Cracking the code
The new club for creative kids
“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 code.org 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.codeclubau.org/ https://coderfactory.com/ http://www.cs4hs.com/resources/ For information on the WPCC launch of Code Club, visit the centre’s website at westernplainsculturalcentre.org.
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