Crack­ing the code

The new club for cre­ative kids

Dubbo Photo News - - Contents. - BY YVETTE AUBUS­SON-FO­LEY

“PRO­GRAM or be pro­grammed” is the mes­sage from Code Club Aus­tralia, which will of­fi­cially launch in Dubbo in early Fe­bru­ary at the Western Plains Cul­tural Cen­tre (WPCC).

Free Code Club classes, for 9 to 14 year olds, will be held once a week dur­ing Terms 1 and 2 with a pos­si­ble ex­ten­sion de­pend­ing on pop­u­lar­ity.

“The WPCC Code Club will have a vis­ual arts/her­itage fo­cus but the stu­dents will be learn­ing highly de­sir­able skills in­clud­ing the abil­ity to think com­pu­ta­tion­ally and prob­lem solve, that they can trans­fer to a wide range of dis­ci­plines in­clud­ing sci­en­tific re­search, en­gi­neer­ing and medicine,” says WPCC education of­fi­cer, Karen Hagan, and who will be fa­cil­i­tat­ing Dubbo’s first Code Club.

Cod­ing is de­fined by Code Club Aus­tralia as the art of telling a com­puter how to per­form com­plex tasks.

Stu­dents use Scratch, a pro­gram­ming lan­guage and on­line com­mu­nity where chil­dren can pro­gram and share in­ter­ac­tive me­dia such as sto­ries, games and an­i­ma­tion with peo­ple world­wide us­ing cre­ative think­ing, col­lab­o­ra­tion and sys­tem­atic rea­son­ing.

Scratch is de­signed and main­tained by the Life­long Kinder­garten group at the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (MIT) Me­dia Lab in the USA.

While education ped­a­gogy in Aus­tralia lags be­hind many coun­tries in the world (15 in Europe alone), which al­ready in­clude cod­ing as part of their school cur­ricu­lum, pro­grams like Code Club ad­dress a broader is­sue of em­ploy­ment ICT short­ages pre­dicted in the fu­ture.

Es­ti­mates are that by 2020 there will be a short­age of 800,000 pro­gram­mers in Europe, and in Aus­tralia 100,000.

Like in the USA, Code Club Aus­tralia which is a spin off from Code Club UK, is driven to see their pro­gram in­tro­duced na­tion­ally, run by teach­ers and vol­un­teers, at the very least, as an af­ter school ac­tiv­ity.

“It’s im­por­tant be­cause the num­ber of jobs that re­quire this skill are only go­ing to in­crease and we don’t want kids to be left be­hind with it. As a coder you’re no longer just a con­sumer of tech­nol­ogy and it’s a very em­pow­er­ing tool to have,” says James O’han­lon, out­reach and events man­ager, Code Club Aus­tralia.

“We don’t want kids to be con­sum­ing things, we want them to be cre­at­ing and shape the world around them. That’s what th­ese young en­trepreneurs are do­ing, us­ing tech­nol­ogy to fill gaps they’ve iden­ti­fied.”

“We also want it to be free; open to ev­ery­one, not just be avail­able for peo­ple with money,” O’han­lon says.

In Jan­uary 2015, Michael Grove, for­mer UK Sec­re­tary of State for Education said of the in­tro­duc­tion of cod­ing into the UK cur­ricu­lum for stu­dents as young as five and six: “ICT used to fo­cus purely on com­puter lit­er­acy. Teach­ing pupils, over and over again, how to word-process, how to work a spread sheet, how to use pro­grams al­ready creak­ing into ob­so­les­cence; about as much use as teach­ing chil­dren to send a telex or travel in a zep­pelin.

“Our new cur­ricu­lum teaches chil­dren com­puter sci­ence, in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy and dig­i­tal lit­er­acy: teach­ing them how to code, and how to cre­ate their own pro­grams; not just how to work a com­puter, but how a com­puter works and how to make it work for you.”

Ac­cord­ing to Hagan, the abil­ity to code al­lows artists and de­sign­ers to push fron­tiers and pur­sue their own vi­sions rather than be re­stricted by the vi­sions and in­evitable com­pro­mises made by oth­ers to pro­duce saleable com­puter in­ter­faces and soft­ware pack­ages.

The WPCC is host­ing a 3D printed art ex­hi­bi­tion called Shapeshifters 3D, fea­tur­ing works for which code was cre­ated by the artists in or­der to pro­duce their works.

Lana Dess, a Stage One teacher from Dubbo Pub­lic School who par­tic­i­pated in a pi­lot of the Code Club in Dubbo, agrees the fu­ture of education needs to in­clude cod­ing.

“From a learn­ing per­spec­tive cod­ing helps them to prob­lem solve and or­gan­ise their ideas be­cause as I found out with the cod­ing, you have to have a se­quence to make cer­tain things hap­pen, so I think it’s great for help­ing kids or­gan­ise their thoughts,” she told Dubbo Week­ender.

