In this Using Technology Better Show we talk with Peter Argent. Peter is the founder of The Coder factory and Code Club Australia.
Peter will be running a strand at the Using Technology Better Conference in Sydney & Adelaide this September and October. You can find out about the conference at http://usingtechnologybetterconference.com/.
Below you will find the recording of the video and the show notes. If you would like to receive an email invite to our next UsingTechnologyBetter Show click HERE.
0:01:18 Using Technology Better Conference Introduction
0:04:45 What is Code Club all about
0:06:17 What is Scratch?
08:12 What’s a big picture around coding?
0:11:13 Other great benefits of kids learning to code
0:11:55 How would I do this as a teacher knowing nothing about technology?
0:15:35 Is there support for teachers who want to start a code club?
0:16:17 How do you get started?
LINKS FROM THE SHOW:
Mike: Hey everyone. Welcome to today’s Using Technology Better Show. Now we’re glad that you’re able to watch this show today. We’ve got a really exciting show for you all about coding for kids and so we want to really dive into this topic, get an understanding of what is coding for kids and also why should we want to use this with our students.
As a teacher, I’ve just watching this bubble away a little bit and to be honest not really understood it. For me, maybe my mindset has been a little bit that coding is for like really smart people and it’s way beyond my league but obviously that’s not the case because lots of young children are getting into it.
I’ve started to see some great examples of it so I am really excited to be able to learn. As always, I’ve got my co-host with me, Blake. Blake, how are you, mate?
Blake: Yeah, I’m very well. Very well. Really enjoying the winter weather here in Melbourne. Just perfect. Yeah, I am doing very well, mate. I am pretty excited about this as well. We’ve got Peter Argent here who is the Director of the Code Factory and also the founder of Code Club Australia and he’s going to be at our Using Technology Better Conference in late September, early October and he’s going to be running a strand on code for kids and how it works in the classroom and he’s here to talk about that today.
On that, on our conference as well, I might just pull up our website just to give everyone a quick overview sort of what it’s all about just before we dive straight in. Do you want to talk around that for a sec, Mike?
Mike: Yeah, sure. We’re really excited about the conference. Blake and I have spoken at a number of technology conferences. Blake, sometimes from an IT manager’s point of view and for me, from a teaching and learning pedagogy point of view. I guess one of my frustrations has been as a presenter that quite often teachers will come and they’ll choose a one-hour session with me, as an elective, then they’ll go and do another elective somewhere else and by the end of the conference generally people are feeling a little bit overwhelmed; certainly inspired but I find that when I go back and I check with teachers how the implementation has been, it hasn’t been that great and so lots have come and they’ve been inspired, there’s not that much change in the classroom.
I guess they go back wondering what to implement and then the next question is well how do I implement? And so we’ve really designed this conference a little bit differently where there is certainly electives that you can choose and those electives arrange in a whole range of things from using Minecraft in education, how to use Google Apps with your students, how to use Microsoft and Windows 8 and obviously coding for kids, how to get one of those clubs up and running in your school.
The whole idea is that as participants what happens is that you get to choose a conference and then stay with that conference all day and really get a time to immerse yourself in the tool, the technology, the pedagogy that goes behind it and then hopefully walk away with some resources created, an implementation plan and all your questions answered. So Blake I’ve just pulled your screen up and we can see the start of the screen display.
Blake: Fantastic. Cool. Yeah, this is the website. Just wanted you to know what it’s all about. I think Mike has pretty well wrapped it up.
We’re at Moriah College in Sydney on the 29th and 30th of September, it’s a two-day conference whereby you can select two strands, one each day. Follow them through for the whole day, then build some good materials that you can start applying straightaway when you get back to the classroom.
Our second conference runs in Adelaide just a few days afterwards, October 2 and 3. You obviously book here. There’s plenty of information on strands, on all the interesting stuff you can learn about. Each one of these has a little video link as well so if you’re looking for those and watch a couple minutes just about what’s going to be covered in those particular strands.
There will be a few other things running throughout the day, a few keynotes. We have some big names in education coming out to talk throughout the day, all the running sheets down the bottom and when you’re ready to book, just book now at the bottom and put your name on the Google form. So without further ado, I suppose we might want to talk about Pete’s stand, who is running actually in conjunction with Edie Parker. I believe Edie is a founder, is that right, Pete?
