Nothing new about coding

Nothing new…

Why is there all this hype about coding? Anyone would think that teaching children to control technology (including computers) was new – it is not! Just checkout Mindstorms by Semour Papert from 1980 which provides a rationale for, and examples of, children controlling computers.

Used a floor turtle?

If your are a primary teacher and have helped children to use a Beebot, Roamer or on-screen turtle graphcs then you have taught ‘coding’ already. If you have not, talk to colleagues or even look in the ICT cupboard to see what bits of kit you have.

Pedagogy is critical

Coding / programming / writing procedures or instructions is simple if taught from basics properly but can be made complicated by the wrong pedagogical approach. Essential to developing children’s understanding is the important concept of the computer as inert. As we know, computers are just a bunch of wires and components in a box. Without us to tell them what to do they are useless. They are also machines and do exactly what we tell them. Tell them to do the wrong thing and what you will get is just that. Consequently, writing instructions involves problem solving to get things right.

A problem of language

Some of the terminology surrounding computing appears technical and can put people off. The word ‘coding’ is itself problematic. Telling a story or sequencing events is much easier to understand and the writing of procedures can make more sense.

Learning environment

Creating a supportive culture, where failing first time is not a problem, is critical when working with procedures and computers in general. The idea that the computer only oes what you tell it is best illustrated in LOGO software as the computer will tell you that it does not understand.

Teacher confidence

So how do you develop confidence in coding? Well just have ago and, importantly, persevere until something works. If it all goes wrong start again. If the computer locks up just turn it off – remember it’s just a machine. There is also plenty of help out there without needing to spend the school budget on a course – spend that on floor turtles and control interfaces to do the really fun stuff with computers.

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About Mike Martin

Teacher educator based at Liverpol John Moores University in the UK. Researching subject knowledge of pre-service teachers.
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