Are you a teacher keen to tackle the challenges of the computing curriculum? Running or hosting a Code Club is a great way to boost your own confidence, and to help give your pupils more opportunities to get excited about coding and digital making.
We heard from Nick Peet, a teacher in Portsmouth who, with some help from students at Portsmouth University, began running a Code Club in his school. Find out more about his experiences as a Code Club host below…
When we discovered that the new National Curriculum required primary children to learn Computing, rather than just how to use ICT, we realised that the school had a huge gap in the subject knowledge required to teach this new curriculum. I attended several meetings of panicked ICT managers in the Portsmouth area and all of us agreed that, although we were very excited by the changes in the curriculum, there would be huge difficulty in training hard pressed primary teachers to learn the new skills required to deliver the new subject matter. In a sudden flash of divine inspiration, I realised that it would be much easier to identify pupils who were really interested in the subject and teach them so that they could support their teachers and peers with the new curriculum. So in 2014 we started the Craneswater Computing club.
Although in a previous life, I had worked as a programmer and systems designer, it was in a very different, pre-internet world of main frames, punch tape, Assembler and machine code languages – not very relevant to the requirements of the current curriculum. I had never even heard of Scratch! So I bought a book, and 30 pupils and I started to work through the projects in it together.
This worked well and the club was very popular – we were able to develop the coding champions we needed to get the new curriculum up and running. However, it became very time consuming, particularly trying to develop new projects and challenges for the (by now very competent) children.
Fortunately Portsmouth University got in touch with the school and told us they were keen to place volunteers who would run a Code Club. This sounded like a good idea and so we signed up – anything to reduce a teacher’s work load! We negotiated with the university volunteers so that we would keep a 30 pupil code club (rather larger than normal) and also include children from Years 3 and 4 (slightly younger than normal). This was agreed to and the new Code Club started in October 2015.
The club has been a huge success with the children. They really enjoyed having the undergraduates from the university teaching them. We were incredibly lucky in our two volunteers who were really conscientious and competent and developed excellent relationships with the children (Thanks Chris and Dale!). They ran the club entirely on their own and all I had to do was download and print the projects and be physically around the Computer suite just in case – I don’t think I was really needed during the entire year.
The other major benefit from having a registered Code Club in school has been the access to the resources on the Code Club website. All the projects are well thought-out and very engaging for the children. There is also lots of scope for the more able children to extend the projects and develop their own add-ons and variants. The club itself has concentrated on the Scratch projects, but I have borrowed ideas and code from the HTML & CSS resources, to develop a new curriculum unit, again saving me a huge amount of time. I am considering running an advanced level Code Club next year where the children will tackle the Python projects.
I think learning to Code is a wonderful opportunity for children. It is highly creative and teaches resilience – almost nobody’s code works as intended first time. It also helps to develop logical thinking, and encourages teamwork and co-operation.
Lots of people have written lots of articles about why children should learn to code. Steve Jobs himself said, “Everyone should learn how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.” Even more than this, children should have the opportunity to code because it is fun! I’d encourage anybody thinking about setting up a Code Club to go for it. Signing up online is straightforward and setting up and running a club with their support is easy.
It is also incredibly rewarding when pupils share their highly polished and technically challenging projects. Last term a Year 5 pupil said to me, “Mr Peet, I have finally figured out how to get online multi-player games to work using Scratch!” I have not yet checked to find out whether he has, but I was seriously impressed that he was thinking about the problem in the first place!
Interested in starting a Code Club? Find out more at www.codeclub.org.uk/start-a-club