We have just celebrated EU Code Week with many events taking place in schools across the country. Our own school organised local firms in Galway to come and talk to the children and complete coding workshops with our senior classes. We have also started a Friday Scratch club for interested children which we intend to run throughout the year. Most of the EU Coding Week’s events around the country this year were aimed at children and teenagers so it’s obvious that bringing coding to the younger generations is seen as important.
Events like coding week, however, can only achieve so much in educating children and teenagers, and Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton, has already suggested to The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) that coding should be part of the primary school curriculum. He has stated that he is “conscious that we need to give all children the best start in a world where such skills will be key to participation and success”
His Action Plan for Education, which the Government launched in September, includes strategies to introduce coding to primary schools from 2018 and start teaching computer science as a Leaving Certificate subject.
The NCCA recently completed a review of coding and computer science in primary school curricula across 22 countries. Their findings show an emerging trend in the integration of technology as a specific area of learning in curriculum policy in many countries worldwide.
However, bringing coding into the classroom comes with its own challenges. Some teachers and education professionals have raised issues about coding becoming part of primary education, with cost and a lack of understanding by teachers flagged as the biggest problems. I have witnessed this myself in an online summer course for teachers which I moderated over the summer and which included a 4 hour module on Scratch. While many of the 800 teachers on the course saw the benefits of Scratch and coding they had serious reservations about their own abilities to introduce it and teach it to their classes. They also questioned where and how it would fit into an already overcrowded curriculum.
I think that one of the best ways to effectively integrate coding in the classroom, is to first bring it into the next generation’s teacher training. Marino Institute of Education has a strong emphasis on technology and teaching in their master’s degree programme for student teachers. They run several workshops throughout the year to introduce their student teachers to the basics of computer programming, Scratch, and how it can animate and elevate children’s learning and motivation.
They feel that introducing coding more indirectly into schools with a programme like Scratch helps children to make sense of coding to figure out problems, as well as affording them opportunities to be creative in their thinking and learning.
Marino also hopes to introduce these workshops to more pre-service student teachers throughout the year as well as the BSc Early Childhood Education programme down the line. Other teacher training colleges are also providing training and workshops on supporting literacy and numeracy with ICT technologies including coding.
According to the NCCA, an early childhood and primary mathematics development group has been established to work on the maths curriculum at a primary education level with Minister Bruton’s suggestions in mind, and the group will have its first meeting on 20 October 2016.
Bringing coding into the classroom shouldn’t be left solely in the hands of teachers who are still in training. Many Education Centre’s are running coding courses as part of their Autumn CPD programmes suitable for both primary and secondary teachers who wish to upskill themselves and become comfortable enough with coding technologies to be able to introduce it to their classes.
PDST are also offering a 10 hour online course entitled “Scratch For Learning”. This interactive course covers how to use Scratch coding to support learning, in particular literacy and numeracy. It includes coding tasks, videos, tutorials, links and discussion forums for sharing ideas with fellow teachers. The course was designed by PDST Technology in Education in collaboration with Lero. This course draws on materials from the online summer course ‘Scratch for Literacy and Numeracy’.