European Code Week is this 7th of October through the 22nd (this is a week by European standards? In binary? I blame ex-Hurricane Ophelia for sending us time traveling so that we only actually got 7 days during that span of the calendar).
The boys at Harold Boys’ National School in Dalkey have already written up this event, but they ran through an Hour of Code with the basketball-building game at Codersters.com. I like Codesters Python editor because the boys were led down a path to writing Python code, with all of its idiosyncrasies, in a pretty gentle manner; the kids can drag and drop methods and variables from the library on the left before they’re ready to start typing, and Python’s indentation-based structure can be tough to pick up in the span of an hour. Last spring we had run an hour of code with the same boys with a block-based Pong-building game, so I was really hoping to get them thinking more about the text and able to affect things like the forces at work on the ball when they used the left and down arrow keys and the placement of objects on the 2D grid.
The session was a big step up from last year’s, though I was happy to hear quite a few “yes!”‘s and see a couple eureka moments for a couple kids.
If you’re looking to run your own Hour of Code with kids who’ve touched on the coordinate plane, a little tiny bit of physics (just to understand the terminology and why the ball might behave in a certain way), and a tiny bit of algebra, maybe, this is a good coding session to run. And even without that knowledge a quick sketch on the whiteboard of a grid with x and y coordinates (0,0 in the center for this lesson), another quick sketch to explain force in different directions and what that might do to an object, and then a last talk about variables being a bit like a box that can hold different things, an easy way to refer to something that might change will help the boys realize how some of the stuff they’re learning (or will learn) can help them write their own games or programs.
Next up for code week is a session with the girls down at Loreto in Dalkey!
The original demo, a flat little SpriteKit-based playground, was not terribly exciting, so I spent a bit of time throwing together a few passes at more engaging content (because, frankly, I was a little panicked this was going to be the most boring demo ever).
If you’re in and around the Dublin area, are into technology in some fashion or another, you could pay some money (~€25) to attend 404, a conference/meetup at the Royal Kilmainham in Dublin 8. There’ll be some good speakers there, a few cool installations, and then me.
I’ll be showing off ARKit in Swift Playgrounds and showing off a couple cool things you can do with an iPad and a couple hours on your hands.
So I’ll see you at 11:45 in the Ante Room on the first floor!
It’s an interesting exercise siphoning up all the articles and opinions on coding in the classroom, especially in a country like Ireland where it’s been thrust, front and center, into the spotlight (and curriculum plans).
Of course, I’m in favor of it, especially if it’s done in a way that mirrors the curriculum I developed, which emphasizes learning how to think like a computer over a specific toolset. I tend to favor programming languages like Logo that let you teach a concept first, then optimize, and repeat the lesson with follow languages like Python, Java, Swift. A bit like Simon Lewis mentions in his opinion piece in The Journal.ie, “Opinion: ‘We don’t need to teach computer science and coding in our schools’.” I think the title is geared to get a bit more traffic, but his general idea is about right:
The most important thing pupils need to learn about problems is how to break them down into smaller pieces and then tackle them in different ways.
He urges us not to add computer science to the curriculum as a separate subject based on his experience in the UK and with the worry that computer science will become divested of its true power: allowing students to solve problems in a creative fashion. And I tend to agree, to a point. I think that a well-designed curriculum, and maybe mine is not 100% there yet, it needs more meat, but Apple’s Intro to App Development with Swift is an excellent candidate. I’m a little biased — I spent 13 years with Apple, after all — but I think their course has an excellent balance of teaching concepts and problem solving techniques. It’s like an apprenticeship for the 21st century; teaching them real-life, hands-on skills they could use to get a tech job. It may be done in one of Apple’s programming languages and on Apple’s platform, but the skills would transfer to any other software platform.
But overall, I agree with Simon: not every kid is going to become a programmer, but I think the point is to introduce them (even at primary age) to coding as a problem solving tool, and show them that it could be an option, either in their personal lives or as a professional route.
On the other side of the coin are odd, straw men kind of articles like
I’m guessing the author ran across a program that thought it needed to dress up coding as more than it is, as he takes issue with classes “insisting on the glamor and fun of coding” that make coding a frivolous pursuit. And while I agree with him that learning how to code, as with just about anything, carries with it ethical considerations, but that’s no reason that it can’t also be enjoyable. There is certainly a mindset that’s required when coding, but the author sets up a false dichotomy that programming must either be taught as a deadly serious topic that requires “superhuman focus” or as a “fun and interactive” activity that anyone can do.
Now, again, I don’t know what courses the author has run up against, but I don’t know that I’ve seen any that pitch programming as a subject in which you don’t need discipline to progress. In that it’s like any other skill: it requires practice and usually more learning outside of the classroom if you expect to progress and become really good at it.
We have plenty of hobbyists in all sorts of fields, I don’t think it’s that harmful to introduce a student to a skill that might lend them the ability to throw together a little app for themselves that would fulfill a very personal need, the way someone might build a shoddy bookshelf for themselves, with just a little knowledge of carpentry.
Sure, programming is hard at a certain level, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and broken down in a way that more people can grok the concepts…
As someone who’s designed a set of curricula around introducing people to coding and app development, I am blown away by Apple Education’s latest offering, App Development with Swift.
The teacher’s guide gives great support for educators running the course and takes a great approach to giving their students a real feel for all facets of building out an app, not just the nitty gritty of code.
I love the tips for reviewing students’ code and extra material for adapting the lessons to your particular classes predilections.
If you’re looking to teach programming in the classroom, the Apple Education folks are putting out some great resources to help you on your way.
This Teacher Guide, a companion to the two-semester long App Development with Swift course, is designed for you to use with high school and college students. It includes tips for extending or adapting lessons, increasing collaboration, and assisting students who need extra support. It also includes downloadable Keynote presentations for each lesson, solution code for the labs presented in the student guide, and a rubric for evaluating student work.
Whether your thing is movie making or coding or literacy or how we learn, there’s a ton of stuff in and around the universities and schools around Ireland and a ton going on in Dublin over the next few days.
And if you’ve got young kids, there are some excellent resources to share with them about issues with going online and a general digital citizenship primer, including a television series called Making Ireland Click.
If you’re interested in this sort of thing (and live in Ireland, presumably), the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) has an online interest form for people keen to help develop the junior cycle technology curriculum.
As they say:
To avail of further expertise, the NCCA is seeking expressions of interest from individuals who would like to contribute to work on the new Technology specification.