Peter:Yeah, that’s right. She found out that I was interested in getting some kids coding started and yeah she got in touch and we got this happening.
Blake: Yeah, fantastic. Let’s sort of start at the beginning. What is Code Club all about? Is it an Australian initiative? Where did it come from?
Peter:So it’s originally coming from the UK. It has been there for a year and a half or so now to great success and it was started by a school teacher who saw the benefits of what kids could be able to do by learning to code. She started a program and now it has gone worldwide and used in many countries. We’ve just started last term here in Australia, as a pilot program, to see how we could run it and yeah, about to roll it out on a bigger scale.
Blake:Fantastic. How has the trial gone? What do you do? Mike was saying, you know, he’s sort of always thought of this stuff being really complex and very difficult. I’ve heard about primary school kids getting in on this.
Peter: Yeah, well it’s aimed at primary school kids actually. It’s mostly 10 year olds in the classes that we’ve been running but there’s even tools that help younger kids from as young as 6 start to learn the concepts of coding. It’s a great tool because it’s actually created by the main tool that’s used in the Code Club program is a program called scratch and it’s created by MIT University in the U.S. The Code Club program just has a whole bunch of projects that the kids can build and any teacher can sort of run the basics and be able to lead their kids through it.
Blake: Sure. So it starts with scratch and then what do they get out of that? Like what do they create with Scratch exactly?
Peter: Scratch is a really colorful drag and drop style programming toolkit that allows kids to – it uses – they create games really. They use characters and backdrops and then using scripts to control animations and what happens and it’s great because they learn about coding concepts without even knowing that they’re learning. It’s just following these instructions and they learn how to use programming concepts and also debug the programs too. If something doesn’t quite work like it’s meant to, they have to sort of try to figure out what’s gone wrong.
Mike: I’m just looking at your background behind you and I was just thinking it doesn’t look like you’re sitting in a classroom. Tell me a little bit about where you are and what you do for work and why you’re interested.
Peter: Yeah, sure. I actually run the Coder Factory. It’s a coding school for anyone actually. We do teach school kids as well, as part of Code Club, but also adults. Anyone who wants to build apps for themselves or learn how to code to help them in their career, yeah, we provide weekend workshops as well as long-term advanced courses as well.
We are a big believer in taking coding mainstream but the world will be a better place, you know, if more people knew how to code. That’s why we’re right behind Code Club AU and getting kids started early.
Mike: I guess, let’s just have a little bit of a look at the big picture. Help me understand. I understand coding. I understand that you maybe build games, apps and so on, but at the end of the day, why? Like why is it so important? Why are they saying this is going to be the number one field for students when they leave school in the coming years? I mean what is it about, what’s a big picture around this?
Peter: Sure. Well I mean everyone uses apps and technology these days but very few know actually how they work. What’s possible with technology to make our lives better, more efficient, solve problems, I mean that’s what computer apps do. I mean even using Facebook it’s trying to solve a problem for humans.
There are more people understanding what’s possible with technology. Even if they don’tbecome a professional developer or coder, even if they just understand how it works, what’s going on, whatever career they might take whether it’s medicine or accounting or finance or hairdressing, if they understand what technology can do, they will be able to, if they don’t build it themselves, they will be able to ask them and be able to work with someone to build better apps and technology that helps them in their work and also other people in their lives.
So it’s about getting the human race to a point in the future where technology provides for everything. We don’t need to work to survive, because we have apps and robots and machines, you know, provide our food and shelter and all that sort of stuff. That’s a bit of an idealistic sort of utopian but that’s what it’s all about.
Mike: How far away do you think we are from that?
Peter: Well I am a bit of a futurist and I am optimistic so maybe 20, 30 years would be great.
Mike: Fair enough.
Blake: Yeah, man, it’s definitely got huge potential and I certainly see that in my role. Being able to dabble around and automate things and code out small projects, it just opens a world of possibilities and I guess this is what your project is sort of getting at isn’t it? It’s saying when you enter the workforce, you’re looking to have students that are really capable of automating processes and taking things to that next level. That’s what it’s all about isn’t it?
Peter: That’s right. I mean too much nowadays people just do things, use their spreadsheets, use these processes just because that’s the way it has always been done. They don’t know what technology could possibly – how it could possibly make it better. So yeah, having an understanding of coding and what’s possible, those things will change faster.
