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Category Archives: Coding For Kids

Bring Your Own Brain

code clubHackerspaces have a great deal to teach us about learning in general, and collaborative learning in particular. A hackerspace is a meeting space where people can come together and share their resources to create things. You literally Bring Your Own Brain and pool ideas and know-how to bring projects to life.

I have tried to use this idea when setting up a Code Club at school. Students have very busy schedules, and finding common time is virtually impossible, so I tried to create a virtual hackerspace on the school Moodle platform to set the club up. The idea is quite simple, on the Moodle page students will find links to coding tutorials on sites such as Codecademy and projects which they can work on collaboratively. If they need to learn JavaScript to complete a project, they will find the resources to do so. The club is open to all students and staff, and seeks to create a community of practice aiming at fostering collaborative learning based on problem-based challenges and projects.

I hope to be able to draw in parents as well, and mentors with an interest in fostering coding amongst girls.

The club is in its infancy, but already the enthusiasm is palpable, with interest both from staff and students.

 

Learn To Code in an Hour

DSC00175

I was fortunate enough to be able to have the Decoded Team visit the school and give a one hour workshop, which took 10 grade 9 girls from Roedean and 10 boys from St John’s on a whirlwind tour of learning to code.

They started by getting the students to follow an algorithm, got them to negotiate the Blockly Maze and then hacked the school website (in the local tab at any rate). They ended up by getting the students to design a quick website using JSFiddle deploying HTML, CSS and some JavaScript!

Not bad for an hour!

DSC00171Students were greatly excited, especially when they “hacked” CNN! They also learned a great deal, I think, about their own ability to create something worthwhile in a very short space of time. Most of this group had previously done some JavaScript in my class (creating a quiz), but the buzz they seemed to get from hacking a website was something quite special – and a clear lesson, for me at any rate, in how to engage students. It’s a trick I will certainly copy!

Important as I believe learning to code is, for me the main aim should be to embed coding within the curriculum. Kids should be coding in Maths, coding in Geography, coding in English! Not just in their IT lessons. While Maths teachers will probably immediately see applications, I’m sure that not many English teachers are reading this right now, and sitting up and crying “Eureka!” So I’d better explain myself!

With  a few skills students can easily create applications that are fun and challenging to make, but can deal with any content area. You can create quizzes, for example around any subject content, be it Science, Literature or History. You can create drag and drop flash games about parts of the body or French vocabulary! You can create mobile apps, webpages, or games dealing with anything under the sun.

I’m not suggesting that every lesson needs to involve creating games or coding, but I am suggesting that we should be seeing a great deal more of this sort of thing across the curriculum. I believe it would help students take ownership of their own learning, and help build their sense of mastery at being able to manipulate content in meaningful ways instead of passively consuming content.

We need to start hacking the curriculum, and taking ownership of it in ways that engage our full creativity and power to make meaning.

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2013 in Coding For Kids, Pedagogy

 

Scratch IT!

sratchOne of the questions I ask myself every year is what kind of introduction to coding I can usefully give my grade 8 and 9 students. I have used both JavaScript and ActionScript at various times. This week the IT teacher taught my class to use Scratch, and the students produced a simple Pong style game in an hour lesson. The motivation behind this guest appearance was the desire to grow the number of students electing to take IT as a subject to Matric. Scratch is a free program which uses a visual interface to set up conditionals, loops and all those programming things that depend on pesky indents or braces in programming languages such as Java, very off-putting for students! The results are displayed in a preview window, and do not require compiling! Again, a big plus for beginners.

There is a huge debate amongst IT teachers about the usefulness of Scratch as an introduction to programming, many seeing it as a waste of time they could be using to get straight into Java. Others praise it!

I watched the lesson from the back of the classroom, and was impressed by what I saw: students engaged in creating the game and exploring the application beyond the instructions given. Coding games, is, I believe the way to go. No-one really wants to code tax return programs, and games tend to provide an enormous sense of satisfaction. Gosh – did I do that!?

Snapshot 1 (2013-07-12 12-58 PM)I used Scratch for he first time last year as part of an online course on Edx.org and found it tremendous fun. I am not sure about how it stacks up as a tool for programming students, but for a general class, with no interest in programming, it really seemed to old their attention, and the results were pretty good.

I believe all students should have some exposure to programming. We live in a world were coding is embedded in the very air we breathe and it is extremely dangerous to allow a situation where we become dependent as a species on something we cannot at the very least tweak! I also think it helps develop thinking skills. There is something precise and unforgiving about computer programming. It permits no margin for woolliness and demands the highest standards of precision and accuracy from students. Gratification is delayed, and I believe this is also a very useful lesson students sometimes don’t learn often enough in this day and age! It teaches the value of persistence as well, and, again, students tend to give up far too easily when tasks become difficult.

On this exposure to Scratch, I have to say that it seems about the best introduction to programming for a general class that I have come across.

 
 

Teaching Kids To Hack!

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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