According to code.org, only 40 per cent of schools teach computer programming. Over the last few years, however, more and more countries have recognised the importance of computing, coding, and the associated skills that help children to develop and prepare for the working world.
Children around the world are now getting to grips with computing. It's a subject that requires collaboration, problem-solving and resilience – and can be fun. Although it has been met with concern and anxiety from some teachers, schools are beginning to see the benefits the subject provides.
How can we improve our knowledge and teach computational thinking in a more inspiring and creative way?
Think like a computer
A good lesson teaches students the theory behind code so they develop a sound understanding, and an outstanding lesson trains them to think like a computer and get hands-on in discovering exactly how code works.
One of the basic concepts of computational thinking is giving and following instructions. Computers work through a series of commands that are sent as signals to various parts of the hardware so that they perform a specific function. You can recreate this concept through physical representation, asking your students to give instructions to one another, such as “move six steps forward and wave your arms”. These commands need to be specific and clear so that the student can following them literally. If something isn’t quite right in the code, it’s known as a bug, and this will help students understand the importance of trial and error. If things don’t go quite to plan the first time, they need to step back, rethink, and try again. Building resilience is one of the most important skills, and will be valuable in whatever industry they choose to enter.
Bring in real expertise
Schools can invite professionals to talk to students about how coding supports their industry.
Many STEM organisations and professionals have expressed concerns that the way computing is taught isn’t properly preparing students for their future careers. For example, former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, once stated, “One of the things you hear from the businesses here in Tech City is ‘I don’t just want people who are literate in technology, I want people who want to create programs’, and I think that’s a real wake up call for us in terms of our education system.
Input from technology professionals and curriculum experts can help bring computing to life, and demonstrate that computing isn’t just lines of text on a screen. It has real-life applications, such as NASA programming their space rovers remotely to explore planets. While teaching the principles of coding in the abstract or with representations can be valuable, there is nothing more important for students than seeing exactly how code comes to life.
Get hands on
Teachers can introduce practical elements into lessons with robotics. Using robotics allows students to see results more clearly, and understand the effects of the code they write. They also get to be creative and have fun. Using LEGO® Education WeDo or LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3, for example, you might challenge students to build a simple robot that can move forward for a certain number of seconds, then add a motion sensor to tell the robot to stop when it meets an obstacle. Once students have a grasp of the basics, the only limit is their imagination. They could program a robotic arm to pick up items, or build new machines that can perform a wide range of functions.
Our top tip is to have a go at robotics for yourself before introducing it into your classroom. You’ll soon find out that it’s easier than you imagined.
Keep things simple
Although coding can be incredibly in-depth and complex, it’s important to start off simple. Using a language that works with images and simple numbers to begin with allows students to put code together from a set of icons, seeing how this translates in practice, before attempting to write their own text-based algorithms.
It’s also a great way to teach terminology. Many programming languages have similar commands for the same actions, and by building this vocabulary with visual aids, it helps to build a bank of transferable terms that they can use across all languages. You can look at the LEGO Education icon-based coding software to see for yourself how easy and accessible it is by visiting LEGOeducation.com/downloads.
Technology plays a huge role in our daily lives, and students are becoming more proficient with its use. Allowing them to see a different and deeper side to how it works means that their knowledge and skill-set will grow even faster, helping them to shape their future careers, no matter what sector.
Need tips for teaching coding? Check out our cheat sheet with top tips for teaching coding here.
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