Coding and programming has had a presence in Northern Ireland for well over 20 years now, with programming being a part of studies in the Secondary education system in the 1980s. However, it is only in the past 2-3 years that there has been a shift in focus to developing coding skills in primary school children. Our neighbours across the water have brought in Computing in the National Curriculum, while large national companies like Barclays have introduced Code Playground to ‘get young ones learning code.’
A number of organisations in Northern Ireland and across the whole island of Ireland have given opportunities for children to develop coding skills. These organisations have run superb sessions, with a number of volunteers giving up their free time to share their enthusiasm for coding and programming.
My own thoughts on the place of coding and programming is that it should be integrated into the curriculum and developed in our primary schools. Not for one moment am I suggesting that we heap even more ‘new initiatives’ on top of the already sky high workload of our teachers. With carefully planned training and support, teachers will begin to feel confident in introducing coding and programming, especially within Literacy and Numeracy.
Don’t forget, we teachers are already teaching coding and programming, probably without even realising it. Writing a set of instructions is exactly the same as writing an algorithm to complete a task. The word ‘debugging’ simply means to solve a problem, something we strive to teach children everyday. A lot of the time coding requires programming an object, something we already do in Foundation Stage with the BeeBot or in Key Stage 2 with Roamer (ahhh remember the Roamer)
By using the iPad, we can introduce coding to children in a simple and engaging way. One of my favourite apps is Hopscotch. By using this app, children drag blocks into a simple order which in turn program a character to move in a specific way. I have used this app across Key Stage 1 & 2, particularly when introducing 2D shapes, angles and turns. While learning about new mathematical concepts, children are undertaking logical thinking, solving problems and learning from mistakes – debugging – to introduce the ‘jargon’ of programming.
Below is a screen shot of a simple algorithm (set of instructions) to make a character move to draw a square. Think about the learning linking with the curriculum – instructions, angles, position and direction, problem solving – all of these are found in the Golden Book.
You will notice in the image above that the instructions include moving forward and turning 90 degrees, repeating 4 times. Below you will see that this algorithm (instructions) will make a square.
I have seen first hand on many occasions how using Hopscotch can engage children in coding activities linking to the curriculum. My belief is that if we can break down the barrier of apprehension in teachers who are unsure of how to use coding and programming apps, show them exactly how to use these activities in their teaching, linking meaningfully with the curriculum, then our children will develop with skills that will be essential in the future, as they are moving away from being consumers of digital content to being creators of digital content.