Monday, 7 April 2014

Coding in the Classroom: Children as Teachers and a Social Learning Experience

Children as Teachers and a Social Learning Experience

Over the last few weeks I've been the learner, not the teacher. Watching my Year 3's get to grips with computer programming has been a real privilege and I'm a better teacher for it.  Handing control over to the children in my class has enabled them to really push themselves forward without waiting for instructions from their teacher.

Using the programming language 'Scratch' has been an instant hit throughout my classroom with children asking to use it daily.  Read about my first week of coding - First Week Coding and Flipping my Classroom

The children quickly picked up the basics of the language and ran with it, making mistakes and learning along the way.  One of the best parts of this experience is the realisation of how much social learning really happens when programming.  The children have formed 'Publishing Companies,' even named them, created logos and planned out what sort of projects they will be building in the future. 

They've done this independently, without teacher direction and are beginning to create some really advanced games and animations. 

Programming: A Social Learning Experience

Watching the children code over the last few weeks has really convinced me that coding needs to be done in teams to have the greatest impact.  The realisation of how much 'talk for learning' happens in just one short sessions convinces me that coding has massive potential for young children throughout primary school.

One of the biggest things observed is how much problem solving and mathematics is involved throughout coding, something that I've been teaching during specific mathematics sessions, but not in many other places in the curriculum. 
The children are buzzing around the classroom, helping, sharing, and working together to solve complex programming problems.  How often does this happen in the rest of the curriculum?  

The children are pushing each other on to solve more and more complex problems as their ideas for games get more and more challenging. How do we create levels? How do I put a scoreboard in? How do I make a sprite jump?  All of these problems were solved in one afternoon of coding by allowing the children to talk, interact, move around and work with each other.

Working and Sharing Online: Publishers Vs Consumers

I've blogged before about the importance of allowing our children to become publishers rather than consumers of information - Publishers Vs Consumers

One of the great things that Scratch allows you to do is to share your work online with the world or your friends.  The children in my class have been sharing their work via email when they are at home - copying and pasting URL's for their games to each other.  This online collaboration has enabled children to 'peer assess online.' The children can either comment online or email suggestions for improvements via email.  This method allows children to use higher order thinking skills more often in class and at home.

Video Tutorials: Flipped Learning

Earlier in the term I was talking to one of our Year 6 children who has been using Scratch at home before her class started to use it.  She had been using online video tutorials to teach herself how to code to a very good level.

She had been learning a skill at home, trying it out and then bringing to school to show her friends and teachers - something which I have encouraged our staff to start doing.

A Low Tech Approach: A Programmers Notebook

A Programmers Notebook.
Another way the children have shown initiative and independence was to create a 'Programmers Notebook.' Something I hadn't asked them to do, but turned out to be a great idea!  The children had been taking pieces of code from games or the projects already built into scratch, recording them in their reading journals and then using them in their own games.

The previous week I had shown the children how to take a screenshot of part of the screen on a macbook. Some children took this skill and used it to save snippets of code and email the screenshots to themselves to keep for another day.  I love how the children had used skills from other lessons and applied them when coding.

This has become common practice in class now, with the children sharing snippets of code via email or asking to borrow somebodies 'programmers notebook.'

Continued Professional Development: Children as Teachers

Over the past half term I have been running training sessions for our staff at school.  We have been learning how to use various applications and then ensuring that they use it in their teaching the next week.  This method of using the skill sooner rather than later has proved successful as staff had to bring something they had created to the next training session.  We covered GarageBand, iMovie and then two sessions on Scratch and programming for Key Stage One. 

Being an advocate of flipped learning, I created a few screen cast videos for the staff to watch before hand, allowing them time to try out the skills before coming to the sessions.  Here are the videos I created for the staff: 

Editing using iMovie -
Creating a Podcast -

The final sessions were based around computer programming. The first session of Scratch enabled staff to 'play' with the application in the same way as I allowed the children to do in our first session in class.  They hacked games, broke them and fixed them - although with a little more fear than the children had shown in class.  This got me thinking; could my Year 3s lead the next training session?

Children as Teachers.
So, on Monday night after school I had invited some of my children to stay behind to help their teachers get to grip with some of the more challenging features of Scratch.  The children were delighted, and so were their parents!

It could not have gone better; the children worked alongside staff, guiding them to create a simple one level game and teach them new skills to use in their class during the week.  Crucially the children were there to answer any questions the staff may have.  

The children were the experts, they knew more than me and I allowed them to lead the session because of it.  The children were empowered.

This is certainly an approach to CPD that I will be using again in the future and the children are very keen to help out again.

What was the impact of the training sessions?

We should always monitor the impact of any training we undertake in school to make sure it was really worth it.  It's early days to judge if the training sessions had an impact in the classroom, but I've already seen positive things coming out of classrooms this half term.

One of the reasons I insisted that staff used the skills in their next week of teaching was to ensure that skills were not forgotten, as they often are after any CPD due to time constraints and lack of purpose.  Finding purpose for doing something was key to the training having any impact - don't we all need that in life, a purpose for doing something?

Teachers who attended the Scratch training sessions have already completed two sessions of programming with their class and the fear of something new seems to have dissipated.  The staff have handed over control of these sessions to the children and have learned alongside them in the process - quite a powerful bit of learning. 

Something to think about for the future. A Broad and Balanced Curriculum: Can it be done through coding? 

Something I've asked myself over the last few weeks - how much of the curriculum can be taught by using coding?  Could it be a cross curricular topic used to drive learning over half a term or even a term?

Always Winter Never Christmas: Topic Based Learning
We plan in a very cross curricular way at our school and base all our learning around a common theme or topic. 

This term we chose to learn about World War II using The Chronicles of Narnia as a basis for learning. There was some amazing learning taking place as the children were making connections throughout the topic.  Could a whole topic be planned using coding as a theme?  Certainly something to think about in the future.

Follow me on Twitter @chriswaterworth


  1. Hi Chris! My name is Fos and I'm the Community Manager at Primo, a London-based start up that manufactures connected toys to introduce children 3 and up to coding & programming.
    I love your post, and I love that you say you want children to be publishers and not just consumers... we use the same line all the time, with the word "creators" in lieu of "publishers", but you get the drift!
    I also really like your approach to CPD - we run workshops here in our Haggerston HQ with both children and teachers, so that the teachers can come up with "game plans" and potential learning strategies, and then see how the children react and engage with their thoughts. I realize you don't live in London, but I'd love to talk to you nonetheless! We need more educators like you! If I've tickled your fancy, email me at fos- at- solidlabs-dot-co and let's talk!


  2. Sounds very exciting. Just emailed you now.