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The changing computing curriculum - eat, sleep, code, repeat

In 2014 the Government introduced their radical changes to the computing curriculum, requiring our primary school children to not only learn how to use computers but also learn about the ins and outs of how they work.

The coding revolution has been sweeping our nation, replacing the soft skills of using word and excel with learning algorithms and creating and debugging programs, one classroom at a time. But are we really seeing the benefits of this shift?

There are those who would argue that the change could not have come sooner. Steve Jobs is famously quoted as saying "I think everybody… should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think." Many of today’s top computer scientists would argue that coding is fundamental skill that should be taught to all children from a young age. Not only is it a language for children to explore and learn but a whole new way of thinking about problem solving.

Sophie Deen, Head of Code Club Pro, which has been running training sessions for teachers this year says, “we’re not just trying to encourage people to become developers. We’re trying to encourage children to become creative. At primary level, it helps children to be articulate and think logically: when they start breaking down what’s happening, they can start predicting what’s going to happen. It’s about looking around you almost like an engineer at how things are constructed.”

The most interesting thoughts on this subject though must surely belong to those who are learning it, hands on, in the classroom. According to new research by Ocado Technology on how the new curriculum is progressing, the programming language Python has overtaken French as the most popular language taught in primary schools. Indeed, 75% of the primary school children surveyed said that, if offered the choice, they would rather learn how to programme a robot than learn French.

For many teachers, the shift of emphasis to coding has been a learning journey too - quite literally learning a new language and trying to find the essential elements to passing that learning on. 

It’s tempting to feel de-skilled and ill-equipped to teach something that many of us weren’t trained to teach. Yet, the building blocks of coding are perhaps the key to teaching it effectively:

  • Starting small and allowing the children to drive the learning
  • Understanding that there are simple problems to solve, including
    • Which equipment will you choose (such as programs Skratch Junior or Beebots)?
    • Will you follow an outlined curriculum or do something more project based?
    • Will the children work independently or collaboratively?
    • Will the children work at your pace or their pace?

We also don’t have to tackle this alone. Code Club, an after school club coding club for 9 to 11 year olds has loads of great activities for children to explore, while Code Academy provides excellent resources for training teachers and use in the classroom.

There are various apps on the market that can help children learn different coding skills. Daisy the Dinosaur has an easy drag and drop interface which can be used to animate Daisy to dance across the screen. It teaches the basics of objects, sequencing, loops and events as children solve the challenges through the app. Hello Ruby is an ingenious tool that teaches children from as young as 5 years old to code without even realising it!

In reality, it’s still likely to take a little while before we see the full impact of the government’s curriculum changes. The challenge in schools will be to know when it’s the appropriate time to measure that impact – too soon and you’re finding benefits that aren’t actually there – too late and the difference is already made, either for good or for bad.

What we can be certain of is that only a select few of our children will go on to be the coding superstars and Mark Zuckerbergs of tomorrow. While the others will be given the opportunity to fully explore, should they choose to accept it, the wonderful world of creating and debugging games. Perhaps this new approach then, is a good thing, even for us as teachers? After all, as educators and life-long learners, we already know enough and have all the skills that we need to be successful in our teaching.

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