Code Club: One Year In – A Response

I am a Code Club leader and have been for one term and I was recently asked to comment on my experiences against the experiences cited in this article by Jamie Bullock (@jamiebullock). I urge you to read Mr Bullock’s article as it is well written and insightful. I will address the key points below:

On Starting A Club:

I agree with Jamie when he says that starting is the hardest part. I too received a few cold shoulders (or at least ignored emails), which I found in opposition to the mantra that “all schools are looking to find Code Club leaders”. However this didn’t put me off and I persevered to end up at the school I currently lead clubs at, in Wetherby. It is easier to respond to people who have already signed up on the website and indeed it was one of those people who got back to me and I thank her for doing so as it has enabled me to assist with the club and do something which I have found incredibly fulfilling.

On Running The Club:

Again I agree with Jamie about Scratch, it is an excellent tool to get kids thinking in terms of code flow and they get instant gratification from running their scripts against the images they see (in stark contrast to how I learned to program on a BBC micro which offered little visual feedback other than a command line). I was fortunate that the school was able to print off some of the resources for me (some were in Black & White to save costs) so the cost to me was simply the petrol and time to get there, but I understand that not all schools have a budget for this sort of thing. However the resources are a worthwhile investment for a school and printing them out should work out cheaper than books in the long run.

On The Curriculum & Observations:

Again I agree with Jamie when he says 10 is the right size – my club started with more but numbers dropped to around 10 after a while – this was a good size. I agree with the little creativity part and the idea that really the pupils only get to express creativity with increasing fairly trivial variables (such as item speed/angle etc) without seeing what difference different code paths would make or how to make random branches to player experience – I’m not sure how easy it would be for them to pick up this kind of concept. My experience did vary with kids not straying too far and most stayed on track with the material (although they were encouraged to pick whatever backgrounds and sprite images*1  they desired). I also agree that the pupils who “get it” are itching to move onto something real and are asking me how much Scratch resembles “real world” programming. In response to some pupils requests I did take 10 minutes out of one lesson to show the kids a game I wrote for the Windows Store (see here) in Javascript and HTML5*2. I showed them Visual Studio and how the Drag’n’Drop toolbox was similar to the sprite manipulation that they were doing in class. I think though that they would prefer to feel that they were doing “real” programming with these tools – and I agree, as I think that being able to post your work into a browser is very satisfying and would be a better reward for the kids. For this reason I am going to try getting the kids onto HTML5 as quickly as possible as I think that although it will be harder it will more closely linked to “real world” programming and therefore more enjoyable – we shall wait and see whether I am correct.

On “My Ideal Club”:

That sounds amazing – I agree. I’m not even going to suggest any differences. I will look at how to introduce a similar method with the next class I start.

Other Observations on Scratch:

I have found Scratch to be a bit bulky and also at times quite flaky. I’ve experienced many crashes with the software and pupils have regularly lost work. I personally am keen to move away from it and onto “static file” programming*3 (such as HTML5/JS etc) because I understand the full stack a lot better. However it is a powerful tool for getting kids started and offers them good visual rewards for their efforts.

In Conclusion:

My experiences have been largely the same Jamie’s. I think programming in Scratch, while accessible, doesn’t quite feel like programming. As I mentioned, I learned on a BBC Micro (yep – I’m THAT old, and was that fortunate) and it didn’t put me off – but then again maybe you have to offer up easy rewards to the current generation to get them hooked in the first place. I think that team working is essential to make good software and I applaud Jamie’s suggestions to bring this into the Code Club class room. I have however thoroughly enjoyed taking the class and it has been a wild ride – my suggestion to anyone thinking about trying to take a class is to try it. And don’t have any preconceptions about what the class will be like – you will be wrong and it will exceed them anyway!

 

*1 A Sprite in the Scratch sense is more than an image – it is an object with it’s own scripts and attributes etc.

*2 Javascript for Windows 8 (which is essentially regular JS with a few Windows RT extension libraries).

*3 Ie. Programs which can be interpreted or compiled from source.

Posted in Code Club, Games, Software

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