Teaching Kids To Hack!

21 Jul

Ever since Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s speech last year in which he foregrounded the need for more computer programming in schools, there has been a mushrooming of initiatives around coding for kids. As an ICT Teacher, this is something I have thought long and hard about over the years.

Back in the 1990s I used Logo quite a bit, and it was fun, but both the students, and I found it limiting. So I started introducing JavaScript. Because it works in the browser, and you do not need a compiler, students can start coding right away. I start with a little html and then jump in with some JavaScript, getting my students to code a simple web page calculator which inputs two numbers and then adds, subtracts, multiples and divides the numbers. I use tutorialised content and whole-class, step-by-step instruction. Bearing in mind that this is a general class, not students taking IT as a subject, this is sometimes too much for a few students, and they struggle to complete even this, heavily guided task.

I then ask the students to use what they have learned to design a more complicated calculator, such as a web page which can do multiple conversions: such as kilometers to miles, kilograms to pounds, and so on, or to engage in their own project. A significant group of students clearly relishes this challenge, and every web page greets one with fun applications such as personalised greetings, web pages that change background colour depending on one’s favourite colour, and so on.

I think JavaScript works quite well as a general introduction to programming. It is relatively easy to learn, has a great deal of support and tutorialised content on the Internet, such as Codecademy so students can take it further and doesn’t need compilers which need to be configured. It also allows students to learn enough to be able to tweak downloadable JavaScript code for their websites.

You will lose a certain number of students with JavaScript, however, because it is not visual, and requires accuracy and debugging. It is very dry to learn. For any students who start switching off, it is important to give enough help and support to enable them to at least complete a simple project, and give plenty of opportunity to add visual elements using the design view of programs like Dreamweaver. For this reason I get students to do their JavaScript coding in the code tab of Dreamweaver. This seems to work well.

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Posted by on July 21, 2012 in Coding For Kids, JavaScript


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