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Key Stage 1 & Key Stage 2 Computing and Coding by Martin Burret
Key Stage 1 (KS1)
On first reflection, teaching children as young as 5 to use digital technology may seem absurd. Many of these children are just learning to read and write and only just developing the dexterity to move through and manipulate the world around them. Yet, technology has become increasingly intrinsic, with touch-screen devices and even motion sensors making it feel like interacting with regular real-world objects. We have all experienced the seemingly impossible feats that young children are capable of after being introduced to a device for only a few minutes. A recent OFCOM report (Aug 2014) has found that the average 6 year old has better computing skills than the average 45 year old. Children do not share older user's fears that it may break or ‘pressing that will delete the web', and they will try out and experiment to see what the device has to offer, learning at every step of the way.
The new Primary curriculum at both Key Stage One and Two has moved away from largely clerical content, which equipped children with office skills, to a scheme which focuses on computer science and being creative with digital tools.
Perhaps the biggest change is the introduction of coding to the curriculum. Programming draws on a range of skills from other curriculum areas with subjects like maths being obvious examples, but the design process will encompass other areas, such as English, art, science, and much more, making embedding coding in cross-curricular work relatively simple.
Programming can be thought of in a similar way to learning a foreign language. We can all pick up a phrasebook and muddle through with some basic language, but to create ‘fine literature' or construct high quality code requires the fluency and the ability to be creative and playful with computing languages. While most 5 to 7 year olds are not going to write the coding equivalent of Shakespeare, like learning languages it is important to start young and it requires incremental improvements over a long period.
Children at Key Stage 1 are also required perform problem solving tasks such as spotting and correcting errors in simple code and to sequence chains of commands for a programme to execute. This requires a lot of logical thinking, a good amount of trial and error and determination to achieve the desired result. These are all valuable skills for our young people to acquire.
The final aspect of the Key Stage 1 curriculum is to ensure that our young people remain safe online, become web savvy and have a healthy scepticism of both the online and offline world. Children's sense of danger is still developing at this age and it can be tricky to ensure that they understand the need for caution while interacting in the digital world while not alarming them unduly. Most of the rules for staying safe online are transferable to the offline world too - don't talk to strangers, keep your personal information private and don't do/say things that you wouldn't want your mum/dad/teacher to see.
The learning opportunities and engagement that digital technologies allow means that education and learning has become a collaborative and ever present endeavour. This generation have the sum of human knowledge at their fingertips and the ability to communicate and interact with billions of web users instantly- if they can draw themselves away from snapchat.
Key Stage 2 (KS2)
I never cease to be amazed by the creativity and skill of the children I teach. Key Stage 2, the 7 to 11 year old primary school children, is where this can be seen at its zenith, where the children have the skills to do amazing things, but they are still encountering hundreds of new ideas and experiences each and every day. Finding the right piece of technology, app or programme can act as an artisans' tool or a muse for inspiration. The new primary curriculum reflects this move from seeing technology as an extra, beyond the usual every day classroom experience, towards the true picture, that technology in education is now becoming as ubiquitous as it is in the world beyond the school gate.
The previous National Curriculum was published more than a decade ago and in the intervening years the way the world uses technology change completely. There was no broadband and the web was only just creeping on to mobile phones in a limited way. The new curriculum reflects these changes and it firmly places the use of the web as a key part of lessons. Key Stage 2 children are not just expected to be passive viewers of the web, but be active contributors to the online conservation.
An increasing number of schools have class blogs to offer a window into the classroom for parents to keep informed about what is happening. Many schools even encourage children to write individual blogs about their learning and share their work and ideas with a wider audience. Primary children even develop basic website design skills, using a mix of text, images and even videos to produce some very impressive web pages.
School work is increasingly taking advantage of digital tools to provide additional depth and richness to what children create. Children are not just typing up handwritten drafts for neater work to display. They are combining video and audio recording with animation skills and mashing together digital art and designing 3D environments for digital storytelling.
The largest change to the curriculum has to be the introduction of coding. Junior school children use a range of software and apps to enable them to design simple games, quizzes and programmes. One of the most common of these is called Scratch and it uses blocks of pre-written code with the children bolt together and customised to create behaviours for the objects in their programmes. It's a wonderful tool to tinker and experiment with before moving on to real programming languages. Coding leads on to basic robotics ideas by using a computer to give commands to a physical device that moves or manipulate the real world and developing logical thinking skills to design and trial a chain of commands to complete a task.
There is a renewed emphasis on e-safely and developing appropriate behaviour online. Children will be taken through a range of scenarios and learn what course of action is available to them and who they can go too if they need support.
We live in exciting times. Never before has it been possible for children to communicate and publish for the whole world to see. With the right checks and balances, our young people have unrivalled capabilities to interact with an audience and have a impact on the wider world. At the end of every digital device is a person and the ability to reach out along the network and collaborate is both powerful and inspiring. Learning has moved beyond the classroom, where every click offers a learning opportunity. Welcome to the class of 7 billion.
Children and play – they are almost synonymous. Children love to tinker and test things out to explore what they are capable of. Coding is a new feature of the computing curriculum and it represents one of the biggest revisions to any subject area. It is the joy of experimentation and tinkering with the things which make young people primed for learning programming skills. Like the skills of an artist, the programme will draft and play with various techniques and work towards a desired goal. But like great art, it takes time and effort to turn immature scribbles into something that is appreciated. Luckily there are a number of easy and enjoyably creative steps to hone one's coding skills and these can begin even before beginning school.
For young learners, a good place to start is an iPad app called Daisy the Dinosaur. The children are presented with a cute dinosaur which they have to instruct to perform actions. They do this by choosing the commands they want from the left panel, drag the blocks into the command window and set the values. Like a virtual pet, the user can train the dinosaur to perform tricks.
Developing a logical understanding of actions and commands will be essential for coding as is becomes more advanced. Apps such as CargoBot on iPad and MusicDroid on Android develop this line of thinking as the player makes a sequence of commands to move objects in the game.
Once children reach Key Stage 2 they will be ready to try MicroSoft's Kodu Game Lab, a game making platform which is only restriction on creativity are the ideas of the programmer themselves. The programmer can create seemingly endless worlds of stunning 3D digital landscapes to explore. Each character and some of the environment can be programmed to behaviour in a particular way. You can design enemy characters to simply walk between two points or to activity seek out and attack the players. Each sprite has a collection of commands the designer can use to customise what it does. The landscape can be modified easily by building up layers. You can create adventure games where you must seek out treasure or rescue someone, racing games where you create a track and outwit your opponents, and platform games where you collect tokens to complete the levels. The possibilities are endless.
Scratch is probably the best known platform and most widely used in schools. It allows programmers to design games and other applications using a set of block commands which bolt together. You can draw, upload or use objects and backgrounds from the Scratch gallery. You can make your characters move in response to key stroke to make classic arcade themed games.
These represent just a small selection of the vast array of programming platforms that have been developed for children to explore. In the future, coding will become ever more important. While not everyone will be working for a technology firm, technology is set to become increasing personalised and coding may become similar to how we see DIY or a mechanic today. Everyone will be able to tailor code to their needs. In an increasingly digital world, our children need to remain at the forefront of the information revolution, and what better way than seeing what's under the bonnet.
If you're not sure about any techy terms, check out our jargon buster