Teaching children how to code.
by: Elisabetta Motta and Jason Wan
Since September 2014, in the National Curriculum, ICT (Information and Communication Technology) has been replaced by Computing.
For many parents and teachers, ‘Computing’ is considered a ‘phase’ that will soon be replaced by a new trend. Most of them still do not fully comprehend why teaching children how to code is so important.
In nearly every job description we come across, mental flexibility, problem solving and logical thinking are seen as basic requisites. Undoubtedly these are skills that can be taught in other subjects, but coding is the only one that teaches them altogether and in an extremely effective way.
With coding, children can build, create, learn and use their imagination; assimilating lifelong transferable skills.
Unfortunately, according to a survey from 2015 by Farnell element14, 31% of teachers admitted that they did not feel confident in their ability to teach coding effectively, 42% did not believe that they had received adequate training and support, and 30% did not have access to the right equipment.
This is why our research focus is on the physical resources available for parents and teachers to teach their children and/or pupils how to code.
Cubetto is a wooden robot that is controlled by a control board, where children place “coding blocks” onto it to create a series of instructions for Cubetto to perform. They allow the robot to move in various directions, as well as perform a function. It also comes with a map and “adventure book”, that allows the children to apply their skills into an adventure scenario where they must help Cubetto navigate to various squares on the map. It mainly targets pre-school children to code “before they can read”. However, Cubetto’s Arduino brain allows custom programming, providing opportunities for older children and adults.
The addition of roleplay is a fun and effective way to engage the children to learn coding, and the design of both Cubetto the robot and the maps and stories are very appealing to the target audience. Its only drawback is that it is very expensive (around £160 for the cheapest option), making it inaccessible to many families.
Code-A-Pillar is a toy caterpillar that uses removable segments to create instructions for the toy to perform. The standard package comes with various directional and sound segments, but extra segments (some of which aren’t included in the standard package) can be purchased as “expansion packs”. The product also comes with two discs to represent “destination targets” for the toy to get to.
While this is one of the cheaper options for parents (around £40), it is also very limited in terms of replayability as it only involves switching around the segments and setting basic targets for the caterpillar to move to.
Cubelets are sets of cubes that can be built together to make a robot. There are many different cubes available, each with specific functions including, but not limited to, drive, brightness sensors and a speaker. There are many different possibilities of robots that can be built with these cubes, and the cubes themselves can have custom code provided by the “Cubelets Blockly” software. In addition, while children as young as 4 can experiment with Cubelets, the potential complex designs that can be made also makes it appealing for older audiences.
Like Cubetto, the main drawback is the price; a pack of 6 cubes already costs £130 which is far too expensive for most families.
LittleBits makes use of a combination of the provided electronic building blocks and other materials to allow the creation of many things, such as a robot. Parts comes in sets, which contain various pieces to help craft one’s invention including the “buzzer”, “makey makey” (a piece that allows everyday objects to interact with the invention) and sound triggers. Perhaps due to a slightly higher complexity compared to the other products, LittleBits is marketed from ages 8 and over.
Like some of the other researched products, LittleBits is also expensive, although not as expensive as Cubetto or Cubelets at just over £80. Costs for any additional pieces vary from £8 to £40, so it may be even more expensive to construct a more ambitious invention.
From our research, we have seen that a lot of the products already on the market lack in certain areas.
The majority of them are very expensive resources that are certainly prohibitive for most parents. Others are very limited in possibilities and not very customisable in terms of design and code. In addition, most of the resources may seem, to a parent or teacher, unaccessible for them. Others may not seem fun or creative for the children, and parents/teachers may worry they would get easily bored by them.
With our project we want to try to address these three major problems that we have encountered, so we would like to make a product which is inexpensive, customisable and accessible.
We would like to create something that gives children the possibility to create their own character, rather than just give them a pre-made one.
To address the cost problem we would use a Raspberry Pi Zero and use cardboard (or another recyclable material) instead of wood or plastic to create the structure.
We would like to create a template (or more than one) for the structure and make it available for parents and teachers to download, so they could use their recycling to create their own resources. This choice would also allow them to let the children be creative in decorating the aspect and building the “personality” of their own little robot.
We would like to involve the children as much as possible in the creation process as it is them who are going to be the final users of this product and we want them to feel more interested and engaged in the subject they are learning.