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So coding, also known as programming, computer language, software engineering, application development… what is it?
What is coding?
Coding powers our digital world. It involves typing in step-by-step commands, in the computer’s own language, for the computer to follow, telling it what you want it to do. Insert ‘smartphone’, ‘microwave’, ‘website’, ‘calculator’ or any of the many gadgets of today in place of ‘computer’.
Yes! Coding is behind every app on your phone. Each app has been meticulously coded by one person or a team of people. Even your washing machine has a computer so that it knows what operation to carry out next in the wash cycle.
“Once you know how to code, you can create virtual worlds within the computer where the only limit on what is possible is your imagination. We want to put this power into the hands and hearts of every child in Britain.” Dan Crow www.theguardian.com
How do you ‘code’?
There are a surprising number of computer languages, with different interfaces. The interface is the face of the coding language, and determines how you interact with the computer and code.
For example, the picture above shows you the Scratch editor. It shows the Stage, much like a stage in a theatre where the sprite(s) can move around, on the left hand side. The sprites to be used in the code are shown underneath the stage. In the middle there are the available code blocks (we will get to that in a minute) and on the right hand side is where the code blocks are placed together.
There can be layers of coding which act as interpreters. The image above shows the Scratch editor, an example of a block based language. Block based languages give the coder a simplified version to work with, while speaking to the computer in it’s own language. The main advantage of such languages is that it makes coding easier to learn. That is why it is used in many schools to teach coding. The main disadvantage is that just like any other interpreter, there can be misunderstandings in the translation. And that can mean that it just simply will not work as expected, even when you follow all the rules!
A very popular block based coding language is ‘Scratch’. You can see some example Scratch code below.
Taken from the front page of www.scratch.mit.edu website – click the play button on the code via the webpage to see a video of Scratch in action!
As you can see, it is quite easy to read it out loud to follow what the code is meant to do…
When the green flag is clicked,
repeat the following 10 times:
move 10 steps,
change the color effect by 25,
play drum number 4 for 0.2 beats
and say ‘Welcome to Scratch!’ for 2 seconds.
(End of loop.)
This code is attached to a ‘sprite’ which is a character in the app. Such as:
It is even possible to put a picture of yourself as the sprite in the code to animate!
Being free to use, the Scratch editor attracts a lot of beginner and experienced coders alike. It even helps you to learn to code by having tutorials freely available. Yes! You do not have to spend out a lot of money to learn to code! It is also a welcoming community environment where you can share your latest projects. Some clever coders have even created a version of the popular Minecraft game. The best thing is that it is possible to look ‘inside’ the shared projects to gather ideas and clues for your own coding projects. To have a look at these projects, go to www.scratch.mit.edu and use the search box at the top.
This image shows a Python editor called ‘Trinket’ https://www.trinket.io/python As you can see, it is very different to Scratch. It is still possible to read it out loud, there is just a lot more detail. The text based languages are a stickler for syntax (spelling and punctuation) meaning that what you type in has to be accurate, otherwise you get strangely worded errors and you’re just sure that something is wrong… maybe that dot? Or that comma????!
So why code?
“The Internet isn’t just for cat pictures anymore, it is the backbone of how we interact with our World.” Don Burks www.cbc.ca
It can seem as if there are plenty of coders out there. I mean, just look at all the apps available on your phone! The thing is, our World is increasingly based on computers, and it is becoming impossible to avoid them. Isn’t it much better to understand how the World is advancing and be a part of it? I like to think of it like music! Sure, there are a great many musicians, and songs, but I can not see a day where there will be too many! We are all unique and we all need to have our uniqueness out there.
How do young people benefit?
Learning to code is a valuable life skill for the future. We all understand the importance of reading for young and old alike, the platform of that reading will change significantly in the future and we need our young people to be an active part of that.
“In the future, not knowing the language of computers will be as challenging as being illiterate or innumerate are today.” Dan Crow www.theguardian.com
“Quite literally, you have the ability to make the world a better place and solve problems for others. What could be better than that?” Don Burks www.cbc.ca
How can someone learn to Code?
There are books and various organisations with freely available tutorials, links in the ‘Further Reading’ section.
In some areas there are also clubs, groups and after school clubs available.
What is Code Club?
Code Club is a fun, friendly way to learn to code with other young people.
Code Club UK is a charity that supports a nationwide network of volunteers and educators who run free coding clubs. Volunteers run after-school clubs helping young people to learn coding. Code Club UK has a lot of resources on their website, www.codeclub.org.uk , including projects based on coding in Scratch, HTML/CSS, Python and Sonic Pi. Open to everyone. You don’t need any special equipment, just a pc, or laptop. NB One of the languages used ‘Scratch’ is only available for full use on pc or laptop. The tablet version ‘Scratch Junior’ has limited features.
