Online coding clubs

Since March 2020 we have been offering learning opportuities online tailored to suit different ages and abilities.

Primary


Our Coding in Scratch courses are suitable for children in Years 3 – 6. Every week, they create new projects carefully designed to help them grasp the key principles of computer programming. Each term, the children are challenged with puzzles that nurture and build their computational thinking skills. Our Scratch courses are ideal for any child starting their coding journey or for the more advanced coder who needs to be challenged a little more.

This acedemic year we’ve added a new course to our offer – Coding in Minecraft – in which the children learn to code inside the Minecraft environment. This course does not teach Minecraft, but rather how to use code to automate builds and make modifications to a Minecraft World and change game play. The children use block programming to achieve this, making it ideal for beginners.

Secondary

Our courses for secondary school students are designed to provide opportunities to learn to program in different coding environments, and to expand their knowledge using Python and JavaScript – two of the most popular computer programming languages. The students develop an understanding of the language as well write lots of code to make games and small applications. They get to collaborate with each other and develop their problem-solving skills. A new Creative Coding course starts in January 2022.

We also offer block programming for secondary school students as part of our Make Arcade Games or Make Web Apps courses. These courses are suitable for students in Years 7 – 9 and designed to help them learn more about the principles of computer programming and how to design and prototype a game or App.

With all our courses our aim to help students develop their coding skills… and have an enjoyable time while learning.

JavaScript for Teens course

Over this Autumn term we offered our JavaScript for Teens course to secondary school students.

Coding in JavaScript can be challenging, and there aren’t any shortcuts to learning the language. Learning the principles of JavaScript will give the student the best start to coding for the web.

Neither is there a fast route to coding games if you don’t understand about data types, variables, conditionals, arrays, and so forth. This is precisely what JavaScript for Teens is about: understanding the JavaScript language from the ground up.

This term, the students learned to debug JavaScript in the console and wrote their first JavaScript programs using Codepen – a development environment for HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

JavaScript for Teens course

A big shout out to all the students who participated this term; they did themselves proud. Next term, a new course on Creative Coding will teach students how they can use the P5 JavaScript library to make a webpage more interactive. The course is suitable for anyone who wants to be creative with code.

Playing games with the Meowbit

This term, some of our students learned how to program the Meowbit and created their first Arcade games.

The Meowbit is a small handheld console for playing games. It can be programmed using graphical programming with the Microsoft Arcade platform.

The course teaches principles of computer programming and game design, which is a step up from programming in Scratch. The students learn about the physics of the game, creating animations and interactions with their characters. As always, there is plenty of problem solving challenges and a great sense of satisfaction when the game is completed.

Being able to test the game the students have created is part of the fun. This creates the perfect opportunity for feedback; is the game too easy or difficult? What can it be changed to make it better? Making changes, fixing bugs and finally publishing the game for the world to see is incredibly rewarding.

Our Make Arcade Games course is now open for registration for the November/December term.

Reflections on online learning

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 like learning 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.

I’m very proud of our secondary school students who have been coding throughout the pandemic. They have learned Python, Game Design, App Design and JavaScript. They can now write code to a good standard. They have learned programming, how to collaborate and solve problems.

Your children are all doing you proud.

A new term is just around the corner and all our courses are now open for registration.

Coding a platformer game

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.

KittenBot – sonic style platformer game created by a Year 7 student.

Microsoft MakeCode allows you to create arcade games using blocks, Python or JavaScript.

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.

Here is a snapshot of what they created:

Making Apps with App Lab

Some of my Year 7, 8 and 9 students have just had their fifth and final session this term building Apps with App Lab. They learned how to prototype, design and develop an App using the JavaScript language.

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.

Learning to code is like learning to swim

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.

Next term we have plenty of opportunities for children to learn to code. Children in Year 3 – 6 are welcome to join. We also have a couple of clubs for students in Year 7 – 9.

I hope that learning online doesn’t deter you from signing up your son or daughter. After all, this is a good opportunity to introduce the children to the virtual world.

Photo credit: dylan nolte

Making retro arcade games

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.

Using Make Code, the students create their own characters pixel by pixel – and then program it to control the game. Although the students use block programming, they can view their code in JavaScript or Python which helps them to understand how the code works under the hood.

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.

We have two new coding clubs for Years 7 – 9 starting in November 2020:
Make Mobile Apps
Introduction to Python

How the pandemic has accelerated online learning

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.

Coding continues online from September

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 Winscombe Primary 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.