Tom Starkey's world of ed tech

26th June 2015 at 01:00

I'll admit it: I've never been able to get a handle on coding. I'm too quickly frustrated and too easily jaded by my lack of progress when delving behind the pixels. I type a command but it changes diddly-squat. Then I'm informed that what I've typed doesn't actually count as a command, and could I perhaps step away from the keyboard as I'm embarrassing myself.

The recent changes to the curriculum in England and the 2014 Year of Code campaign have shone a spotlight on coding - or programming, for the purists - as a critical skill.

I'm not too sure whether it really is critical, and I'm even more doubtful about whether everyone needs to learn to do it (my crystal ball, runes and tarot cards aren't giving me a clear reading on that one). But the focus has led to a number of online products springing up with the aim of helping people to get into coding.

If you fancy giving it a go - either as part of the curriculum or embedded in another subject, which would be really interesting - there are lots of things to consider, including what you want to create, which programming language to explore and what is appropriate for the age group you are teaching. If you're intent on nurturing budding virtual master craftsmen and women, the following may be of use.

The scratch programming language (scratch.mit.edu) serves as a great introduction for younger children to some of the key concepts of coding. It's a useful stepping stone, although perhaps a little basic for older kids and those whose skills are more advanced. In that case, Code Academy (codecademy.com) might serve as an alternative.

It's crucial to emphasise fun when it comes to coding, and there are a plethora of games available to help with this. Untrusted (bit.lyUntrustedGame) manages to make exploring commands in JavaScript entertaining. It's a fabulous idea and it works not just as a learning tool but also as a great example of integrated gamification. A warning: it can be enormously frustrating.

The effect of frustration needs to be considered. Although kids (with infinitely more patience, finesse and wonder than I can muster) seem to "get" and find real joy in the process of coding, and pride in seeing their efforts pay off, it can be really hard work. It can be fun, too, but in many cases such satisfaction is a long time coming. This is something we should prepare our students for - delayed gratification is rarely a strong point for young people.

Let me know if you've had any successes or disasters with coding. In the meantime, I'm going to keep trying it myself. Now, what's the command for making a cup of tea?

Tom Starkey is a teacher based in Leeds. Email edtechtom@gmail.com or find him on Twitter at @tstarkey1212

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