Blake: And certainly getting kids at a young age is interesting because one of the things that’s interesting about coding I find is almost if you can think of it you can build it. It’s almost that crazy, you know. We always find ourselves just replicating a paper-based system into code. It would be interesting, like you see these younger kids in primary years coming up with ideas that just blow you away.
Peter: Definitely. Even from the Code Club program. They have instructions to follow but they always go above and beyond and create something that I never thought, as a part of what they were trying to do. So they’re constantly surprising me.
The other great benefits for learning to code for kids, as well, is the problem solving aspect. They learn about no problem is so hard that it can’t be solved and that applies to so many other things in life. But also it gives them a self confidence too and a joy. There is a joy in solving a problem that is hard and you had to work hard to try to find the answers and that’s part of what coding is all about and why I fell in love with it in the first place too.
Blake: Absolutely. It’s a great topic. Tell me about – if I’m a teacher, I am in a primary school and I want to do this course and I know nothing about technology. How on earth would I do this?
Peter: Well that’s the great thing about the Code Club program. The projects that the kids get to do every week, it’s just like a one-hour project every week and the steps are all there and it’s color coded blocks that you’re dragging and dropping. Anyone with basic computer skills can work through this. Sure there is some computer concepts going on there but you don’t need to be aware of them to be able to complete these projects and to learn from them. Sure you can, if you are wanting to teach your kids some more of those concepts, there’s plenty of resources available both on the Scratch site and the Code Club site so you can go into a bit more background but even just on the surface going through those projects both the teacher and students learn.
Blake: So it’s a structured process whereby you just follow steps that are provided to you or do you just log into a website? How does that work?
Peter: Those two, yeah, there’s a project with steps and then you log into the Scratch website and you can just create there. You don’t even need to create an account. You can just start using the tools and they’re totally free and open source. No cost involved to anyone. Even all the project materials are available for anyone around the world to have a go at it.
Blake: Fantastic. So in the conference obviously you want to run a strand. If you’re running a strand on this, you’re going to get people actually getting their hands dirty and in their and coding.
Peter: We will. We’ll run the teachers through their first couple of exercises, first couple of projects that come with Code Club. That will just give them the little confidence that they need to be able to go back and get their kids doing it. There’s no rocket science involved at all. It’s something the teachers will enjoy doing and that the kids will definitely enjoy. It’s always the highlight of my week going out to the school and these great ten year olds, loving coding and girls and guys and all different types and it’s really good to see.
Mike: If I am a teacher and I’m interested in it, how much do I need to have as a prerequisite, prior knowledge. What do I need to be able to come along and feel like I’m not going to be out of my depth?
Peter: Just if you know how to use a web browser and fill out – just do general Internet activities these days. If you are comfortable with that, you can do this. There’s no prerequisites at all. I supposed when you want to relate it back to your kids in class depending if it’s an out of school thing and it doesn’t really matter but if it’s something that you want to align with your teaching curriculum, there’s definitely some thinking around like how does this relate to what I am teaching the kids elsewhere. But that’s usually quite easy as well. We’ll cover some of things in the conference too.
Mike: Yeah, right so you’ll be able to link that back to their teaching and learning is already happening. When people do Code Club, do they usually link that inside a classroom lesson time? Is it something that runs during the school lunch break, after hours? How does that usually run?
Peter: Yeah, we’re doing a pilot program, we just let the school decide when they want to do it and it has always been outside of school, volunteer. The kids are volunteers. The teacher volunteers and we also send along some Coder volunteers as well just for support.
Mike: Oh nice.
Peter: To assist in the beginning. It’s usually done either before school, at lunch time or after school.
Blake: That’s a good point. What happens, if they get stuck? Is there assistance? Is there some kind of support for them? How does that work?
Peter: We have a weekly meeting with all the people involved so they can let each know what they’ve experienced or any challenges. It’s almost foolproof the way it has been set out. It’s pretty hard to get stuck.
Mike: In terms of cost, I am just interested if there was a school that was watching this and say, “Hey, I’d like to be a part of it.” One, I know you said it’s a pilot. Are people able join and get started. Is there like a waiting time? Do you do it in batches? How does that work in terms of timing and cost, for instance?
Peter: Yeah, anyone can do it. They can contact us, if they need support, to help get it started. But the materials are also all available from our website. The links to the projects for the kids and also the Scratch program that’s used. Yeah, it’s all there freely available for anyone to take on.