“From a cre­ative point of view, I think it gives them a lot more un­der­stand­ing and own­er­ship and a lot more re­spect for what goes into be­com­ing a pro­gram­mer. I think kids say they want to be­come a pro­gram­mer, but they just see the fun game side of it, which is the end re­sult but the amount of work and ef­fort that goes into cre­at­ing a game, that’s in­valu­able.”

Dess says the com­mit­ment it takes to build a game will help build a work ethic, be­cause “you can’t do a half-ar­sed game, or just throw a game to­gether and not check it”.

“In the class­room when it comes to writ­ing, we’re al­ways very par­tic­u­lar about edit­ing. Go back, reread your work; make sure it makes sense. It’s the same thing as cod­ing. They’re prac­tic­ing their edit­ing skills, go­ing back to see what works and if it doesn’t, what do they need to change.

“It’s a lit­tle bit of the old school con­tent, where we want the kids to go back and re­fine, but it’s tak­ing a new age ap­proach where its in­cor­po­rat­ing the tech­nol­ogy. I think the cod­ing was amaz­ing. I think all the kids should be hav­ing at least ex­po­sure to it.”

In his ca­pac­ity as then Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter in 2015, Mal­colm Turn­bull called for dig­i­tal lit­er­acy to be­come as fun­da­men­tal as read­ing and writ­ing.

“All of us have to be dig­i­tal savvy, just as we have to be lit­er­ate even though we are not jour­nal­ists, and all of us how have to be nu­mer­ate even though we are not work­ing as fi­nan­cial an­a­lysts,” Turn­bull said at last year’s launch of the Aus­tralian Com­puter So­ci­ety’s ‘Aus­tralia’s Dig­i­tal Pulse’.

Ac­cord­ing to O’han­lon, Code Club can work any­where – in schools, li­braries and com­mu­nity cen­tres.

“Dubbo be­ing a cen­tral hub for lots of com­mu­ni­ties makes it a great place to start.

“The great thing about Code Club, it re­ally is about the com­mu­nity. Once you’re set up you can fa­cil­i­tate and give it your own flavour,” he said.

Launched in the UK and started in Aus­tralia by An­nie Parker, Code Club Aus­tralia has Fed­eral Govern­ment back­ing and sup­port from com­pa­nies like Tel­stra.”

Hagan says that in a world gov­erned by soft­ware – for ex­am­ple all graphic de­sign is pro­duced dig­i­tally – more and more artists are us­ing dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy as part of their prac­tice.

“All en­gi­neer­ing and in­dus­trial de­sign­ers use soft­ware (usu­ally a com­bi­na­tion of soft­ware pack­ages), more and more art gal­leries and mu­se­ums are us­ing soft­ware pro­grams to pro­duce cus­tomised vir­tual tours/ex­pe­ri­ences to en­gage their au­di­ence, and web­sites are pro­duced us­ing cod­ing.”

Prime Min­is­ter Turn­bull has said for Aus­tralia to re­main com­pet­i­tive in an in­creas­ingly in­ter­con­nected world, cur­ricu­lum needs to equip stu­dents for the jobs of to­mor­row.

“This means that we need to move be­yond teach­ing stu­dents how to con­sume tech­nol­ogy and in­stead fo­cus on the cre­ation of tech­nol­ogy,” he’s quoted as say­ing.

The tran­si­tion to em­bed­ding cod­ing into cur­ricu­lum will not be with­out some is­sues.

“Tech­nol­ogy is never 100 per cent re­li­able. From a teacher’s per­spec­tive it can be a lit­tle in­tim­i­dat­ing. If you are not re­ally fa­mil­iar with an Ap­ple com­puter and you’re used to a PC that’s the first hur­dle you have to get past,” says Dess.

“Then to not be fa­mil­iar with the pro­grams such as Scratch, well it’s a mat­ter of putting your foot in the pond and hav­ing a play.

“The other re­straint is time; to be able to ded­i­cate to time to the cod­ing projects. I’m not in any way com­puter lit­er­ate but I’d like to give that a go with older chil­dren.”

The WPCC is of­fer­ing the first pub­lic Code Club in Dubbo and will be to happy share their ex­pe­ri­ences with schools and other groups keen to run Code Clubs.

For more in­for­ma­tion about Code Club Aus­tralia and sim­i­lar re­sources, visit http://www.code­ https://coder­fac­­sources/ For in­for­ma­tion on the WPCC launch of Code Club, visit the cen­tre’s web­site at west­ern­plain­scul­tur­al­cen­

It’s im­por­tant be­cause the num­ber of jobs that re­quire this skill are only go­ing to in­crease and we don’t want kids to be left be­hind with it.” – James O’han­lon, out­reach and events man­ager, Code Club Aus­tralia.

Brothers Dash and Phoenix Aubus­son-fo­ley test out the WPCC’S lap­tops, which will be sup­plied free to use dur­ing Code Club

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