So, as I said in my previous post, I’ve been teaching computing today. It was a year 5 class with no experience of computer science. Of course the expectations in the National Curriculum are that children know words like ‘algorithm’ and ‘debug’ from Year 1. My intention is to speed the children quickly through the expectations in my planning framework, so that they grasp the Key Stage 1 expectations quickly and make good progress into the Key Stage 2 expectations.
Here’s what I chose to do.
- Connect with a programmable toy. The children have been using these for years, but it’s great to give a bit of context. We have some Big Trax in school and I used these to remind the children how you can give instructions to a robot.
- Start with Logo. I used the handy browser-based Logo Interpreter by one of those friendly Github types, Joshua Bell. I showed the children how to make the first letter of my surname ‘P’ (the program was: fd 40; rt 90; fd 20; rt 90; fd 20; rt 90; fd 20)
and then asked the children to make the first letter of their name. This is actually in the planning for a Key Stage 1 class, but the children have to start somewhere!
- Encourage the children to hack. Of course, I really should be moving the children on to drawing different polygons, but there are some amazing program on the Logo Interpreter page, and I wanted children to experiment with changing some of the variables and seeing what would happen. I showed them how to do this and then let them play for a few minutes. I was impressed with the screenshots that Evie took, where she not only demonstrated that she could make a letter ‘E’ but also that she had made the ‘tree’ in the logo interpreter into a much smaller version by changing the variable.
- Play with a programming game. Some great games already exist out there, but I chose to use Lightbot. It was interesting to see the children wrestling with the precision needed to use just a few commands to get the robot on the screen to do exactly the right thing.
- Program the Sandwich Bot. I told the children that I would become the ‘Jam Sandwich Robot‘ and they had to program me to make a Jam Sandwich. I shared Google Slides with them and, in small groups, they each took a slide to write their ‘algorithm’ (instructions) for the Jam Sandwich Bot. After five minutes, I ratcheted up the intensity by showing the video I had made when doing the same lesson with some Year 4 children. They worked with renewed fervour as they were desperate to be the first to successfully program the Sandwich Bot to make a jam sandwich. This is the video of what happened.
- Reinforce the vocab. I finished by spelling out ‘algorithm’ and ‘debug’ and talking about where you would see these occur in real life.
The ‘where next?’ includes an introduction to Scratch and using Logo to experiment with repeated sequences. I would be interested to know whether computer scientists out there are thinking ‘No don’t do that!’ to any I have written above, or if anyone has any better suggestions for how to start this kind of work with children who’ve never done it before.