We are supporting Code Club, and so should you!

Much has been made of the recent announcement of the Year of Code and the underwhelming interview on Newsnight of Lottie Dexter which contained some selected footage from what appears to be a class on jQuery, possibly by Code First:Girls in which coding is described twice as gobbledegook and went on to have Lottie Dexter announce that she was unable to code. This is not ideal for the director of an organisation that is supposed to inspire and promote the teaching of coding. I don’t demand a string of coding accomplishments from such a position, it is just that without a basic understanding of coding it is hard to articulate how much fun it is. Computing in schools fell apart as a subject in the mid 90s, the emphasis changed from doing programming projects and educational activities to using spreadsheets, word-processors and desktop database applications. In many schools the teaching the foundational skills of computing was replaced by Microsoft Office training. This is not the same, and something I have been concerned about for many years, it is one reason I was involved with supporting the Open Source Schools project around the time of the end of BECTA and one reason why we exhibited at BETT and introduced teachers to the OLPC project and the thinking behind it. A couple of years ago when taking my eldest to an open day at a local secondary school the first words out of the mouth of the teacher when we got to the ICT room were “Don’t worry, there is no coding in this subject”. We selected a different school.

This is all quite sad, but it is fixable. Coding is fun and easy, teaching it is fun and easy. I know this because I do it. Every Tuesday afternoon this term I am visiting a school a few miles away to run an after school Code Club. We are doing programming projects using Scratch, here is the project we did this week, it is a fruit machine that cycles through a few images and you click the images to stop and try to get them all to line up.

Part of the code required to do this looks like this:

code

It is programmed by dragging and dropping the commands from a palette of options (which is particularly great on an interactive whiteboard), no typing or spelling errors involved and the club of year 5 (age 9) programmers now know about variables, random numbers, if statements, infinite loops, bounded loops, signals, events and designing a fun game by balancing parameters to make it not too easy and not too hard. They have been trying things out, experimenting, getting things wrong and figuring out what the problem is and what they need to do in order to get the outcome they want. This is computing and it is the foundation of the skills we want coming into the industry.

I would encourage everyone in the IT industry, or with an interest in IT in the UK (and elsewhere, but some of this is UK specific) to get involved in Code Club . The Code Club website allows schools to say that they would like to have a Code Club, and volunteers to search for schools in their area that want one. This means that you do not have to approach the school and start by explaining what it is all about and why they should want to have a Code Club. They already know that bit, it means you have to do nothing to “sell” the concept to the school. The activity plans are great, the coders love them and you don’t have to decide what you are going to do each week, that is all done for you. There is a bit of admin and checking that is done in advance, you get a security check called a DBS, but that is all arranged and paid for by STEMNET.

I don’t know if the Year of Code organisation will make any particular contribution itself, but the Newsnight appearance and subsequent kerfuffle has certainly brought some attention on the efforts of Code Club, Young Rewired State, the Raspberry Pi foundation and some other organisations which are actively working to bring the fun of coding back into UK schools and this is a good thing.

4 Comments

  • cprofitt says:

    I am working on forming a community based group to provide a place for students 6-12 grade to code and learn about computer science. I too have watched as computer science has been turned in to MS Office, Autocad, and Photoshop… and it worries me as well.

  • Alan, admirable and intelligent of you to “make lemonade out of lemons” (Yank idiom). The kerfuffle has indeed aimed the spotlight at worthy organizations and movements looking to bring the fun of coding back into the schools. “Fun” is the operative word. The reality is that not all kids are going to take to coding, but should enjoy the ride and see if it is for them.

    The jury is out on making it mandatory, and great care should be taken to see how it is integrated into students’ existing curricula. How will it it be introduced? Would it be in addition to their present schedule? if not what subject/coursework would it be replacing?

    • Alan Bell says:

      yeah, we make lemonade too. I think it should be mandatory, I have no expectation that every child will be a python guru on leaving school, I just think that they should understand the concept of different types of loops and variables that are a name that represents a number. It can teach so much, just moving a sprite around a screen in a loop shows how speed is related to the distance you move in a set time interval. I could (and probably will) list the specific commands and concepts I expect everybody to understand without freaking out and calling it gobbledegook.

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