Teaching Year 7 to code

highschool_18plil0-18pliscLast week my partner in coding crime, Ian D, and I got to spend a double-period with every single incoming Year 7 class at our local High School and teach them something about coding. Here are some lessons I learnt from the experience:

1. Scratch is just brilliant for this sort of thing. I can think of no other tool that would allow us to make so much progress in such a small amount of time. After 90 minutes the kids had a small game complete and were able to fiddle around the edges of it and make it their own.

2. Using the Department of Education computers is something of a nightmare. Among other issues: First day, first lesson and Scratch 2 would not run because the Department had not updated Java over the holidays. If the Government is remotely serious about moving students into the 21st Century they need to put serious, focused resources into the enabling infrastructure.

3. We showed the kids the Code.org video on why learning to code is important. It is a great video, but after watching it a few times in a row it became apparent that it is pitched at older kids – there’s a chunk of time spent showing what cool places Google and co are to work: You get free food, snacks, your washing done, can play games – which is pretty much the definition of ‘home’ for a 12-year-old.

4. The kids picked up on coding remarkably quickly. Only a handful had seen Scratch before, and many of those were from my own primary school coding groups. As always there was a bell-curve; but the limiting factor did not seem to be capacity to understand code, it was more about a capacity to follow instructions (Every time I do anything like this it just heightens my admiration for real teachers who can deal with a room full of young kids day after day.).

Over the course of three days we gave something like 150 kids a basic insight into coding. The moment when they first make something happen on the screen and react with wonder, makes the whole effort worthwhile. However, the interesting test now will be to see how many come along to the lunchtime and after-school groups. It was clear there were some boys with both aptitude and interest who are going to be there; but we’re really wondering about a number of the girls who showed equal aptitude and interest and what the chances of seeing them at our girls’ coding group will be.

Anyway our current mantra is that every child in Australia should have the opportunity to learn to code – and we just gave 150 Australian children that opportunity. Only 4 million to go.

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