OVO Tech Blog

Coding for children

Introduction

Tomasz Bartoszewski


Coding for children

Posted by Tomasz Bartoszewski on .
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Coding for children

Posted by Tomasz Bartoszewski on .

Why even bother

You may wonder, why would children learn to code. What's the point of schools organising lessons, where children learn how to code. But what would be your reaction, if I said, that we should stop teaching children how to read and write, how about saying goodbye to algebra? I met a lot of people, who didn't like maths, or people who really struggled with reading. I was very bad at reading, it was a disaster. We all agree, being able to read and write is necessary, it made a massive difference, when people were taught how to do it. Today we live in a world, where we are surrounded by computers, Internet powers our life for good and for bad. Many older people don't know how to use computers. But we use mobile phones all the time, which are more powerful than computers 10 years ago. We have smart watches, and soon self driving cars, fridges ordering food may become part of our normal life. At least basic understanding of them would be necessary, I can't imagine how scary it would be, to be surrounded by robots and computers everywhere, without any understanding how they work. Have you seen any movies, where people traveled forward in time, and the world was just completely different, that could be the case for next generations. But it's not just being scared, what should power our actions. I love computers, I think they are amazing, I would even argue, it's easier to communicate with them, than with other people. Do you remember that time, when you finally managed to ride your bike on just 2 wheels? Learning new skills feels great, and being able to tell computers what to do, is a really nice skill to have.

What to do with children

Hopefully you are convinced, that learning coding is useful. I would like to show you where to start. I get this question quite often from parents, "I know nothing about coding, where do I start?", some can code, but then every time they try to do some coding with children, they would just get bored after 20 minutes. The key is to make it fun. Writing a game is fun, most devs I met, wanted to create games, most of us will never be game developers, but we still remember, what was our dream. Coding sounds difficult, you type something strange and computer will do it, how 6 years old child could focus on typing so much. The answer is very simple, use Scratch. Scratch is a nice tool, where you just have to drag and drop commands, the idea is to understand principles of coding. Be familiar with loops, if statements, have some understanding of variables and events. They are now working on new version of it, which looks even better than previous one.

Scratch_Cat

I always recommend beginners to do exercise available on CoderDojo website: http://kata.coderdojo.com/images/6/69/Beginner_Scratch_Sushi.pdf It will give you the basic understanding of Scratch and let you build your first game - a shark catching fishes and scoring points. How cool is that, first lesson and you are already building a playable game!

If you are looking for more projects, check a Boat Race from Code Club https://codeclubprojects.org/en-GB/scratch/boat-race/ or any other projects from long lists available here
http://kata.coderdojo.com/wiki/Scratch_Path
https://codeclubprojects.org/en-GB/scratch/

I've done Scratch, what's next?

When you have children above 10 years old, they may want to do something else, some did Scratch already, some want to do proper coding. There is the answer to it too, what I would recommend as a next step, would be to learn Python. Why Python? It's an easy language to get started, it's a real programming language used by many people, both for commercial applications and by researchers. You can install python on your computer, but what I find easier, for first applications, is to use this website https://trinket.io/ You can see there a demo application, press an arrow to execute the code. What you need now is some interesting project to develop. This time I will recommend different website https://projects.raspberrypi.org/en/projects?software[]=python Here you can find a lot of projects in Python, some of them are designed for small electronic devices, before buying any, I would recommend to try exercises which only require a computer. This exercise is very popular with children https://projects.raspberrypi.org/en/projects/turtle-snowflakes/

colour-list

What you have to do, is to implement an application, which will draw snowflakes. Being able to draw with code is very nice, we all like to see some graphics, it's a lot more engaging, than just a text displayed somewhere. If you want something easier, you can do https://projects.raspberrypi.org/en/projects/turtley-amazing it should explain a bit more about code you have to write.

Screen-Shot-2018-12-03-at-22.45.37

I can't help

This could be a problem for some parents, children learn quickly, they may want to meet real developers, learn from them, get some help and directions. That's why at OVO we organise regularly CoderDojo in Bristol and London. What is CoderDojo? It's a foundation which believe, that volunteers can help children learn coding and everybody can do it. It works really well, you may want to have a look on the website, you can even find something next to your home https://zen.coderdojo.com/find

We try to meet once a month, next one should be in January, so check the website after New Year.

Summary

Hopefully you understand now, why coding is important. Few links from this post should help you get started, even for older people, the exercises can be very interesting. I saw many parents, siting with their children writing code during our CoderDojo sessions. Now go and do some coding! And all CoderDojos are looking for volunteers, so even if you don't have children, you can join us and help to teach children, it's really a rewarding experience.

Tomasz Bartoszewski

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