Unplugged to Debugged: coding in the early years.

Bringing coding to the early years seems like a big step as the Early Learning Goal for technology narrowly states that young children should use technology for a particular purpose. It’s one strand of the curriculum where practitioners may be less confident in working that cross-curricular, linked-learning best practice that we are the true experts of.

To bring coding to the early years we need to better understand what coding is and how the skills of a good coder are related to the skills we are developing across the areas of learning.

The Cornerstones of Coding

Being good at coding is more than inputing commands in sequence. Good coders are actually good problem solvers. Coding is a process underpinned by the skills of:

  • Pattern Spotting and Sequencing
  • Breaking larger problems down in to small steps (Decomposition)
  • Looking for mistakes and correcting them (debugging)
  • Making predications based on prior knowledge (Logical Reasoning)
  • Testing out ideas (Evaluating)
  • Playing around (Tinkering – yes that’s a technical term too!)

Looking at this list of skills and the definitions, I immediately see a link to The Characteristics of Effective Learning.

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For readers who are new to the Early Years Foundation Stage in England, you can view the 2019 profile handbook here and read about The Characteristics of Effective Learning which underpin all learning for birth to 5 year olds here (page 22).

 

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Don’t Touch The iPads!

There has been a flurry of articles published recently about tablets, and general technology use, and how overuse at home may be having a detrimental impact on early childhood development. These articles often highlight a practitioner’s viewpoint that physical development is the lowest it has ever been, that children can’t hold paintbrushes and there are no mouse or keyboard skills these days. As with most good things in life, good health and well-being comes with careful balance and always in moderation; it’s not often that a total ban is a necessary solution.

I was going to write about this, and why I think a complete ban or avoidance of technology in early years will not close the gap in physical development and social skills. I would have written something along these points:

  • We are supposed to find out what children bring to their learning, what skills they have, and develop them.
  • Technology is 1 area of learning where children’s home skills do not match the skills we want to see in learning.
  • Children are consuming content at home (watch video, play games, listen to music) and we need to teach them to create with technology (make films, code games and create music).

My point would be, if we are recognising children have an unbalanced diet with technology, that they are consuming too much content, then we should be planning for our children to learn how to create. If they learn how to create with technology, their characteristics of effective learning are enhanced. We would give them another way to express themselves, in a medium they are interested in. Then, what if, they go away and download these apps at home? Suddenly, the gaps could start to close. That children are making stunning photographs, meaningful films, collaborating and sharing their work with a real audience. Their learning becomes focused on the idea and the task… and not the device.

But I decided not to write about that.

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Instead, I want to share apps to use on 1 iPad, that require no touch at all and we can put the iPad down and make it respond to us using all of our physical skills. Those skills that we need to develop now more than ever.

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Getting Started with Code

“Early Learning Goal: Technology. Children recognise that a range of technology is used in places such as homes and schools. They select and use technology for particular purposes.”

Early Years Outcomes, 2016

The Early Learning Goal for Technology is limited in Early Years Outcomes and often practitioners feel lost at developing this area of learning. What we forget when reading the Early Learning Goal for technology, is that our curriculum is best taught cross-curricularly. The technology goal is a prompt to make us consider how best to teach technology skills through other areas of learning; just like we do with English and Maths!

The real problem is, what are these links to other areas?

First, you need to decide which part of the Early Learning Goal we are trying to teach. Do you want children to use technology to enhance other skills (by using video, animation, photography, audio recording etc.) or do you want to teach computational thinking skills which will lead in to programming, problem solving and algorithms? Most likely, we sway towards multi-media skills because we are more confident with that than we are with code! But we really should put more emphasis on coding across our curriculum as the Technology strand will lead in to this area in Key Stage 1.

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MakerSpaces: Foundation Stage Best Practice in Key Stage 2

What is a MakerSpace.

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I was interested in MakerSpaces because of their strong links to Foundation Stage best practise. It’s a place in school where children use sets of resources to work on projects related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic skills. Children design on their own projects or respond to challenges. I wanted to see how best practises and resources from Foundation can be extended to support learning further up school. For the Year 4 teachers, they wanted to see how our new range of iPad compatible robots can be used in their coding curriculum.

