To code or not to code!

Post date: Nov 21, 2014 1:47:30 PM

Below is a blog post that I wrote in 2014 about coding and my experiences of it in the primary classroom.

I am re-posting it again as it is particularly relevant since the 5 December marks the start of a week-long, global Hour of Code event, which hopes to be the biggest educational event worldwide.

Last year they had 50 million students worldwide involved and this year they're looking for if you haven't tried it yet.....!

Coding is definitely the future and to quote Ciarán Cannon " the world we teach in, is not the world we teach for", so teach them a bit about the future this week, and get involved in the largest ever, world-wide educational event!

I'm a bit of a perfectionist; I don't like putting stuff out there (eg posting, tweeting, presenting a course) if I'm not entirely happy with it. Similarly, in the classroom, I like to be knowledgeable about my content and to be confident that I will be able to address any queries, etc that might come up.

Now, I know some people might see this as a strength, but I see it as a bit of a weakness, especially for a teacher. In my case, I will often be reluctant to dive in and try something new with my class, if I first haven't gotten my own head fully around it. And because new technologies, approaches etc are arriving at our classroom doors everyday, it can be difficult to engage with them all, try them out, feel confident of our own ability to work through them. And thus, I can sometimes shy away from them altogether.

So it was with me and coding. I had heard a good bit about it, appreciated the wide range of benefits from learning programming and understood a bit of the concept from a Logo course done as part of a college elective in, what seemed, a previous life. Everywhere, I was hearing about Scratch, (even my own daughter had been doing some in her school) and felt I was doing my class a severe disservice by not exposing them to it. And I knew that really it was only my own lack of confidence that was holding me, and them, back.

And so last June, with the standardised tests over and less pressure on class time, I decided to just hold my breath, and dive straight into the deep end. Using the notes from an online summer course on Scratch that a colleague kindly shared with me, and You tube clips, I introduced my class to coding via Scratch. Interestingly, the children had never heard of either before that.

The results were great. I explained to them from the start that I was a novice, that I would help where able, but for the most part, they were on their own. I did encourage them to help me learn more, once they got the basics. Within a couple of days they had designed games, sprite sequences etc. It had sparked their imagination.

The main disadvantage was that I did this at the end of the school year, when the numerous distractions, sports days etc make to difficult to keep any real momentum going. And of course, then they were gone, firstly for summer holidays and then onto an other teacher.

So this year I was determined to try it out earlier in the school year, but what with all the Christmas stuff, and then all the WSE stuff, I'm only getting around to it now. But this year I'm less anxious; I know all I need to do is expose them to coding and then they should be able to take it further themselves.

This year I'm also armed with some new fantastic, and very teacher-friendly, resources, that I just came across, via this article An hour to catch the coding bug, tweeted by @PrimaryIdeas. This article introduced me to the Hour of Code - a campaign that seeks to ignite an interest in programming. The campaign, begun in the US, has landed in the UK where it also coincides with government calls for as many children as possible to get coding. The site that hosts the campaign, aims to help people of ages 6 to 106 learn the basics of computer science with drag and drop programming, in a hour. Presented as a series of game-like, self-directed tutorials, this is definitely the answer for any teacher who was considering bringing coding into their class, but was not sure how, or where, to start. And once the children have started to get the bug, they can use the site to progress to more challenging tasks.

So now the question is not whether to code, but when to start.

Go on, take a deep breath, and in you go!

Since I originally wrote this article, the Hour of Code movement has expanded globally. And with it, so too have the number of activities/lessons; to encourage involvement there are now Star Wars, Minecraft, and many other themed lessons as well as lessons made in conjunction with Disney that are aimed specifically at girls (eg Frozen and Moana themed lessons), which are all accessible here:

However, I still think the original angry birds themed lessons are the best and easiest ones to start with; you can access them here:

Go on have a go yourself - it only takes an hour!

If the children and/or you get all that done and want to try more, check these out for starters:

Operation Maths users, check out the scratch lessons, linked to maths content, that are accessible in your TRBs and online at : a K-8 Intro to Computer Science Course (15-25 hours). This 20-hour course introduces core computer science and programming concepts. The course is designed for use in classrooms for grades K-8, but it is fun to learn at all ages. And you don't have to do it all, you can just do various stages (although the programme is probably most beneficial when progressed sequentially) Child-friendly programming that can be accessed on the web or via free apps or any of the other activities on the main website

Khan Academy also has relevant activities:

Hour of Drawing with Code: Students will learn to program using JavaScript, one of the world's most popular programming languages via two great options:

  • Drag-and-drop: block-based coding for younger students with less typing skills and students on tablet devices (ages 8+).

  • Typing: keyboard-based coding for older students (ages 10+).

Hour of Webpages: Students will learn to make their own webpages using the basics of HTML and CSS (ages 10+).