Mike: If you are a school in the U.S., for instance, they can still go to the Code Club Australia website, get all the resources and just get started?
Peter: That’s right. There’s actually also a Code Club World site, which is free through their CodeClubWorld.org and that even has projects in different languages. It’s not just English speaking.
Mike: So thinking a little bit outside the box, even if you had some students and you wanted them to be able to do it in a different language in Australia, that would be available as well.
Peter: That’s right.
Mike: Excellent. I guess in terms of teachers looking, this is just for primary school students? I know you said you are talking around students who are about 10 years old and so on. What’s the age ranges available?
Peter: Yeah, it’s aimed at ages probably 9 to 12. You could start them a little bit younger and you could probably take them a little bit older. I have seen it being used in a high school for 14, 15 year olds and they still enjoy it and make great games.
There is also actually part of Code Club some progression. So the first term, there’s four terms, at the moment, of 8 to 10 weeks each. The first one is like basic beginner Scratch, then as an advanced Scratch and it even starts teaching them in the third term HTML web design, web creating websites and then also python language, as well, which is using the command line interface face, which does start to get more technical, but it lasts through that progression as well, as kids get older.
Blake: That’s really cool. I just got some questions just around how far you can go with it. I mean a lot of this is sort of just around games and stuff like that. Are you diving deep into real programming in terms of – you’re talking about python learning your real language. How far does it go?
Peter: I mean they learn the basics like logic and variables. One of those sort of programming concepts throughout Scratch but that’s not until they get to the I suppose the python stage that they really start to see that in a real programming language as opposed to just colored shapes.
That is definitely taking them to the next level and also opens up their mind to what else they might like to do whether it is building websites and being a web developer or seeing how Facebook is built and understanding what’s going on behind the browser. You can see that there’s an internet of things with reply options as well because that uses python and so you can always take the kids down that route. I am seeing that in schools where they do some robotics using robots with raspberry pi so that’s a progression from there as well.
Blake: That’s awesome. We’re doing a similar thing here at McKinnon with raspberry pi and python and getting kids on that learn to code, I think they were using Code Academy, some of their resources as well. So there’s heaps of stuff out there. I guess having that structure around it, which is what you guys are for, giving those materials with a structure on it is just a fantastic little project you’ve got going on here. It’s really exciting.
Peter: Yeah, that’s right. That is a problem for some people. Like there is so many choices out there and what do you do and how do you teach it? It’s really good this Code Club has been – these projects have been put together. A lot of hard work has been put into it so it makes it easy for us to take kids through progression. Start nice and easy and it just gets more fun and harder as they go.
Mike:I think it’s funny because you say this all started from England and then you followed it a little bit there. Apparently coding now is mandatory in all schools across the UK. Is that true?
Peter: Yeah, that’s right. For this semester it’s mandatory over there so it’s great to see that it’s starting to happen around the world. There are other countries which really support it like Vietnam, Estonia and it’s starting to make its way into different schools in the States as well. It’s good and we hope to get some sort of movement in that area here in Australia too.
Blake: Yeah, absolutely. Is it a true fact that there’s literally hundreds of thousands of jobs that can be filled by software engineers. Is that true?
Peter: Well it definitely is in the U.S. There’s a huge demand for people coming out of the coding schools over there, which not universities, they’re just private coding schools where in three months you can learn how to code and become a web application developer.
The same is starting to happen here. I get calls every week from start up, tech start ups and people with businesses needing developers. Even though sometimes our government says there is no shortage in the IT sector, we’re not quite sure where they’re looking because there is a lot of shortage for developers and people in technology here as well.
Blake: I think there needs to be a clear line there between IT and software engineering. I think they’re very different things. IT is such a huge umbrella term, isn’t it?
The software engineering side interests me because every small start up that I speak to in Australia, they can’t find anyone. Everyone gets over-bidded because they go to the states or go somewhere else. So I think, again, if you’re looking at careers, especially for your kids or looking at careers yourself, as a student, it’s a pretty safe option to be a software engineer.
Peter: Yeah, that’s right. I mean there was a huge rush to learn, to do IT, at the beginning of the century but then all of a sudden that first dotcom bust happened and everyone sort of got scared and it hasn’t really recovered. Like universities are not pushing it out, don’t have enough IT students and then even I suppose there’s a bit of controversy about that too in the sense that, unless you want a job at a corporate, you shouldn’t go to university to do IT because they don’t teach you necessarily the skills that you need to work in the startup or as a developer. That’s why there is this sort of strong demand for coding schools.
