“How are you getting on with Coding?”
A question that Computing subject leaders have been asking for around 8 years now which is always met with a somewhat mixed response… It’s usually asked or becomes relevant at a point of the year when a myriad of other jobs to do have appeared on your agenda and you’ve been asked to cover “that” class for what feels like a tenuous and spurious reason. Don’t get me wrong, teaching coding in primary schools is something that some teachers thoroughly enjoy. They’ve usually got an enviable twitter feed full of amazing creations by their students that would put MIT to shame!
However for some, (I’d argue most), coding is still something of a challenge akin to a foreign language and subject knowledge and confidence issues are endemic within our profession. It is strangely reassuring, (and terrifying), that the children are so filled with a beyond comprehensible level of confidence with technology – flying from showing you a Pixar level animation one minute to being unable to locate their folder with a powerpoint presentation in the next. Despite you showing them 4 times.
My point here is this – now we are 8 years into this curriculum it’s simply time to hold your nose and jump into these waters, Pupils love it – they have sheer techno-joy -and coding supports problem solving (maths-y stuff) and instructional writing (English-y stuff) in even the simplest of lessons. You might find that if you dive in, there’s something fairly enjoyable about teaching it too…
So what can you do? Firstly you should trust yourself. Your years of inbuilt teaching and questioning skills will keep the lesson on track. Support and encourage pupils to investigate and deepen learning. We are not there to be the font of all knowledge – we are there to facilitate their learning. So if you have to show them how to Google, “What is a sprite in Scratch?” to find out the answer then that’s fine. It’s called Digital Literacy and is a key element of the curriculum. No-one gets an instruction manual with software these days – it’s all about using tech literacy skills to either intuitively work out an answer or to search (safely) online for advice on how to solve the problem. Learn something alongside them and boost your knowledge as you go – no-one’s giving you a week off to learn all of this stuff. Peer to peer support can also be a big help here. See what mixed-ability groups can produce together and watch them teach each other (generally) harmoniously.
If Scratch or one of it’s equivalents seems too big a leap at this point then introduce the children to some “coding games”. There are plenty of these online but defining playing on them as a computing lesson is probably not for the best. Context is really important here – how are these games teaching coding or more specifically computational thinking? Usually these games are simply reaffirming the concept that that computers only work with clear and accurate instructions (algorithms). If you are not accurate with your instructions then your character in the game won’t succeed – in the same way that unprecise code will lead to a computer not being able to correctly interpret your instructions.
However the biggest recommendation I can suggest is allowing children to explore with minimum teacher intervention – sounds good right? “Tinkering” is one of the key elements of the national curriculum. Watch as mistakes lead onto new discoveries. Let them be creative. Open up a new piece of software and let the children work out what it does and then provide you with a report 20 minutes later. What features can they discover? What is the purpose of the software? Is it easy to use? How could we use the software to help us with our classroom learning i.e. could it work in a maths lesson? Could we use it for our History topic? If you have this kind of tinkering lesson before you begin a new computing unit you can iron out a number of classroom bugs in advance of starting the work in earnest. You can see how well the children behave and respond. You can get an idea of any technical problems that might appear and iron them out. And you can see how everything works with 30 eager children in a room rather than when you are frantically trying to work out how to use the darned piece of software at 11pm the night before the lesson. Do that initial leaning in the classroom with the children. It will give you a much better idea of how the software could be used and increase the growth mindsets of everybody involved.
Teaching coding for some can feel like a massive leap but as I said it’s totally worth it – go on, dive in!