Since September, I have had the privilege of working with children in the classroom. No, I haven’t given up my job at comparethemarket, instead, myself and a number of colleagues have embarked on teaching children to program at two of the local schools in the area. This is being done in conjunction with codeclub starting with teaching the children scratch.
What started out in the new school year as an idea of how can we get children into programming, has blossomed into one school allowing us to take over the computing lesson once a week and a well subscribed after school club in the other.
Programming is part of the school curriculum for computing in Key Stage 2 in primary school. Scratch is a great way to teach this material as it allows younger children to interact with a programming environment without getting too immersed in written programming languages. As Scratch is a drag and drop environment, the children can quickly get to grips with following the tutorials from code club and within a single lesson, can see the fruit of their labours.
Going to School
For the school that allowed us to take over the computing lesson, on the first day we walked into the lesson carrying a four foot version of Sergei, armed with printed versions of code club tutorials and enthusiasm from each of the volunteers. There was a good amount of excitement and enthusiasm from the children too when they found out we were taking over their lesson (which has continued throughout the first half of the year). We soon explained what was going to happen and within the course of an hour, each of the children had a chance to do some programming in pairs, creating a little app simulating a Rock band.
At first, a lot of effort went into helping the children get to grips with the environment; now half a year on, the effort is mainly focused on solving a problem when they have not quite followed the tutorial. Mainly being they have not read the instructions completely.
In order to see how well they had retained some of the knowledge they had gained, we spent two lessons around Christmas creating a game based around Santa. This was not following any tutorial, but the children were given homework before hand to come up with an idea….
…which we then helped them to refine into a Minimum Viable Product. Over the two weeks chaos erupted, as the creative minds tried to move their ideas into reality. With help from the volunteers, many of the pairs managed to get the basics of their ideas into something close to their MVP. Good fun was had by all.
Since Christmas, the children have continued to develop their skills with some trying to go off-piste to be creative in the tutorials, which has led to interesting work trying to help them get the work completed.
What have I learnt
Within the last half year, I have witnessed some great little minds getting to grips with programming. But taking a step back, it is now time to reflect on what has not gone quite to plan and how to help correct that in future lessons. So what have I learnt…
- If a child can follow a tutorial, it does not mean they understand the concepts. We need to take the time to explain some of the concepts like explaining a variable is just a box to store something in.
- Letting a child choose who they work with is not always productive. Making a child work with someone who is not their best friend actually makes them more productive as they concentrate better on the task at hand. They still have fun.
- Children are like sponges. Given the right stimulus they will soak up what they are learning; however, given distractions they will create havoc to stop the process. Certain parts of the tutorials are creative but there must be a limit on creativity, ensuring the task is completed. So being the teacher and directing the child in their studies can sometimes be essential.
Although a few of these negatives need to be dealt with, the positives far outweigh them and it has pleasure and a privilege to go into school.
What can you do?
Get involved… you don’t have to be a tech genius to help teach children. If you can operate a computer and have some enthusiasm to give back to your community, then get involved.