Teaching the Children Programming at St. Teresa’s Primary School and Merton Park Primary School

After reading the Times article about the amazing work at St. Teresa’s and Merton Park, I dropped them an email to find out how they got started and they’ve kindly let me share it here (many thanks to Nicola Schofield and Anna McGrath who are the ones forging ahead with the teaching!)

Aside from the brilliant way they are both rolling up their sleeves and showing us the way, what’s incredible is hearing that 4-5 year olds are able to write simple programs and 6-7 year olds are suggesting loops to encapsulate repeated instructions.

Anyway, here’s their story:

We decided to teach the children to program in response to an article we read in the Guardian in August 2011 – http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/aug/28/ict-changes-needed-national-curriculum. We then undertook a part-MA Action research course with a local university and our topic was “Can learning to program teach children to think independently and help with their problem-solving?”.

We used Scratch – http://scratch.mit.edu/, which is a free download from MIT in Boston and can be installed on all school PC’s and by children at home. It works on Windows and Apple, but because it’s Flash-based it won’t work on ipads. Its fabulous – the children find it totally engaging and it appeals to all KS2 (and often younger), boys and girls etc. There are loads of help videos and video resources on the site. There is also a linked educational site http://scratched.media.mit.edu/, and from here we downloaded the Scratch Draft Curriculum http://scratched.media.mit.edu/resources/scratch-curriculum-guide-draft, which has lesson plans and resources all ready made. We used the intro lesson, the maze lesson and the Debug lesson (which the children really enjoyed). We let the children make whatever they wanted at first – but it had to have a London theme, as that was our topic last term – most chose the Jubilee or the Olympics.

Code Club http://www.codeclub.org.uk/ is another free resource. They launched last summer especially for volunteers teaching in schools. It’s for years 5 and 6. If you register as a volunteer, with a CRB number, you get access to a different, graded project in Scratch for each week. We photocopied for each child and left a laminated copy of each one lying around for anyone to try. They’re really good and I highly recommend them.

Children seem to pick up Scratch so quickly, they constantly amaze us and are way ahead of us but it doesn’t seem to matter. We just challenge them and are very clear we don’t know more than them. The other things we did prior to Scratch were:

ask the children to show hands if they think computers are clever. Then tell them that computers aren’t clever – it’s the people that programme them who are clever.

Discuss this process of giving instructions and saying “Go” – instruct the children similarly
showing the children some Youtube videos of programmed objects eg Robot of the Year, Robot lawnmowers and hoovers, dishwashers etc, with lots of chat about how they might work

programming each other (blindfolded) to walk in a square – discuss what’s difficult

screen turtles, eg 2Simple, iBoard, Logo and several online ones. Most were school software but you can find some online. We progressed from v simple ones in Reception to more complicated as they got older.

But, amazingly, Reception started writing small programmes and year 1 suggested looping eg to make squares – they noticed the repetition of instructions. Honestly, we have been flabbergasted by how young they pick it up.