35 responses

  1. Very comprehensive, Emma. This post deserves a great deal of allusion. Thank you and I will delicious this for those times when I get into discussions with younger relatives and friends who have techy ambitions (I know a few!) Cheers.

  2. Wow thank you! This is fantastic. I showed my son (9) Scratch and he was immediately taken by it. Problem is though, he only saw it because I was interested and happened to be chatting with a friend who is a secondary school ICT teacher who mentioned it. Primary school teachers don’t seem to be at all technologically aware and even if they are there is so much emphasis on year 6 SATS for the school league tables that they don’t dare go outside the curriculum. So it’s only likely to be kids with geeky parents who will get to access all of this.

  3. A great article and some interesting comments.

    I agree with scienceetc that an immediate problem in schools is the straight-jacket of curriculum and targets along with a further suffocation in the form of lack of relevant skills and knowledge. The current (and next generation) of IT teachers are all from the PlayStation generation having never been exposed to the demands of rigorous computer programming.

    Beyond “geeky” is difficult, but I believe by bringing videogames into the classroom, students that develop games and then distribute to friends via AppStore, Facebook, PlayBook, Web, Desktop, Android would be seen as very cool. Students who excel at Art or Music for example are seen as very cool. I’m sure the same will apply to our creative kids that produce fantastic digital work – away from creating Access databases or VBScript for spreadsheets.

  4. I ve just been reading the O Reilly book “Masterminds of Programming” – poor title IMHO for a very interesting series of interviews with the creators of various languages and learning to code is a common theme – many of them bemoan typical subject matter (maths series and data structures and algorithms) for inspiring examples for learning to code.

    Also interesting to hear different emphasis on language features (Larry Wall has long been my favourite here for incorporating human languages features such as pronouns and the structuring of statements for emphasis) that are also interesting meta topics for anyone trying to inspire new coders.

    And p195 has Simon Peyton Jones (co creator of Haskell and all round interesting but not well known bloke) talking about a large problem with teaching this stuff in the uk at least in that we teach IT rather than comp sci or programming (hence my cryptic tweets to @hubmum).

    In short, I think the book is well worth scanning for a few hours for anyone interested in the issues raised here – a lot of it is about other issues but there are themes buried in there and some very informed opinions

  5. Great article. Whilst reading about Logo (I remember the turtle!) I thought of a simple alternative to that, Big Trak. It is very simplistic in comparison, but for younger children I think it could help, primarily with logical thinking, as well as being a little more engaging. As a seasoned coder, the ability to analyse a problem and break it down to it’s constituent parts is crucial skill, and Big Trak could help develop that.

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  7. Good post. Shows there’s more resources available than we might realise.

    I just spent 4 days (2 2-day courses) training 30 teachers in Ireland how to program in Scratch. My colleague trained another 30. It’s only a drop in the ocean of teachers, but the enthusiasm, interest and ability these novice teacher-programmers showed was inspiring. When I showed them how to program the Kinect controller with Scratch they were full of ideas how to integrate these technologies in the classroom (ideas I would never have thought off, not being a secondary or primary school teacher).

    I hope that schools worldwide will eventually see ICT as something more than ECDL and typing and begin to integrate programming into the curriculum. That’s what I’m working towards in Ireland, whether or not it will happen quickly is another matter.

  8. Just a couple of thoughts, still pushed for time. Like we read books to our kids and teach them to count, I think we need to introduce programming concepts too, probably away from machines so playground games, physical stuff we can do at home etc. We probably already do a lot of these things already (like how to make a cup of tea – go to kettle, pick up kettle, take to tap, fill kettle, if kettle full then switch off tap etc… of course you wouldn’t do this as example for toddlers!). I think by introducing this ‘digital literacy’ at this stage, we might chip at the edges of the issues of getting kids involved. We need to read and count as we get older, so we need to be digitally literate too. I think there may still be a problem in how we relate to technology. It still seems to exist separate from other life. Mainstream media still singles it out and that has a big effect. Also, tech is still portrayed as a ‘geek’ thing. If this division continues, we run the risk of excluding so many when really we should see this as an opportunity to be as inclusive as possible. In terms of digital inclusion and the ‘divide’, this might prove the point at which can draw the line and move forward.