Mike: That’s super interesting. I mean I heard people talking about coding for kids and to be honest I used to think it was just like two people like you and Blake would be hanging out and chatting about it and fizzing out on all this technology stuff and for me, as a classroom teacher, I didn’t really feel like I had a part to play in that or even needed to even look at it.
It wasn’t until I heard Sally Ann Williams from Google talking about Code Club for Australia and why teachers were getting onboard and students were involved and started hearing some of that statistics. She was saying things like in the UK coding is now mandatory for all students and so all teachers have to be able to teach coding and how Australia was starting to fall behind in that.
Just little things like that caught my attention, in terms of just teaching the learning pedagogy, the engagement side of things. It has caused me to get off my bum and have a look and find out what this really is and not be hiding behind this I guess 1990 models of technology is for smart people who like 1s and 0s and not necessarily for people like me, which kind of sounds funny to someone who does a lot of work in consulting in IT but my focus has never really been the IT technical side of it. It has always been about the teaching and learning and how to integrate it.
I am really excited about this aspect coming to our schools now that I understand a little bit about it. I think we’re starting to get some acceptance in society around it. It’s not this airy fairy thing that a few nerdy kids do. It’s becoming mainstream and so I think for teachers it’s well worth their time exploring, to take a day out to try and find out about it and then to be able to enable their students to do it. I think that would be a great investment of time. I am interested, Peter, what do you tell your mum that you do when she says, “What have you done today?” What do you say about that?
Peter: She’s very supportive of my vision and goals. She knows I am a bit of an idealist. I just tell her I have been teaching people to code and it’s a really rewarding job. I mean getting to see people’s eyes light up when it all starts to fall into place for them in their mind and all of a sudden they see all the possibilities that are in front of them.
They can build anything they want now and that’s just really great to be a part of that. There are just so many opportunities out there for technology and applications and we are only seeing the very beginning of this technological revolution ahead of us, you know. There are just so many opportunities. Anyone who uses a spreadsheet, there should be an app for that. There’s one thing right there. There’s so many different things that can be built to help our lives and help our work, help us communicate better. It’s very exciting to be a part of it.
Mike: Yeah, that’s great. Mate, we appreciate your time this afternoon and just sharing a little bit about your knowledge and certainly about your passion. That’s fantastic. I’m really looking forward to meeting you in a couple of months in Sydney and in Adelaide and just seeing what comes out of your sessions and your strands. It’s going to be really great.
I am just so glad that we’ve got this strand as part of the conference. I would never have imagined putting it in there initially but I am really excited the fact that it’s there. So thanks for your time this afternoon. I really do appreciate. Blake, is there anything you want to add before we sign off on today’s show?
Blake: No. It has been really good and I just like that this shift and this change of thinking towards sort of getting people in to coding and not seeing it as this dusty old thing that perhaps was when I went to school but sounds a bit more exciting and I am just always shocked at how well the kids pick it up. Man, they just love it. They get in there and it’s as engaging to them as it is playing a game, you know, they really love it.
I mean technology is the future, like you say, it’s going to be totally different now to what it’s going to be in ten years and hopefully in 20 years again and we’re just at the start of it. I know a teacher here brought in an oculus rift the other day and for anyone who doesn’t know what that is, it’s these goggles that you wear on your face and have a look around and just the reactions he got out of people it was astounding.
People literally were stopped in their tracks saying, “Wow, like this is the next level. This is something totally different and how can we use it?” It never fails to get me excited. Thanks again for your time, Peter. I really appreciate it and I can’t wait to see some of these – what comes out of the conference and your strand. It’s going to be great.
Peter: Yeah, thanks very much Blake and Mike for having me. It has been great.
Mike: Excellent. Well Peter has given me a whole lot of I guess different links for you to show, a couple of You Tube videos and so, so we are going to put together some show notes for this video and also a transcription as per usual. So have a look at the website, which is usingtechnologybetter.com and find this blog post that are there with the video, the transcription and all the show notes and of course, you can register for the conference at usingtechnologybetterconference.com. We’ll see you next fortnight when we have a chat with another person about what they’re doing in education and how we can help you better motivate, manage and engage your students with the use of technology. We’ll see you next time.