Teaching them to Code From Year 7 – Digital Technologies – Fabulous Resources

So, by Year 7 our students need to start writing code.  Last week we saw the launch of several new curriculum areas on the Australian Curriculum website.  Amongst those was the long anticipated Technologies Curriculum.  I’ve been watching this develop for a long while now.  Being the wife of a project manager, software developer and entrepreneur, there have been some interesting conversations at home as I’ve read bits out. Yes, I’m an English teacher, not an IT teacher but I have dabbled in a bit of code and do, honestly believe that it’s vital that our students do the same.   I’m actually excited that writing code has risen to the top of the pile.

Despite being quite IT literate I chose not to bother with “IT” at school.  We were asked to look at how software worked and how to plug in network cables.  I remember one test in Year 9 (its was only 1994) where I was asked about how to connect printers… DULL.  I had better, more creative things to be doing with my time.  I took French, German, Music – anything creative .. creative with languages.   I really wish someone had bothered to teach me to code. I’d have loved that.

There are some teachers out there who are going to feel a little intimidated by the new Curriculum area.  What if you don’t know how to code?  By year 7 our students should be able to:

requirement to code Year 7 ACARA

 What is a General- purpose programming Language?

Definition of General Purpose Language ACARA

In South Australia that means that primary school students will be learning to code with one of these languages from their primary teachers. I would feel intimidated by that if this was thrust upon me without advice, support or encouragement.  It seems, at first glance, like there’s a whole new skill set waiting to be learnt there.  A skill set that I hope I get a chance to get involved in with my work at Flinders Uni. 😉

However, the whole world is engaged in this ‘revolution’ at the moment.  All around the world education systems are moving towards a classroom where their students code.  As a result, there are some fantastic resources available to us to help us teach and learn these new skills. How wonderful would it be to learn these programming languages with (and possibly from) our students? What you might not realise, is that you have most of the skills you need already.  You’re a teacher so you’re naturally a problem solver, a creative and critical thinker.. you just need to learn the syntax!

One of the most fabulous and wonderfully rich collection of resources that I’ve been exploring recently is “The Hour of Code”.  Formed in the US, this really does follow the spirit of learning anywhere, any time, at any age.  Created as part of Computer Science Education Week (December  each year) there are some amazing resources from some amazing educational establishment here.  They’re all designed with one idea in mind – “Every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science”.  That’s ALL students from F – 12.  With contributors from all over the world including Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Microsoft, MIT, the Khan Academy, Google, Scratch, Tinker and many more. Even if you have issues with internet connectivity or access to computers, there’s something here for you in the Unplugged Computer Science section of the site.  It’s a wonderful, rich resource for us all, to teach students of ALL ages.

One of the resources that is found on the Hour of Code is the awesome CodeCombat.com.  An Open Source site which is just amazing for teaching that Year 7-8  content descriptor.  It teaches you (or your students) to code with Java by asking them to code in a game.  Gamification works brilliantly here. I was hooked! It caters wonderfully for all abilities too.  You can start at the beginning, learning about the need to use case Sensitive code and what strings are and end up in a situation where you are creating levels for other students to complete.  There was even one challenge set by the team at Code Combat with the promise of a job at the end of it.  There’s no limit to it’s appeal from F – 12.

It’s highly tested too. As a result of the Hour of Code, CodeCombat “ended up with 180,000 players” in one week.  This post, in which the analysed the way students from all over the world interacted and operated with their system is incredibly interesting.  It will definitely dispel any mis-placed thoughts that you night have about how children won’t or can’t code.

What i love about it is that it seems to let me practice the hollistic abilities you need as a programmer – Problem solving, creative and critical thinking and patience.  It does all of this whilst I feel like I’m playing some form of Zelda.  Running around a castle, saving people.  As a woman I’m also very glad to see that the female characters don’t just sit about waiting to be rescued either!  There are some kick ass moves to be made by these virtual role models.

When you sign up, you get to create your own profile and set your own character up for play.  I love a bit of personalisation. I think it’s really important to get you engaged.   As you know, i’m a bit fussy about the tools I use and encourage others to use.  I need to see that there has been some thought into the learning process.  Code Combat is excellent at this.  The beginning levels are well scaffolded with examples in the code and a bank of “spells” – or Java that I can use.  As the levels get harder the scaffolds for skills we’ve already practised start to disappear and you find yourself just doing it on your own.  You even get tempted to start experimenting.

Code Combat Annotated

Of course, it follows the rules of the syntax perfectly and won’t work if you don’t follow camelCase (the way it’s capitalised) or if you forget to use your ; or ()s.  Just like a regular debugging environment, if there’s a problem with your code it will show a cross or exclamation mark next to the problematic line.  As an English teacher can I confess that I love that about code.  It has syntax, grammar and rules and, in my opinion, learning to use it helps you to appreciate the grammar, rules and syntax of our own language.

Yes, it’s Pseudocode  but Yes it’s addictive and engaging and a wonderful way to start!  Have a go.  It took me ages to problem solve level 3 (shown above) and run away with us both alive.  How long does it take you? No cheating!  – I even found my hubby googling for help!! lol He’s a programmer too!!  That just goes to show that this isn’t just about learning code 😉  Having said that, you’ll be using branches, strings, functions and more in no time and you won’t need a degree in Computer Science to do it, or to teach your students how to either!

what you learnt this level

 

 

Comments

  • Nachann
    Reply

    I sit around bemused at the fact that people seem to think that teaching children “to code” will lead them to picking careers in STEMs.

    All this talk seems to envision this “dreamy” picture where students are enthused and thrilled at the idea of coding for the rest of their lives.

    The thing is, coding is BORING, unles you use it for a PURPOSE or unless you ACTUALLY are passionate about it.

    Just like some students can’t stand learning a foreign language or learning geographical jargon, or don’t like computers, some students will dislike coding.

    Coding is an extremely technical, painstakingly slow, thoroughly creative and rewarding process. But children nowadays are encouraged to flash their good grades and collect external rewards every minute (“Well-done Lola! Excellent Ronald!”) instead of enjoying learning for the sake of growing.

    Sure they will enjoy playing with code busting games in Year 7, but comes Year 8, you will have the same story of students disengaging because, clearly, who uses their codes 24/7 who does not intend to be a developer or programmer? Not many.

    Same story here of governments trying to sell their ideas that learning STEM (coding?) = employment = happiness. Well, not really. The lack of thoroughness and lack of value of hard work is what is killing the education and employment market. Get rich quick is sold to every Dick Tom and Harry irrespective of their own capabilities. No wonder these kids who leave secondary school are so disillusioned.

    We should teach student to be pragmatic, realistic about their expectations and abilities, not run after the dreams sold by TV, Universities or Governments/politicians.

    So yes, knowing a bit of code will introduce another “fun element” to the classroom, but unless the programme implemented thoroughly (with proper teachers/facilitators who ACTUALLY like the possibilities coding brings to life not just “do-it-because they think they can wing it” or “because the DoE asked me to”) students will very soon reject this “coding revolution”.