I wanna get kids to start coding but how do we get it into the curriculum?

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23 January
18:42
6 February
12:46

Hi Nevil, as you are based in England, the answer is: coding should already be in your children’s curriculum. In 2014, Computing was launched as a National Curriculum subject. You can go online here to see what is expected. You will see how coding is a key (although not only) component of this curriculum. In this regard, England is only 1 of 5 countries that have created such a computing curriculum despite the issue being raised globally. That said, there is a lot of variation in how schools have picked this up, and there has been a fair bit of criticism of this curriculum.

If you search online, you will see examples of schools doing great stuff about coding in schools. Many have benefitted from the significant number of new educational resources to help children, notably Scratch (or Scratch Jnr if younger), which comes with a lot of teacher support materials (e.g. here). Some schools are particularly energised, involving children in competitions that bring coding with other STEM skills, such as the 1st Lego League. As an engineer, you may like to look at that. The problem is, introducing computing properly in a school depends on a number of factors, from available devices to head teacher leadership. And key will be teachers – both their confidence and expertise. Some schools may already have an enthusiastic teacher, or sometimes a couple, and that is great. But to properly integrate computing across the school, and to link learning across the year groups, you need staff support and training. I would urge anyone to ask what support teachers are receiving in their children’s school.

The other issue I mentioned concerned criticism of the curriculum. Without detailing a long and contested debate, there are many who feel we should be focusing more on the thinking skills behind computing rather than the more practical skills of coding. The term ‘computational thinking’ is one that has gained quite a lot of currently of late, with one definition being: “the thought processes involved in formulating problems and their solutions so that the solutions are represented in a form that can be effectively carried out by an information-processing agent” (Wing, 2011). What this highlights is the clear link between computing and other STEM subjects that revolve around communicating solutions to problems. Many believe that the thinking skills behind computing are far more important than just learning to code. I agree with that position. When not an academic, I lead an early learning technology company. I need to understand code to communicate with the team, but I cannot code myself. I do need a computing mindset though, not just to communicate technology solutions, but more generally to work through problems logically.

So. The answer to your question is, hang in there. Schools are required to teach computing (from 5 years old) and little by little they will, given the right support. But you may be keener than this. Aside from prompting your children’s school, I would look to all the learning opportunities out of school. There are many free coding organisations such as Codeclub or Coderdojo – especially if you live in the capital. And you will may well find some more innovative digital making groups- see here. But there are also a number of free resources for use at home, such as here. There are even lots of new toys out there to engage children in programming, from as young as 4 years – from Lego to my own company’s. As an engineer, you may be particularly interested in Littlebits who are doing very well. This toys are fun – but learning will require an adult to guide.

Personally, I think the best learning resources for computing is the world children live in. How do automatic doors work? Why did the bus screen say the bus is due? What does Facebook know about you? Is it right to replace drives with driverless cars? Would you make friends with a robot? Creating wonder in your children around these real and meaningful issues is the best educational opportunity out there.

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