I have a lot of experience with Code Club UK. I initiated the first Code Club at my children’s school, and volunteered there. Then initiated Code Clubs at the library where I worked.
A Coder Dojo is very similar to Code Club with volunteer led clubs available in many areas of the UK. https://coderdojo.com/
Online Courses / Colleges
There are very likely to be colleges local to you that would provide courses.
There are so many online course providers, it would be difficult to list them all here!
Personally, I have used Centre of Excellence, Udemy, and Future Learn. I can highly recommend them. However, I do not know if and what courses they provide in coding.
Here I share with you some of my favourite books teaching coding. They are aimed at children, but like all books, there is no reason why adults shouldn’t read them!
First up, ‘Coding for Beginners using Scratch’
This book was recommended to me by a friend – a mum of one of the kids in one of the Code Clubs I’ve been lucky enough to run.
It is an Usborne book, so is of great quality. Here is the blurb from the website:
“This friendly book covers the basics of Scratch coding, with step-by-step instructions showing children how to use code to create games and animations, from racing cars to virtual pets. Scratch is one of the most popular programs used in UK primary schools on the National Curriculum, and this book covers sprites, sounds, debugging and more.”
Next up, ‘Computer Coding for Kids’
Carol Vorderman is of course a bit of a celebrity here in the UK, with her down to Earth, easy to understand explanations of complex subjects. Here is just one of her many popular and easy to use titles.
“A simple visual guide to get kids computer coding in no time
Computer coding is firmly back on the agenda as a key skill for children to start learning. Computer Coding for Kids is a unique step-by-step guide, perfect for kids interested in computer programming and how computers work.
Avoiding computer jargon, this book guides children through creating computer programs starting with the very basics. Computer Coding for Kids is the only programming book that teaches both Scratch and Python programming languages, with illustrated, simple, step-by-step explanations that make the complex art of computer programming clear for the complete beginner. Starting with simple explanations of programming basics, it progresses to more advanced projects where children can build their own games.
Computer Coding for Kids is ideal for kids looking to take your first steps into programming or those that are already interested and hungry to learn more.”
Next up, the ‘How to Code’ series by Max Wainewright.
I really liked these books, and there is even a ‘Grown Ups Guide’ that helps us adults work through the books with our children! The illustrations and explanations were really very good.
“The How to Code series introduces coding through clear and concise information, teamed with simple and practical tasks, from drawing shapes, giving instructions in code, building games and much more!
With coding having been recently introduced into the UK curriculum as a result of the ‘skills gap’ within the industry, there’s never been a better time to learn about programming.”
The following is an article on the International Business Times website, highlighting the importance of coding and that coding will become part of the new curriculum from September 2017 for primary and secondary schools in the UK:
The Guardian published an article on their website entitled ‘Why Every Child Should Learn to Code’. This article highlights coding and why it’s important:
An article on the CBC website entitled ‘5 Reasons Why Coding is a Skill You Should Learn in 2017’, it highlights 5 good reasons for learning to code:
Links to useful organisations
In the UK there are some awesome organisations who have been working to help make coding exciting and accessible across the country, some of them are listed here:
“BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, is committed to making IT good for society. We use the power of our network to bring about positive, tangible change. We champion the global IT profession and the interests of individuals, engaged in that profession, for the benefit of all.”
Code Club www.codeclub.org.uk
“Code Club was founded in 2012, and in 2015 joined forces with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a registered UK charity. Code Club is a key educational programme for the Foundation, working to help many more young people learn how to build their ideas with code.
At Code Club, we think all children should have the opportunity to learn to code, no matter who they are or where they come from.
This is why we support a nationwide network of volunteers and educators who run free coding clubs where young people aged 9-13 build and share their ideas, learning along the way.”
CODE KINGDOMS www.codekingdoms.com
“Who are Code Kingdoms? Code Kingdoms was built for kids, with kids, by (big) kids.
We engage the next generation with computing. It’s already a huge part of the working world, but for kids it will be vital for their future careers.”
“The CoderDojo movement believes that an understanding of programming languages is increasingly important in the modern world, that it’s both better and easier to learn these skills early, and that nobody should be denied the opportunity to do so.
To that end, we’ve built a global network of free, volunteer-led, community-based programming clubs for young people. Anyone aged seven to seventeen can visit a Dojo where they can learn to code, build a website, create an app or a game, and explore technology in an informal, creative, and social environment.”
HOUR OF CODE https://hourofcode.com/uk
CODE.ORG UK uk.code.org
FOUNDERS FOR SCHOOLS founders4schools.org.uk
GoON UK go-on.co.uk
RASPBERRY PI raspberrypi.org
YOUNG REWIRED STATE youngrewiredstate.org
Thank you so much for reading this guide! I really hope that it has been of some use to you.
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