Introducing Programming in Primary schools

While we've been building Speakr and talking to schoolchildren about how it works, we've been struck by the enthusiasm that children have for understanding the way web technology works. This week we’re taking a look at computer programming at primary school level, and resources available to teachers interested in starting programming classes.

To begin at the beginning - programming (or coding) is the writing of the language that tells a computer what to do. Computer programmers use a number of different languages to create the websites and apps we use every day. Learning programming at a young age teaches logical thinking and problem-solving, and opens a wealth of opportunities for a child’s future.

The new 2014 curriculum scraps traditional software-driven ICT teaching (how to use software), in favour of computer science (how to create software). Teaching programming can seem intimidating, but there is a lot of help available and most of it is free. Here we’ve pulled together some resources we think are useful, although as ever if you use others we’d love you to share them with us at @_Speakr.

Get in touch with Code Club

Code Club is a nationwide network of volunteers who lead after school coding clubs for 9 - 11 year olds. You can search on the Code Club website for volunteers in your area, or if there is no one yet available you can register as a venue looking for volunteers. Code Club volunteers are trained to deliver sessions and they need to complete background checks. The emphasis of Code Club sessions is on fun and creativity, so it's a great way to enthuse children.

Speak to your local STEM network

STEMNET runs a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Ambassador programme, which takes volunteers into schools and public events to enthuse others in STEM subjects. Each region has its own STEMNET group - contact them to see whether they have any Ambassadors able to help you get a programming lesson started at your school.

Try out Scratch

There are a lot of resources online that will let you deliver introductory programming classes, requiring you to have only a basic level of understanding. A tool used by many primary schools is Scratch, a free piece of software developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There are hundreds of videos available on YouTube that give a great introduction and will have you confident in using and teaching Scratch programming in no time at all.

Use Codecademy

This site is a great way for teachers to get up to speed, and also now offers an ‘after school’ area. This area consists of courses aimed specifically at children coding for the first time. Pupils can choose which areas to focus on, take the courses at their own pace, and even earn badges for sections completed. Best of all - its absolutely free!

Teach Ruby with KidsRuby

This site teaches children to write in a popular coding language used predominantly to make games and apps. It is free and fun, and works on any computer. With KidsRuby children can be creative and learn at their own pace.

Get a Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a credit card sized computer that is extremely cheap - just £22 per item. They were developed to teach basic computer science in schools, and strip away the fancy expensive technology we see in our Macs and PCs, leaving a basic, accessible computer that children can play and learn with. The Raspberry Pi forums and guides are very comprehensive, giving all of the information a teacher would need to start using these tiny computers in their classroom.

Take a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)

If you are interested in programming, and want to really understand it before you teach a class, you can’t beat some of the free introductory level MOOCs currently available. Harvard’s ‘Introduction to Computer Programming’ starts from complete basics using Scratch, and moves on to more complex languages and explanations around logic and thought processes. The University of Washington’s ‘Programming Languages’ course is another great introduction, as is the University of Toronto’s ‘Learn to Programme’.

We hope these ideas are useful to you in getting started with programming in your school. We’d love to hear about your experiences, and if you have any tips to share with other teachers please do post them in the comments on this article!

- The Speakr team