By Ian Kay, head of technology at Edge Grove School.
Adding computer coding to the curriculum is part of the wider plan to help Britain innovate in the future and become a proper tech leader and educator. While it’s a great idea to teach coding in the classroom, there has to be an understanding of what that ‘coding’ is actually doing and what it means. Coding needs to go hand in hand with a greater understanding of control engineering.
Coding in school isn’t simply a nice-to-have either it is an important part of the evolving curriculum. Processes however, need to be broken down into discrete ideas and the development of algorithms to solve problems needs to be taught to children in a way they can grasp. To work effectively, coding needs to be introduced to pupils from a young age.
Coding met with trepidation
At Edge Grove, we use Espresso Coding in Years 1 and 2 in order to introduce the concept of using control blocks to make something happen on screen. We introduce Scratch from Year 3 so that the pupils understand that there can be interactions between characters on the screen. They can learn how to solve problems and create their own functions using custom blocks. This is great for developing independent thinking too.
There is of course an ongoing issue from a teaching perspective and a shortage of professional support in schools for true coding. The teaching of ‘ICT’ in schools over a long period of time meant that the subject was often taught by non-specialist staff. As a result, the introduction of coding into the curriculum has been met with trepidation as the original ICT curriculum was centred around digital literacy rather than computer science.
To implement coding effectively you need to use real world examples. Pupils have had experience with BeBots and Roamers; we introduce LOGO at Year 4 as a bridge between giving discrete commands to make an on-screen representation of a floor robot to creating functions and utilising them.
Pupils receptive to creative coding
Pupils love the creative side of using programmes such as Logo and Scratch; they are able to express what they want to achieve, and the language of the programming code is fairly intuitive. Peer mentoring can also be a great support. Pupils are also very receptive to improving their skills when there is an ‘easy win’ and a light hearted competition in the classroom that everyone can participate in.
Classroom teaching must be delivered by a subject specialist with experience in programming in a variety of languages. The other teaching is by non-specialists, and they are often supported by using packages such as ‘Espresso Coding’ and bespoke training for each new topic. LOGO was an interesting example; I chose it for its simplicity, but many staff are actually too young to have used it when it was originally introduced!
There is an ever-increasing range of online packages to teach coding. Many sites such as code.org and CodeMonkey give incremental instructions and guidance to achieve a goal.
Coding is absolutely here to stay so schools need to be open to trying new technologies both in the classroom and as extra-curricular activities. We currently run after school activities using Lego Mindstorms (programmed via Bluetooth on an iPad), Arduino, Gadgeteer and BBC Microbit, which also works well.
Edge Grove School is a successful day and boarding school for boys and girls, characterised by a genuine commitment to the pursuit of excellence, in Hertfordshire.