Coding Club

24 March 2014

Interview with

Mark Calleja, Park Street Primary School; Richard Leyland, BANGO; Tamara Sword, TRM&C

One bunch of fledgling coders all attend Park Street Primary School in Cambridge, and Python Logogo to an after-school coding club called 'The Park Street Hacker Elite'.

They were thrilled to get 5 free Raspberry Pi's from the foundation in the Year of Code competition, and have successfully sought sponsorship from local tech firm BANGO for the cables and screens to hook them all up.

Before the trainee hackers are let loose on those though, they have to get the rudiments of code straight by learning some of the most basic languages.

Naked Scientist reporter Catherine Carr went along to see them in action..

Mark Calleja -  My name is Mr. C and I started the coding club at Park Street Primary.

They're starting to mandate for teachers to be teaching all these sort of coding stuff now. It's getting to the point where lots of teachers are afraid of it because the jargon that they use is quite complex, but the subject itself and the concepts are very, very simple. If you know how to make a cup of tea then you know what an algorithm is because you do the same thing every time, you get the same result, and that's all coding really is.

I think that with the digital age coming around, it's about time that kids started to learn to tell a machine what to do rather than be told by the machine and coding is the first way to get started in that.

Isabella-  Go to variables and then there's variables and then click make a variable.

My name is Isabela and I'm playing this game that I made on Scratch called 'Wackawitch'. So basically, what you're meant to do is you make it into full screen and then you click on the flag and then the witches will start disappearing and moving around.

Catherine - So, this is a game that you actually made yourself?

Isabella - Yes, I made it myself.

Mark Calleja - The curriculum that we've got setup for code club has them pushing to be programming in language called Python by the end of an academic year, which is quite a technical language to use for children. When you consider that they have trouble putting captial letters and full stops in their own writing, trying to get curly brackets and the right indents inside coding language could be quite a challenging task. But that's what they're aiming for. I'm hoping just that we can get onto some hard Scratch and have some sort of physical world applications to our coding. So, make a little machine that has a light that blinks or a burglar alarm that takes a photo of somebody that comes in is something real world and physical that we can see a result from.

Richard - My name is Richard Leyland. I'm BANGO's VP of Marketing Communications.

Catherine - So, tell me about the involvement in this coding club and why you decided to do it.

Richard - We're quite interested in the whole idea of coding being a new form of literacy that needs to be taught in schools and we see coding clubs like this as being experimental ventures in that whole idea of teaching coding and it being a new competency that all kids need to have. And so, we're quite happy to support it and be part of it.

Tamara - My name is Tamara Sword and I'm a Technology Marketer. I run a company called TRM&C which helps early stage companies to take new products to market. When I was 8 years old, my dad bought a Commodore 64. Unlike today's gaming consoles, you could actually programme it. It wasn't just about playing games. You could also actually code it yourself and that's what I use to do. I used to write programmes in a language called Basic for my Commodore 64 and I absolutely loved it. But then when I was 11 years old, I went to secondary school and something kind of changed. I stopped coding and looking back, I think the were a variety of issues, but one of them definitely was the fact that when I went to the computing club, it was exclusively boys and all the teachers who could teach computer science were male too. So, I suppose my takeaway aged 11 was, this wasn't the place that I actually belonged and partly as a result I stopped coding.

Mark Calleja - I have 7 girls and 13 boys, everybody was keen. So the shout went out to everybody in Key Stage 2 and it had to be by a ballot. We're supposed to take on 12, so they recommend 12 but we took 20 because I'm a big softie.

Young coder 1 -  At home, I have a Raspberry Pi and I found it quite fun to do it with my dad. So, I thought this would be a nice chance to do some more and learn about it more.

Young coder 2 - I came because I just like fiddling with things and that's what you do in a coding.

Catherine - Is there any sense that the kids are super motivated to do these sorts of things because it's a bit more exciting than full stops and capital letters and literacy?

Mark Calleja - Definitely. Writing is something they've done forever and it's a bit mundane, but when they can do their writing and it produces a computer game at the end of it then that reward is huge. Whatever you break on coding, you can fix, but if you mess up with your writing, you have to rub it all out and start again.

Kid - You got to do loads of things and it's really free. You don't just look at it and then copy it off. You sort of make things whatever you want.

Tamara - At the moment, there's a big rallying cry around the year of code that everybody should learn how to code a website. I think that's rather like saying that everybody should learn how to wire their own house. Not strictly true. Well certainly, we need people who could do that, but actually, what's much more important I think is that the foundations of that application, the foundations of coding which is actually computer science is taught in schools, really as a foundational skill.

Catherine - Children in your class must talk about what they want to do when they leave school eventually. How many of them would you say have aspirations to work in this kind of field - tech field, coding field, programming?

Mark Calleja - At this stage, the kids that I deal with, aged 7 to 9, their ideas of career are quite pie in the sky to begin with, you know "I'd like to be an astronaut or an actor, or Superman", but we have one or two children here specifically who are very technology oriented. They have said to me previously what sort of jobs are there available for me in technology, what can I do as a grownup. And so, we've had a chat about that, but it tends to be more boys to be honest who ask those sort of questions than girls I think.

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