  9. When my grandfather was a child the only “programmed” non-living thing in most homes would be clocks and watches – set the time. Dogs and horses were trained, but they were living. When my father was a child the same was largely true, though some radio-grams had pre-set tuning and many homes had their own telephone and direct dialing was introduced. The machines had started to rise!

    In my own childhood, TV tuning, VCR programming, digital clocks, video games, washing machines, pocket calculators… programmed machines soon outnumbered people in every home. So I grew up in a world where almost out of necessity everyone, adult or child, was learning to program things. Some folks were better at this than others. For a brief spell some adults managed to bluff intelligence by learning Shakespeare’s plays, despite not being able to program a video recorder.

    Where next?

  10. Thanks for this excellent piece.
    One of the most fundamental of the many interconnected problems that dog learning about programming at school is the lack of a decent GCSE. The only board to offer anything is OCR (and afaik it’s still only a pilot) http://www.ocr.org.uk/qualifications/type/gcse_2010/ict_tec/computing/index.html – Word on the street (TES) is that it has set a very high academic bar – that the AS is only marginally more challenging and simultaneously more rewarding in terms of prestige and course content. All the other GCSE ICT courses are beneath consideration – vacuous, dimwitted courses designed to remove any creative joy or intellectual stimulation.

    I know it’s very mainstream, but until we have a programming qualification that captures some of the power and excitement of computing, very few schools will be motivated to change their entrenched positions. I’m a school governor and I can tell you first hand that schools ape corporations – they are results driven businesses (or at least they behave as though they are businesses even though currently most state schools are not.) They will not consider any move that might jeopardise their league position and cynically swap around exam boards and qualifications to try to enhance the perception of their performance.

    Cynicism aside, amongst the things we need is a great GCSE programming course. Sadly we can’t rely on OCR, AQA or Edexcel to deliver one of their own volition – they are responsible for abject ICT courses and in part collectively responsible for the terrible state of UK education in computing. (Though I guess less culpable than RM) We should organise to pressure the exam boards to develop courses and exams that are fit for the world we’re in. I’m not completely sure how to do this, but clearly there are many people with much of a clue than me who are equally frustrated. Let’s build a campaign.

  11. Hmm I think “coding” per se is only one part of a more wholistic context when it comes to learning.

    Over 15 years ago I taught Year 6 kids to write code in early versions of Flash. The best coders were the girls – why? Because we introduced a social context in the mix.

    They wanted to write mini-programs for the early years children to play. I would write the sub-routines like timers and other stuff and they would sit down and discuss the design of the games or interactives, flesh it all out on paper and then get down to actually making it.

    Something you can do in an afternoon with 2simpleDIY took weeks and weeks (computer club not in mainstream school). They were writing/making/building for an audience.

    They also wrote pure HTML and their own web pages this way and what is more they FTP’d the lot up to a remote servers in Chicago because there wasn’t any web space available in this country. Then the lockdown came.

    All this time later I don’t really think kids should go near an exam board – there are too many pseudo exams. But there are a whole swathe of teachers up for teaching coding and more at http://computingatschool.org.uk/

    – I personally maintain a very bad wiki at :


    with stuff I come across that contextualises “coding”.

    I’d also like to see an ethical element introduced in to why and how we can control our environment in these ways. This whole debate reminds me of Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” but now I’m showing my age.

    I don’t think we need GCSE’s we need good mentors – people who will come in a show younger people how to hook up Arduino kits, use Raspberry Pi’s, make stuff and explore their curiosity.

    Coding is only one very small part of it all…

  12. Lots of great suggestions here about coding and software, but what about hardware? Shouldn’t we also be encouraging kids to understand how hardware and engineering play a part? Lego Mindstorms is a great place to start in early years. It’d be nice to hear about examples of Arduino kits and Makerbot finding a place in the classroom at late primary / secondary schools.

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