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For this MakerSpace I was joined by Jason Milner. Jason is an Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) from Sydney, Australia. Throughout July he visited other ADE schools across Europe and today we collaborated on this project at my school. Jason wanted to gain experience using iPad compatible robots and also observe the impact that wrapping code around the curriculum may improve the way in which children apply mathematic skills.

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The MakerSpace: A Foundation Stage Challenge

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Monday 4th July was the day I had been waiting for since February. Apple Distinguished Educator, Jason Milner a Year 4 teacher from Sydney, visited my school to work with me on a MakerSpace project we had been planning for months.

 

 

What is a MakerSpace?

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I was particularly interested in this concept of MakerSpaces because of the strong links to Foundation Stage style practice. It’s a place in your school or setting where children use open-ended resources or work on projects related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic skills. Children work on their own projects or respond to challenges set. I wanted to see how best practices and resources from Foundation can be extended to support learning in computing and programming skills. Jason also wanted to gain experience using our Dash robots with Foundation Stage children.

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Story & Coding with Dash and Path.

Coding in the Early Years is something that I have been tinkering with since the new primary curriculum became statutory. I’ve planned unplugged computing strategies which support the later use of BeeBots and practised skills on a suite of iPad apps designed to apply this skill of coding.

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This year I’ve been lucky enough to get our hands on Dash robots that connect to our class iPads via Bluetooth. This robots have a suite of apps which progress from early control skills (like a remote controlled car) through to Scratch-like coding blocks that support the Year 6 objectives.

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Light and Dark Exploration with iPad Controlled Toys.

This term our learning has been investigating “what happens when the sun goes down”. One of the earliest observations is that it gets dark much earlier and the moon comes up. With this comes the need for light to see in the dark so out comes our tents, black bed sheets and den building. In our dark spaces we play with torches and light sources. In terms of technology learning in Early Years Outcomes, this play links to the switching on and off of light sources & looking at batteries.

We wanted to take this early technological learning a little deeper, and closer to a modern home. We made use of two different Bluetooth controlled devices in our dark spaces. This activity is all about controlling light sources as a connected device, getting a device to respond to instructions on an app.

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Designing and Controlling Bumper Cars with Dash Robots.

At the end of September a huge travelling fair arrives in our city, a 700 year old event which expands year on year. It’s the Goose Fair. There isn’t a school in our region that would ignore it and in true Early Years style, it’s a great opportunity to cash in on some great learning and play opportunities!

This year we are using Dash and Dot robots from MakeWonder as part of our coding curriculum. They fit perfectly in to a classroom with just a few iPads and bring coding to life as children control Dash and Dot from a suite of apps produced by MakeWonder.

The apps for Dash and Dot follow a clear progression in skills and with as this was our first experience coding and controlling, we started with the first app in the collection: “Go”.

Think remote controlled car… The app connects to Dash over Bluetooth and the user steers Dash from the iPad screen. There’s options to send sounds to Dash from the app and even record your own sounds to play over Dash’s speakers. The colours on Dash’s body can also be changed and flashed from the app. It’s that perfect app to teach children early control skills and introduce direction language.

What’s more, Dash and Dot come with ‘building brick connectors’ that can be attached to the sides and head of the robot allowing Lego to be built on to them.

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Start Unplugged! Coding in Early Years.

This Spring Term I was invited to work with staff at Heymann School, Nottinghamshire, who were preparing for Science Technology project. My role was to share and support in ways their early years pupils could engage with coding and control skills.

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I champion a place for unplugged computing in the curriculum as it secures language, vocabulary, children’s internal decision making, recording and visualising their own inner-computing.

To read more about computational thinking, coding and how it supports you to plan for The Characteristics of Effective Learning and thinking skills, you can also read this more recent post of mine. 

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Including Early Years and ELGs in a computing curriculum (UPDATED September 2014)

The autumn term has been a long but rewarding one for me. A new job has been the challenge that I was looking for and I am settled in to a new school and a new role. Each week has passed with a new set of achievements and the role has been fast paced, but progress is being made at an astonishing rate!

One focus for me, as for many of us, is implementing a new computing curriculum for the school. As an early years teacher I am keen to include the foundation stage within the primary curriculum planning phase and make stronger links between the two curriculums.

This may be an easier process for other curriculum areas, but within the ‘technology’ strand in Early Years Outcomes and the new computing curriculum for key stage 1, it seems to be a little more vague.

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