Coding Evening

Last Thursday, I had the privilege of attending and briefly speaking at a Coding Evening at the Mozilla HQ in London. The event was run by my fellow ADE Cat Lamin, who started these events a year or so ago to provide an informal and relaxed atmosphere to learn about how to teach ‘coding’ in primary school and to try out different kit. The new ‘Computing‘ curriculum in the UK is ambitious and probably a really good idea, but I think it does terrify a lot of teachers and I’m not sure all teachers are suitably trained or equipped to deliver it. Hence providing a space for teachers to learn a bit more!

The evening run regularly in Peterborough and Twickenham, but the central London one was a one-off special event, complete with free drinks and pizza thanks to sponsors! It was pretty cool to hang out in what was basically the Mozilla staff room (they have what is quite possibly the largest TV screen I have ever seen), but it was also great to meet new people and learn new things.

As part of the evening, there was a string of ‘lightning talks’ from different people about how they’ve done interesting and cool stuff with coding in schools. I got the chance to share briefly about how we use LEGO WeDo, which I think went down well.  There was also different companies representing their wares, which was interesting:

  • A guy called Marc Grossman was there, demoing Scratch, Kodu and Code Club. Scratch is a great visual programming tool designed by MIT, and Kodu is a cool 3D game designer from Microsoft.  But what really impressed me was the resources he shared from Code Club.  Code Club is a not-for-profit organisation that gets volunteers to run coding clubs in primary schools. What is really handy is that you can download the worksheets etc. that they use and deliver it yourself. I shall be making use of that!
  • A plucky upstart company called Pi-Top were demoing their product, which was essentially a green laptop that runs off a Raspberry Pi. It did seem pretty cool, and reminded me of my childhood days playing with a ZX Spectrum and figuring out how to make things work.
  • There was also a company called FUZE there, who make a computer for schools that is basically a robust keyboard case that houses a Raspberry Pi.  What is unique about them is that they include their own version of BASIC for children to use, claiming that introducing more complex languages like Python to children just puts them off coding, rather than hooking them in. This was an interesting challenge to me, as we have included Python in our Computing curriculum at school, which admittedly is hard for teachers and children to get their heads around. I’m not sure I’d want to introduce a set of computers that would need to be plugged in and set up each week just to teach Computing lessons once a week.

It was a really excellent evening and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get their head around how to teach Computing in school.

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