Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Learning to code in an after school club

Learning to code with learn.code.org

I started my after school coding club 2 weeks ago; it was oversubscribed so the first 20 children got in. And it's not all boys, there are 6 girls in the club and a few more waiting their chance to join later in the year. To say it's got off to a great start would be a slight understatement - the feedback from the 'coders' and their parents has been excellent.  

So onto the club itself. I decided to stay away from it being a 'Learn to use Scratch' club as the very same children will be using Scratch next year as part of the Computing Curriculum. I looked at various possibilities online and found learn.code.org would be perfect for my needs. Part of code.org, it has a K-8 intro to Computer science that runs for 15-20 hours. The course is broken into 20 stages with each stage broken into mini activities that the user completes to gain your awards. 

Once you have registered as a teacher with the site, you can easily set up your students by adding each yourself or getting them to do so with a unique 6 character sign up code. This is perfect for students in schools that don't have access to email or if you prefer them not to use email to sign up for online activities. Each user has access to their own progress board that details what stages they have completed and what they have left to do. 

After the introductory 'What is a computer scientist?' video, the children started Stage 2  and were hooked straight away. They started off slowly using the Scratch like 'drag and drop' interface to move the character around a maze - based on an Angry Bird catching a pig. As they progressed through the activities, they moved shared solutions and worked together to solve the problems they were presented with. They looked carefully when they discovered their 'code' didn't quite function they way they thought it would and I encouraged them to go through each step to debug their program. Cheers went up went the first child won himself a trophy and others flocked to discover how he had managed to solve the puzzle. 

An excellent addition to the teacher section is the ability to not only view the progress of your class but also run code that they have been working on.

I can add a comment to this activity so the child can develop a better understanding of how to improve their code if it is not working correctly. The child can also click on 'See code' to look at how their moveable blocks would actually be represented by Javascript. 

The coming weeks are going to get interesting as the children progress through the stages at their own pace - some will be further along than others which is perfect as I will need as many 'coders' as possible to ensure each of us learns to code.

Learn.code.org is a fantastic site, well thought out and very simple to get you and your school started in its coding journey. I thoroughly recommend it.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Gamification, 20time and the flipped classroom -

At the top - http://morguefile.com/creative/BreonWarwick

I've blogged about my use of gamification here, here, herehere and here. I've blogged about 20%time here, which led to my personalised learning approach which kicked off here, then here and here, followed up by a 'leashes not required' post here and a conclusion of sorts here. Flipped Learning never got a look in, I added that to flip you in.  So do any of these approaches workI now teach in Early Years and have been thinking if I could use any of them within this stage of learning. I haven't got an answer for that yet, but hope to in due course. The aim of this post is to look back and measure the effectiveness of the approaches against learning gains.

Flipped Classroom

Okay, I admit it now. I’ve never used the flipped ‘model’ in my classroom, although I have used parts of it as a basis during many lessons that I have taught. I want to get this one out of the way before you deluge me with complaints. I'm not sure whether the flipped classroom learning model is effective or not. What I will say about it is this - isn’t it just homework in another guise? Pre-preparation leading to the same flipped presentation presented again the next day therefore defeating its purpose? And for what?


Ah, the cool one, flavour of the month and last month come to think of it. But is it effective? Well... that’s up for debate. As a way of grabbing your class, it’s extremely effective. I created the following video to ‘grab my class’ at the start of my Gamification teaching and learning process. Believe me when I say it hooked them, they couldn’t wait to start ‘learning’ but on reflection that was nothing more than a lesson starter albeit a damn fine one at that. I had grabbed the class in 1 minute and 23 seconds and could focus my teaching on what they had to learn. Gamifying the learning involved the class ‘playing through’ the learning, accessing next levels to achieve the ultimate goal - my learning objective. To be honest, it’s a lot of effort, it’s great fun, but an awful lot of effort. I have no demonstrable proof that teaching using a gamification process improves learning. Does it improve the learning experience? Absolutely, without question (I dare you to argue, you naysayer, you) but I’m not sure the actual use of the approach does. I can say that my enthusiasm in using the approach did have a positive effect on learning.If you go down this route, prepare yourself for a lot of additional planning hours to ensure the success of a gamified learning experience.


20time is derived from Google and their use of 20% free time with its employees - they use this time to delve into their own projects which will benefit the company (half of Google’s tools released in 2005 were derived from 20time). I decided to use this idea in my class by giving my class time to develop their own ideas and interests in learning. I grew the idea into a personalised learning approach for every child in my class, each received a PJ (personal journey) at the start of every week based on their individual learning needs. I taught lessons in chunks here and there throughout the day, not in specified timetabled lengths, for example, children would ask me for additional teaching in a Maths concept whilst others were doing their 20time or completing their English work. My Teaching Assistant was doubtful at first, but found the approach more beneficial. Do read the posts linked above to gain a full understanding of the approach. I can say that combining 20time/personalising learning/projects with a focused teaching of skills is a very effective teaching and learning method. Why? Here you go.

Positive learning assessment gains across the whole class

What to do

Don’t ask yourself which you should use, ask yourself whether or not you and your class will benefit from these methods. I implore you to do your research, find out as much as you can about each of these methods before even considering them. Do not jump on the ‘teaching flavour of the month bandwagon' and hope it works for you and your class. I found 20time/personalising learning to be the most effective at that time with that class. Will I use it again? Of course I will. Will I use the other methods, that’s doubtful. But we owe it to ourselves as teachers to keep ahead of what we do, to build upon our teaching using research and experiences we learn from others.

Has a gamified / 20time / flipped classroom benefitted your teaching? Has your class benefited from them in their learning?