The media often reports that today’s youth don’t have the right digital skills for tomorrow’s digital economy. The newly published Royal Society’s Computing Education report (uked. chat/roysoccomputing) seems to support this, showing that many schools are a long way from equipping pupils with coding and computer science skills to help them excel in the workplace, and even disadvantaging them in their personal lives as the march of digitisation becomes ever more pervasive.
In each of the curricula of the UK, there is a requirement for pupils at primary schools to learn elements of computer science and coding. Yet many of us do not have the skills and confidence to teach this. Here are some basic pre-coding, computational ideas that you can complete with your class to begin on your digital journey before you even begin on a computer.
1. Do As You’re Told!
Building lists of instructions, or algorithm, which are simple enough and in the right order for a computer to understand, which can’t infer meaning or guess what you are attempting to do (despite that Microsoft animated paper clip’s best efforts), is a little tricky, especially for young learnings.
Begin by telling your pupils to do various cleaning chores around the classroom. Hopefully, this will not be a new experience for them, so move on to asking them to do it while pretending to be robots. Call out a few simple unbroken down instructions which the pupils should complete without issue. Next, take a moment to marvel at how clean your classroom is looking for a change.
Discuss how real robots need broken down instructions. Model this and allow the pupils to try it.
Practice breaking down everyday tasks into the minute details. Pretend to be an easily misunderstanding, non-inferring robot and model some instructs verbally given by a pupil to complete an everyday task. Ensure that you do exactly as the pupil tells you, hopefully to good comic effect. Ask the pupils to refine their instructions until there is no ambiguity.
2. Repetitive Music
Think that newfangled modern music sounds repetitive? Loops are used extensively in coding and music is a great way to practice and think about how repeated sections are used again and again. Nursery rhymes and children’s songs are great for this. Counting songs, such as Ten Green Bottles, repeat the majority of the lyrics, changing just the number and moving from plural to singular once there is only one item remaining.
Other repetitive songs include Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Hickory Dickory Dock, and Old McDonald Had a Farm.
Choose a song and ask your pupils to identify the sections which repeat.
Ask your pupils to design a flow diagram with arrows connecting the sections which are on post-its or loose paper. Put the song in order. Remove the sections that repeat leaving only one of each. Modelling before the pupils try, move the arrows to cycle back to the repeated sections so the diagram should have a few circular lines. Ask the pupils to try the diagram activity and see if they can use it to sing the song.
Prepare an unseen repeating song or poem in this cyclical diagram and see if the pupils can follow it.
Can they do the same for repeated dance routines?
3. Where am I going?
Calling out instructions as an event unfolded is fairly easy. But planning all instructions first takes much more thought.
Ask your pupils to draw (or make in Minecraft) some basic mazes. Ask them to write a list of instructions to complete their maze, then swap mazes with others and repeat.
Use a large woolly hat or 3D cinema glasses with paper covering the lenses to obstruct the view of a pupil. Ensure this ‘blindfold’ allows the pupils to see their feet (health and safety and all that) but doesn’t allow them to see much else.
This pupil will navigate a maze of PE cones following only the instructions being called out by their partner.
Next, the pair needs to write all the instructions to navigate a new maze before they begin. If a mistake is made, the navigator must return to the beginning and amend the instructions.
Finally, add a competitive element by repeating the previous activity with a new maze, but this time against the clock and compare times with other groups.
4. Logical and Loopy Writing
Ever had deja vu? Some stories repeat elements, most notably in time-travel sci-fi. Ask your pupils to write a branching story, where the reader chooses a path. This is similar to how simple logic gate are thought of and how one choice can change the direction of how the algorithm instructions of code is altered by interacting with the user and other processes. Aim for one beginning, two middle sections and two ending for each of the middle sections, making four in total. You can make one of the choices to return the reader to an earlier section. Ever had deja vu?
5. Motherboard to Game Board
Board games like Mousetrap are good examples of processes with lead step by step to a result and are started with an initial trigger. Demonstrate this for your pupils. You can also use a video of falling dominoes in multiple paths, such as uked.chat/domcoding.
Ask your pupils to design a board game which incorporates this idea of triggers and multiple paths to win the game.
If you think you are ready for some coding on the computer, use Scratch via scratch.mit.edu and begin building your offline game into a digital game.