Notes from the Year 7 coding trenches

teach codingSo, last week I spent a very enjoyable couple of days teaching coding to every incoming Year 7 class at our local high school. As part of the school’s ‘orientation week’ one of their scheduled periods is learning to code. Some observations from my time on the front line.

First it’s just great that the School, Mosman High School, is willing to do this. It’s like doing Hour of Code, but a time when the students are at their most interested and receptive, rather than jammed in amongst homework and examinable subjects later in the year.

And the kids are incredibly receptive. We spent just over an hour with each group. Some of that time was eaten up by the administrative schmozzle that is the Department of Education’s user-id and password system; but, even with those precious minutes gone, the students walked away having made a program. They were mostly genuinely excited at having done so, too. I can’t think of any programming environment other than Scratch that would allow for that level of immediate and effective gratification.

Which leads nicely to my next observation: The kids were drawn from quite a large number of catchment schools, and it was mildly disturbing how few had been exposed to coding in primary school. I would dearly love it if, when asked how many had done any coding before, we got more than a smattering saying yes. It’d be better still, if it turned out that I hadn’t taught most of those.

Doing this sort of thing reinforces again and again how simple it is to teach coding, at least at a light level, using Scratch. It would take only a few hours invested time by a teacher to be able to use Scratch to both teach coding and some other curriculum element. For a simple example, there’s probably no more engaging way of demonstrating coordinates than using Scratch to make a catching game. But even writing that reinforces that the first step in getting coding into schools is to find a way to teach the teachers.

Anyway, last week we exposed over 130 kids to programming in a very hands-on way. Even if nothing else happens that’s no bad thing. But the real test of whether the effort was any use lies in the next step. How many of those kids will join the lunchtime and after school coding groups, how many will think to use what they’ve learnt in an assignment, how many will log-on and pursue programming on their own? Time will tell.

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