Coding in Coombs - Charles Weston School's whole school approach to teaching kids to code

Coding is a hot topic in education at the moment, with ‘coding’ and ‘hacking’ receiving a lot of attention across a number of news outlets.
It’s not surprising. The ability to understand, define and modify different problems (which is really what coding is all about) is a key skill that all children (and adults) should have to productively participate in the contemporary world. It’s also embedded in the Digital Technologies Curriculum.

But how do we teach it? And who do we teach it to? These are questions that many teachers find themselves asking; particularly those that are already struggling to keep up with the changing digital landscape.

Penny is a teacher at the new Charles Weston School in Coombs. She is in charge of the library and is the ICT Coordinator. One of her teaching roles includes teaching coding to students from P-6 at Charles Weston School. She does have ICT expertise, but the best thing is that Penny is taking advantage of the many wonderful resources that have been developed to teach students coding. We asked her some questions about her approach, and how the students are going with it all.

What’s the best thing about teaching coding?

What has been the most interesting outcome of coding is seeing which students really excel. Some students who may not be achieving to high levels in their regular classrooms (especially in K-2) have shown to be naturals at coding. The visual nature of the introductory coding games on is perfect for early childhood students who don’t have the reading level to do the majority of coding activities. use popular characters such as angry birds, minecraft, star wars etc to engage the students and they feel like they are just playing a game. But in reality they are learning to sequence steps and solve problems.
This gamification approach creates a low risk arena for learning, as they learn from their mistakes and can redo a level and get better, or closer to a solution each time.

How do the students respond to coding lessons?

Students are extremely enthusiastic towards coding lessons. On the odd occasion when I have been absent for their lessons they seek me out the next day and ask when their classes will be made up. At first I was not getting as high a level of enthusiasm from some of the girls from K-2, but once I got them onto Tynker which has characters that are more interesting to them, I got a higher level of engagement. At that point I had messages from parents asking for the names of the apps we were using as their children were harassing them at home to get them on their iPads.

Osmo is a great new tool which has various applications including coding that uses hands-on physical blocks to control a character on a screen. This is another fun tool that hooks in young students into coding and introduces them to sequencing and repeat loops.
The coding 3-6 has focused a lot more on design and it gives them the chance to express their ideas and creativity, rather than just problem solving. We started out with using Scratch Jr while they learnt all the functions as it has a simpler interface than the full web version of Scratch. This built their confidence in creating scripts for characters which they have begun to apply to using Scratch.

The 5/6 class work very collaboratively. Several students have taken their passion for coding home and continue making games and animation at home to share with their class. When they make something on Scratch that they are proud of they post it to their Google Classroom and ask their classmates to test their games and give them feedback. To encourage peer tutoring I have set up a padlet where they post what they are working on and ask others for assistance on parts that they are still learning. This way students who have figured out a certain element can share that with a classmate and assist them in their design. At CWSC we encourage a growth mindset in our students and this mindset is evident in their work in coding as they actively seek out opportunities to build on their knowledge.

How does the teaching of coding link to other areas of the curriculum?

The links have actually emerged without even trying. As soon as I introduced coding to K-2 they made connections to what they were doing in literacy. Turns out they were doing sequencing of a story at the time and students immediately pointed out this correlation to scripting a series of steps to solve a coding problem.

When assisting a 5/6 student last week with coding a character on scratch using the x,y coordinates responded with “oh this is just like cartesian coordinates that we did in maths yesterday”.

This is in addition to the obvious use of angles, time, counting skills that are used constantly in even the simple activities that the younger students are doing.

It is also not just the subject specific concepts that link but also the growth mindset and problem solving strategies that are applicable to other subject areas.

It seems like it’s definitely worth the effort. So the last question we asked Penny:

How do teachers get started with coding?

To get started, teachers do not need a high level of coding skills themselves. I have one teacher at my school who is working her way through the modules on to improve her own knowledge so that she can work with the students on their projects.

I recently ran a staff meeting where I showed the other teachers what coding lessons look like as I had a few say to me that they had no idea what it meant and didn’t know how to continue the conversation with their students when they returned from their lessons with me. After showing them the kinds of activities that we do in class they were surprised by how accessible it actually is and made them realise that they could also use some of these tools in class.

Google CS First as well as the Tips menu in Scratch make it easy for anyone to get started and make their first project using the easy to follow tutorials.
We’ll be bringing you more stories about coding in schools in upcoming posts. Stay tuned to hear more!