Computer Programmers Don’t Just Write Games!


By - Monday 20th May, 2013

Tara Green reports from the frontlines of Code Club’s war on technophobia and obsolescence – Croydon’s primary schools

 


The 7 and 8 year old children of our borough are cross. In true digital-native style, these children are feeling a bit left out because Croydon Code Club is not for them. The volunteer-lead action group is working very hard to get a computer-programming after school club into every Croydon primary school by 2015. These clubs are for 9-11 year olds. Their younger, very keen peers will just have to wait until they are old enough to participate. The truth is that we don’t yet have the resources to offer Code Club to all of the 9-11 year olds who want to do it.

So, to the eternal cry of “It’s not fair” and the confident need of this generation to state their case in a diatribe launched with “But…”, I would ask them to be patient,  because in two years time, Croydon Code Club should be more than ready for these children. There are 95 primary schools in Croydon and we want a Code Club in each one.

In almost every industry, the skills of computer programming are required and tech companies are likely to be big employers of future generations. Even in the current economic climate, jobs requiring IT skills are readily available. What is not always available is a healthy pool of talented, qualified, experienced developers to fill the roles.

Almost every child took the exercises and expanded and  extended them in their own way. They were willingly and enthusiastically doing Code Club homework!

Croydon Code Club’s mission is simple: allow children to learn and be exposed to the skill and art of computer programming. By doing this we can be safe in the knowledge that those children who have a propensity and a passion for coding will begin to build the foundation of a computer programming skill set. Some children will attend the club, enjoy the activities and challenges and then drift away from coding. Some children will find that they love coding and will continue to learn and practice the skills and eventually build a career around it. Even those who enjoy the club but choose other education and career paths will have the advantage of knowing what the basis of computer programming is. Most adults cannot say the same. Coding too often seems like a secret, magical world to which only the chosen few have access, even though it underpins much in modern society.

I was lucky enough to attend a Code Club session at Ridgeway Primary School in South Croydon last week. It was expertly and beautifully taught by Graham Kent and supported by Mark Ayres, a member of the school’s ICT team. With Graham’s guidance, the group of 14 children (7 girls and 7 boys) observed, learnt, practiced, and embellished a series of exercises and challenges using Scratch and the Code Club curriculum. There was a computer free and I was invited to join in. My thoughts and mind filled with apprehension and I realised that I was quite nervous at the idea of  having a go. I didn’t have the login required and so I didn’t join in, but I noted my apprehension with a wry smile. The children around me suffered no such barrier. They asked asked for help when they needed it, they coded freely with Scratch when they didn’t. Almost every child took the exercises and expanded and  extended them in their own way. This was session three of the club, and most of the children had worked on their Scratch projects at home between sessions. They were willingly and enthusiastically doing Code Club homework!

Here is an excerpt from Graham Kent’s blog about his take on this exciting level of enthusiasm from the children:

The children had obviously been using the log-in to browse other projects and some had been uploading completely new ones that they’d written in their own time during the week, some of which were using different techniques to those which we’ve already covered in code club! Now that was really fantastic news, as it means they’re developing the coding bug and experimenting and trying new stuff. Once this type of attitude starts to permeate through the club then there’s going to be no stopping us! As ever I can’t wait for tomorrow to come round so I can get back in the classroom!

The Code Club curriculum uses Scratch in terms one and two to teach the basics of programming. Term three teaches the basics of web development using HTML and CSS and term four progresses to teach Python.

We can fill our town’s  IT vacancies from within the population of our own borough. Croydon Tech City will become a reality.

The original Java, a very commonly used computer language which has been in use since its development in 1995, has  become one of the most popular programming languages today. It was originally and unexcitingly written as an embedded system to run washing machines, freezers, and other consumer electronics! Computers and computer software are almost everywhere and ALL of this software was written by computer programmers. There is computer hardware run by software in your computer and tablet, your phone, your electronic appliances, your car, and behind every one of the billions of websites on the internet. Software is needed for every credit card transaction you make, for each traffic light sequence you drive through, for forecasting weather, for GPS and navigation systems, satellites, etc., etc., etc. Oh, and the computer games of course! However, when I ask children what they think computer programmers do, I have so far only received one answer: they write games. Though this is true, this is a very impoverished view of the profession. And this is why we would like to have computer programmers delivering the Code Club syllabus to the Croydon Code Clubs. It would be beneficial for the children to learn about coding from experts, and to gain an understanding of where these skills could take them professionally.

So programmers, coders, IT consultants, developers, software engineers, or whatever job title you work under, we need you and your magical set of computer programming skills and artistry. We need your passion, your time and  your expertise. If we can teach the children of Croydon how to code, we can ignite the spark of passion for programming in some of that number. Then we can guide that number to head for the education and training that will give them the skills needed for the workplace. Croydon will have an army of young, talented, trained IT professionals. We can fill our town’s  IT vacancies from within the population of our own borough. This in turn will bring tech businesses to Croydon. Croydon Tech City will become a reality.

Because after all, computer programming is about so much more than writing games.

If you would like to be involved in the Croydon Code Club project, or run a Code Club in a Croydon Primary School, . Graham Kent says that it is one of the best projects he has had the opportunity to be involved in. If you have the skills and the passion to teach and pass on your craft to the next generation, we would love to have you on board.

Tara Green

Tara Green

Tara Green is a mum of three and wife of one, parenting blogger and coach, hoping that no one will notice that she's learning the craft of raising kids whilst on the job. Specialist life coach for children and parents, providing individual sessions and group workshops. Parenting columnist for the Croydon Advertiser. Find out more at www.theparentinggeek.com

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  • http://www.facebook.com/liz.sheppardjones Liz Sheppard-Jones

    I can’t think of enough good things to say about either this initiative or this article. Code Club is a credit to Croydon. The young coders do indeed all want to write games :-) …… but the most important thing is that they gain the skills to write anything and everything.
    Congratulations to the forward-looking dynamic people behind this.

  • http://twitter.com/greencroydon Andrew Dickinson

    Wonderful news.I hope there’s no brain drain and we lose the skilled workforce to Silicon Roundabout or silicon wherever. Keep up the good work!

  • Emma

    Hi Tara, I found this post very interesting, as i’m actually an ex-student from Ridgeway and i’m now in year 8! I have been self teaching myself to code, first using Scratch and now Python, and I think this post is great! Looking forward to the day where yr 7,8s and 9s get their own club!