There are times when I remember why I so want to get kids into programming, and yesterday morning was one of those.  A few weeks ago I made the non-teacher’s mistake of setting the brief too broadly, giving the class too much freedom with Scratch before they’d all reached a common grounding in the language (“let’s design a game – you choose what it is”) – it makes managing the learning process hard, and keeps you very busy, constantly answering lots of different questions!  It’s also difficult to assess individually how well they have assimilated the key concepts, which means there’s much scope for improvement in running more structured sessions in the future!  Some more time on needed, I feel – perhaps I might learn a little about a teacher’s job, rather than just swanning in and doing ‘fun stuff’.  However, several things stand out to me from the few sessions we’ve had:

  1. Having never seen Scratch before, Year 6 were using it comfortably within 3 once-a-week sessions, because they were engaged and enthused by a task they had chosen.
  2. I was impressed by the level of engagement throughout the ability range.
  3. Many had spent a lot of time on their game at home: thank you Scratch community!
  4. The range of games was enormous, because their imagination was the limit: adventure game; car race track; parking a car in a parking space; dinosaur collecting its eggs; shooting hoops with a basketball; horse jumping over rails; monkey avoiding shooting stars; diver avoiding sharks; etc.
  5. Sights were almost uniformly set too high to begin with: I’m not sure I’ll ever forget, on day 1, “I want to drive into the supermarket car park, park the car, go into the shop, go round the aisles with a trolley and …<fill in about another 50 words here>”, which prompted the response, “Let’s just get the car moving to start with, shall we?”
  6. I was moved by the sheer delight expressed when something worked the way they wanted it to, often the smallest of things.
  7. One success led to wanting to achieve another.  Example 1 (Ref 4 above): once the car moved, the pupil wanted to set up the lines in the car park so touching them was a failure, prompting changes to their background and sprite costume, and more coding – I’m sure the wider task was still in the back of their mind, but the car park needed sorting properly first!  Example 2: the success of making a horse jump prompted a ‘that doesn’t look very good, how can I make it look better?”
  8. Variables just ‘happened’ because they wanted to keep score.
  9. X/Y coordinates just ‘happened’ because objects needed precise positioning.
  10. Their work covered many parts of the National Curriculum as they weren’t just programming and debugging, but using online communities, designing and drawing characters, and using sound.

I am left with ambition for earlier years – just think what these kids could have achieved if they were Scratch-literate before we started?  So I want to get programming embedded further down the school.  How?  I can’t do it myself – I can barely spare the time I spend with Year 6 – and, frankly, this has to be owned by the professional teaching staff, most of whom would put themselves in the ‘non-techie, slightly apprehensive about this mystical thing called IT’ category.  Which means my objective is to get the whole staff to become comfortable with what the Computing curriculum means and the tools that the school chooses to use.  Exactly how we achieve that is another question.  I have discussed it with the school leaders and they are positive, so watch this space…