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.
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.
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.
I recently delivered four sessions to a large group of Yatton students who signed up to learn how to make games with Bitsy. This was part of Yatton School’s extracurricular activities.
I was confident that introducing the Bitsy game-maker tool to primary school children would work, but I wasn’t 100% certain the children were going to like it. Well, they absolutely loved it!
Bitsy is a great tool to create games where the characters can be designed in a squared 8 x 8px grid. We talked a lot about pixels and the children created some fantastic avatars and characters with which they could interact.
The children learnt the principles of game design and created small worlds, puzzles and challenges for their avatars to navigate.
You can move around one of the games which was created by a Year 5 pupil here by pressing your keyboard arrow keys.
Here are just a few examples of some of the students’ creations.
Here’s a video of one of the games created by the youngest member of the group – a 7-year old child.
We have just finished the first term of coding club and as always, Scratch was the children’s favourite coding program across all the schools. I’m always keen to see the reaction of the children when I tell them that we are going to try something different. The majority will tell me they prefer Scratch! I love Scratch, too; in my opinion, it is the best coding environment for children.
That said, it is important that the children get exposed to other software and activities – not just Scratch – to test and enhance their computational thinking knowledge and ability to solve problems.
In my experience, a child’s depth of understanding of code becomes more apparent when they are exposed to different programs.
This term the children created some wonderful games and stories.
The third #SummerOfCode has come to an end. A big thank you to our sponsor Viper Innovations for hosting us again and providing drinks, snacks and some magic for the children (yes, talented magician included!).
Day One: we got off to a really good start with our first workshop for 6 and 7 year olds. The children arrived with their tablets ready to create an animated story with ScratchJr… and they all did! By the end of the two-hour workshop, the children were confident enough to create an animated story and also learnt some coding basics. At break time we were treated to some magic by one of the members of staff!
On Day Two we covered all the basics on how to create a ‘Space Invaders’ game in Scratch and how to program it. This was a challenging workshop, especially for the younger attendees, but they should be very proud of what they managed to achieve in a short period of time.
Day Three was all about physical computing with BBC micro:bits. The children busied themselves for a couple of hours learning to program the micro:bit and controlling a light (On/Off), turning on a fan, making music, dimming lights, etc… all with code.
Day Five was about learning with Python. It was great to see that some of the children came well prepared with Python already installed! They created their first Python chatbot and they were all pretty proud of what they achieved in only two hours.
A big ‘thank you’ to our sponsor Viper Innovations for supporting the event and helping us give the children these opportunities. A special thanks to all Viper’s STEM ambassadors and helpers.
During the final term of the school year and as part of Yatton Junior School Learning College, I led a group of children through four sessions looking at some basic electronic principles and ‘how electricity works’.
The children learnt about electronic circuits and how to make them using copper tape. Once they grasped the principles, the children were able to design their own circuits with LED’s… and make them light up.
Copper tape works really well with paper but there were the inevitable connection problems. However, the children used a multimeter to debug their circuits.
The children made a house out of paper that lights up… and also made pop-up greetings cards.
I was very pleased to hear that some of the children had later used batteries to test their circuits at home, so a big ‘thank you’ to the parents who helped with their child’s requests!
Paper circuits give children a great introduction to physics and I’m looking forward to repeating the experience.
If you would like a Paper Circuits workshop at your school, get in touch.