Code Club

Friday 29th July 2016

I read about Code Club when it first started in 2012, and we've just finished our first term of teaching it at Lostwithiel School.

The idea is to encourage 9-11 year olds to start programming in after-school clubs, we had about a dozen kids coming along to our club and they all made fantastic progress!

 

Across the country

Code Club is entirely run by volunteers, across the UK there are almost 4,000 clubs with almost 50,000 children! That's about a fifth of the total number of primary schools on the country, which isn't bad for the first four years.

Code Club itself is run the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the same organisation that makes the tiny cheap computer which is the UK's best selling PC of all time.

 

CS First

We've been following Google's brilliant CS First programme, and for the first term we chose their Storytelling topic to teach the kids in our club to code using Scratch, a free visual language created by MIT that runs entirely in the browser so there's no need to install anything on the school laptops.

The Storytelling topic is great because its main focus is using the tools to tell interesting stories, rather than just teach while loops in a dry manner. It's brilliant, and I bet the kids didn't even realise they're learning anything!

 

Looking back

I've always had a computer, we got a Sinclair ZX80 in 1980, and my parents ran a small business hiring out ZX Spectrums and Dragon 32s in the early 1980s.

I spent a reasonable amount of my childhood typing in lines of Basic code from computer magazines.

10 DIM s(60): DIM c(60)
20 BORDER 0: PAPER 0: BRIGHT 1: INK 7: CLS 
50 GO SUB 370
60 LET z$="00"
70 CLS 

I kind of understood it, but not enough that I could write my own games.

Later on I wrote a couple of text adventures games on my Commodore Amiga and played about with the Amiga's Shoot Em Up Construction Kit, but never really seriously. I didn't learn any real structured programming until I started building websites in 1997.

 

Looking forward

When we're running Code Club I always think about how my life might be different if this had existed when I was young.

Everything I've learned about programming has been self taught, trial and error, or learning by reading other people's code.

The basics of coding aren't complicated, and I think they're well within the grasp of most 9-11 year olds. If someone had taught me code when I was nine I would be a much better programmer now!

Look what we've done with the current generation of programmers, a lot of whom are self-taught like me. Imagine what the next generation of programmers are going to be capable of building!

But something's been bothering me about this ever since we started Code Club, which was very clearly articulated by a Wired article back in May.

Machine Learning like Google's Go-playing AI or their self-driving cars aren't following computer programmes in the way that we're teaching kids to code, and it's only a matter of time before even the humans that created these tools aren't capable of understanding how they behave at their core.

How useful is it to be teaching this way of coding which might be going obsolete by the time they finish school?

 

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