Coding in class – teachers told to take a back seat

Digital education guru Prof Stephen Heppell says the key is to let pupils take the lead when it comes to learning skills in a field where the technology changes constantly. This is from the BBC…

Shreenand, 13, has made an animation of a girl jumping up and down, by stringing together lines of computer code.

“These are the co-ordinates of where the girl is at. I can make her move around to another part of the screen when I press the flag icon,” he says.

He has been learning how to code since he arrived at Lampton school in Hounslow, west London, a year ago.

“My teacher thought I was pretty good, so she set me a target of making a game a month in my spare time,” he says.

“I look for a game I like to play and then make it myself. I like to know how the game actually works. Me and my partner Jonathan are pretty good in my class. We aren’t that experienced yet but we want to write our own code when we know how.”

The pupils use the Scratch tool, developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which gives them them ready-made lines of code that they put together to make games and movies. The aim is that eventually they will begin to adapt the code and eventually write their own.

They have been learning coding in their citizenship lessons with teacher Juliet Heppell. She says you don’t need to be a computing expert to get children started on the path to becoming confident computer coders.

“I am self-taught. I can do some very basic things, but beyond that I just know where to send them to learn more,” she says.

Ms Heppell says YouTube is a key source of information for pupils too young to cope with the academic language of user manuals.

They are also encouraged to post queries on online programming forums. Ms Heppell sees this as a way of helping pupils communicate effectively and develop a sense of how to stay safe and secure online.

Her pupils were presenting their skills at the BETT educational technology fair. Another speaker was Ms Heppell’s father, the digital education guru Prof Stephen Heppell.

The key is to let pupils take the lead when it comes to learning skills when a field where the technology changes constantly, says Prof Heppell.

Children are already programming Google’s Raspberry Pi microcomputers “with no worksheets”, he says.

“They get help from other children. You just have to trust them. If you let the children lead you in their learning – they will get there before you”.

Bill Liao, co-founder of the CoderDojo movement of free after-school coding clubs, couldn’t agree more.

“Coding is a language skill,” he says.

“You need to be a native speaker and for that you have to start young. We start kids at seven. The kids are the digital natives. Most adults are more akin to digital immigrants.”

The movement grew out of a computer club set up by student James Whelton two years ago at his school in Ireland. Pupils who grasped things fastest taught others basic programming and web development.

There are now CoderDojos, run by volunteers, in 23 countries. Mr Liao is keen to emphasise that there is no curriculum imposed. Instead the idea is to make learning to code fun and sociable.

“The kids become mentors after just a few months. As a teacher you just have to give up your power a bit. The lighter the touch, the more effective the result.

“We encourage parents to stay but ask them to back away from the keyboard”.

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