Coding in the classroom: Bringing code to the next generation
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Coding in the classroom: Bringing code to the next generation

18 Oct 2016125 Shares

Coding will be introduced to primary schools by 2018, according to Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton.

Ireland is currently celebrating EU Code Week with over 50 events across the country. With approximately 80pc of the events aimed at children and teenagers, it’s clear that bringing coding to the younger generations is paramount.

But coding events can only go so far in educating children and teenagers, and Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton, TD, has already suggested to The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) that coding should be part of the primary school curriculum.

‘I am acutely conscious that we need to give all children the best start in a world where such skills will be key to participation and success’
– RICHARD BRUTON, TD

His Action Plan for Education, which the Government launched in September, includes strategies to introduce coding to primary schools from 2018 and start teaching computer science as a Leaving Certificate subject.

The NCCA conducted a desktop audit of coding and computer science in primary school curricula in 22 jurisdictions. According to Arlene Forster, deputy chief executive of the NCCA, “The findings from this audit show an emerging trend in the integration of technology as an area of learning in curriculum policy outside of Ireland.”

However, bringing coding into the classroom comes with its own challenges. Some teachers and education professionals have raised issues about coding becoming part of primary education, with cost and a lack of understanding by teachers flagged as the biggest problems. It seems one of the best ways to effectively integrate coding in the classroom, is to first bring it into the next generation’s teacher training.

Inspirefest 2017

Marino Institute of Education has a strong emphasis on technology and teaching in their master’s degree programme for student teachers. Lecturer Anne McMorrough runs several workshops throughout the year to introduce her student teachers to the basics of computer programme, Scratch, and how it can animate and elevate children’s learning and motivation.

McMorrough believes there is great potential to bring code to the classroom, but it is “highly complex and needs to be very carefully thought through” at all levels in order to be successful. She said she prefers to introduce coding more indirectly with a programme like Scratch. “I find this helps children to make sense of coding to figure out problems, as well as affording them opportunities to be creative in their thinking and learning,” she said.

During EU Code Week, Marino will run two interactive workshops for students in its master’s programme. This will introduce student teachers to the basics of Scratch with a view to using it in a classroom setting. “This aims to show the student teachers how coding can be used to enhance and extend, for example, children’s literacy in an interesting way, rather than focusing on Scratch as a coding tool in isolation,” she said. The workshops will run back-to-back on Thursday, 20 October starting at 9am.

McMorrough also hopes to introduce these workshops to more pre-service student teachers throughout the year as well as the BSc Early Childhood Education programme down the line.

According to the NCCA, an early childhood and primary mathematics development group has been established to work on the maths curriculum at a primary education level with Minister Bruton’s suggestions in mind, and the group will have its first meeting on 20 October.

Workshops for current teachers

However, bringing coding into the classroom shouldn’t be left solely in the hands of teachers who are still in training. Blackrock Education Centre is running two events on Wednesday, October 19th suitable for both primary and secondary teachers.

Gar Mac Críosta, co-founder of one of the events, MindRising, says one of the biggest challenges is teachers’ fear of the unknown. “One of the biggest areas we focus on is to explain how teachers have to give up some control in order to be successful. The dynamic in the classroom is inverted, the students are the Minecraft experts and become coaches for the teachers,” he said.

Mac Críosta believes time and capacity of the teachers to make coding a useful experience for the students is a major area of concern. “Coding is a valuable skill. However, without skills in design, collaboration and problem-solving, coding can serve no useful purpose.”

He said with the MindRising course, they are looking to the future where the coding environment is quickly evolving and coding in the classic way is rapidly changing.

The MindRising course for educators is running in conjunction with EU Code Week on Wednesday, 19 October 5pm. For more information, contact Orlaith Nugent on 086 8140876 or email info@mindrising.ie.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny joined Silicon Republic in 2016 as part of the Careers team. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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