate the digital world, the children learn about a number of different applications used for coding online. We’ve also used a range of basic programming ‘languages’ or building blocks to help the children understand about the principles of computer programming and basic algorithms. This is intended to give the children a flavour of different programming languages and enable them to differentiate why and when to choose one over another.
Next week we will start a new term and I’m looking forward to welcoming more young coders.
If you didn’t get an opportunity to participate last term, why not consider giving it a go this time round?
I’m so grateful to all the parents that are supporting their children by allowing them to join in online, and the encouragement they give their children to continue to learn such important skills.