Teaching Coding for Beginners; Let's get started with some Australian Curriculum examples


In Part 3, we will address examples of coding elaborations in the Australian Curriculum, to show practical examples of how teachers can address these elaborations. Click on the following links for part one and part two both also written by Matthew Jorgensen, Teacher Ambassador in the Microsoft Australia education team.

 

Part 3 – That’s great, but what now?

In 2015, federal and state political leaders from both sides of politics made one thing loud and clear in a show of true bi-partisan support. The learning skills, knowledge and attitudes that are developed through an application of STEM learning are key to Australia being a strong and fertile economic powerhouse in the near future. Innovation and creation are to be encouraged and supported, and Science must be at the forefront of education to enable our young people to continue to develop new important technologies.

Of course, being able to create code to run programmes and control hardware is an intrinsic element of becoming an innovation nation. There are obvious aspects of the Australian Curriculum’s Digital Technologies subject that outline how students should be demonstrating their ability to programme, whether it be writing instructions to control robots in Prep or defining classes that represent the attributes and behaviour of objects in a game. For the purposes of this post, I will take a Digital Technologies elaboration from each band and outline how it can be facilitated using a visual programming application.

At this point it is pertinent to point out that coding and programming are similar if not the same. Many people consider coding to be the act of writing code, and it is often seen as being a short procedure, such as a script. Programming entails the laborious process of planning, commenting, testing and implementing version control of their programmes. The end result will be a piece of software. However, one can also programme a robot using code. Programmers are professionals whilst coders can be anyone who put together a code that compiles and makes something happen.

 

Foundation to Year 2

Digital Technologies Processes and Production Skills / ACTDIP004

Experimenting with very simple, step-by-step procedures to explore programmable devices, for example providing instructions to virtual objects to move in an intended manner

ScratchJr is just perfect for this band of students. It is drag and drop and fun to use. In order to address this elaboration, students can drag and drop the blocks to complete a verbal or written task, such as ‘When the green flag is clicked, the cat will move forward 5 steps, jump and land once, spin 360 degrees, say hello, turn left and walk back to the starting point.’

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Years 3 and 4

Digital Technologies Processes and Production Skills / ACTDIP011

Implementing programs that make decisions on the basis of user input or choices such as through selecting a button, pushing a key or moving a mouse to ‘branch’ to a different segment of the solution

Microsoft’s Kodu is simple enough to be used in Year Three but powerful enough to sustain the popular Kodu Kup competition in Europe for 6 to 16 year olds. For this elaboration, students can easily programme Kodu to move, as shown below.

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To make it harder, students can create a quiz game whereby Kodu is asked a question and has to answer by bumping the object with the correct information.

 

Years 5 and 6

Years 5 and 6 / Digital Technologies Processes and Production Skills / ACTDIP020

Planning and implementing a solution using a visual programming language, for example designing and creating a simple computer game involving decisions and repetitions

TouchDevelop’s range of tutorials covers games such as Jumping Bird (Flappy Bird). This involves a simple script that makes a bird fly higher when the spacebar is pressed. The bird must avoid the pipes that scroll along the screen. An interactive tutorial allows students to create the game.

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After completing the tutorial, students can create part of their own game that requires the tap of the space bar to make a sprite jump or move in another direction.

7 and 8 – Minecraft

Digital Technologies Processes and Production Skills / ACTDIP030

Programming a robot to recognise particular objects and to treat them differently, for example choose objects based on colour

Minecraft has the potential to engage students in the learning process inside a virtual world. It supports many Mathematical concepts and can even be used to deliver narratives and writing tasks. It is especially excellent for promoting those character traits of successful people – persistence, resilience, collaboration, innovative and logical thinking, creativity and communication, to name just a few.

I can see this elaboration addressed effectively in Minecraft. ComputerCraftEDU is a mod that can facilitate coding and control robot turtles inside the Minecraft sandbox. Users can programme the turtles to complete tasks such as moving, digging and building. There is even a Detect Condition that can detect if a block is in front of, above or below the turtle. Other related conditions include Compare and Inspect. For example, users can programme a turtle to inspect blocks and only mine the blocks if they contain gold ore.

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9 and 10 – Project Siena

Digital Technologies Processes and Production Skills / ACTDIP037

Summarising data using advanced filtering and grouping techniques, for example pivot tables in spreadsheets and aggregation functions in databases

Project Siena is a new app maker from Microsoft. It surfaces data from a spreadsheet and renders it as a stylish but simple app. The aspects of design and programming are evident, and in no time students can create an app that can even be distributed through the app store.

For example, if comparing different species of reptiles, students can add data in a spreadsheet that includes image urls and YouTube videos, as well as such diverse data sources as Twitter, Facebook, Bing Search and Sharepoint. Users can also include interactive elements like buttons and sliders.

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So as you can see, Microsoft has some excellent tools that can be used alongside existing favourites, such as ScratchJr, to address several elaborations in the Digital Technologies learning area of the Australian Curriculum. With the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull publicly boosting the credibility and importance of Science and Innovation (Malcolm Turnbull backs Code Club Australia), the challenge for Australian schools is to blend Digital Technologies elaborations into other Learning Areas such as Science, the Arts and Humanities. This makes sense in a crowded curriculum, as a STE(A)M approach to problem / project / inquiry based learning has the capacity to work across those traditionally separated silos of faculties, with the use of technology acting as an enabler for high order thinking, collaboration and research.

Whilst Digital Technologies is a subject unto itself, there are also the ICT General Capabilities that should be embedded into the day to day activities of all classrooms. For example, Year 9 and 10 students should be able to ‘locate, retrieve or generate information using search facilities and organise information in meaningful ways’, which sounds very similar to the outcomes of the Project Siena example.

Any one of the tools shown here could have a project developed around it, with the tool as the delivery medium for the culminating presentation or artefact. Project Siena in particular has unlimited potential, and I will highlight it with a basic tutorial in the weeks to come.

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