In 2018, we realized that our children were not taught with basic knowledge to understand computer science. We were a bit afraid that a lot of objects that were part of their life, like smartphones and tablets, were a bit like magic to them.
That was the start of code4kids, a project that aims at teaching coding to kids. In this article you will learn what code4kids is and how it has improved.
We took the opportunity of a special event in SLB Montpellier Technology Center (MpTC) to start teaching children during some workshops. This event “Elles Innovent Pour Le Numérique” (Digital Innovation by Women), targeted children from nearby high schools that were around 14 to 16 years old. At this time, we believed that it was important to demystify algorithmics and software language. By learning some robotics coding, the children understood and how the code drove a physical robot. During a one-hour session, groups of five children were given challenges using a robot that facilities learning. Challenges proposed started with identifying robot parts, moving the robot, computing distance, following a black line. For each challenge, the children coded a program using block language, they built it to generate the code assembly and uploaded the program to the robot.
It was nice to have them understand that the robot’s behavior could be changed to perform their needs.
After this experience, we decided that we should go with an easier solution to program the robot. We wanted the children to be able to code easily with a block language for the robot’s behavior to reflect the code logic without any extra operation. This way, they could focus on the algorithmic. After a quick evaluation of the available solutions we selected a robot that the children could code themselves.
With this robot we were able to run several workshops. Children could program it with VPL (Visual Programming Language) and Scratch . VPL is a language based on events designed for robotics. Scratch is an MIT platform based on Blocky to create stories, games, and animations. A popular challenge was to have the children draw a square on a paper with the robot. It’s a good introduction to loops. Different workshops were proposed during center events or external events including “Mixité et numérique”, “Elles bougent”, “CGenial”.“CGenial”.
We also added the opportunity to join our neighbors IBM for a partnership on one of their science education projects. We were invited to organize robotics workshops in middle-school using Lego Mindstorm for half day sessions. The classroom is split in different teams. Each team must resolve a challenge by building and programming the Lego robot then present the solution to the other teams. This experience improved our background knowledge and skills in animating workshops with children.
In 2020 we faced our first lockdown, with all social and sports activities canceled for several months. At code4kids, we decided to create a 1.5-hour, weekly, full remote workshop. The goal was to have the children meet, spend some enjoyable time ‘together,’ and learn the basics of coding by playing little games.
Teaching kids to code turned out to be child’s play
The prerequisite for attending was to be able to read, have a computer with a webcam, microphone, and internet connection.
We chose a meeting platform that required no installation and was the easiest meeting platform to use. For the classroom management and lessons, we used two platforms: a well-known independent platform to manage classrooms and to follow the progress of students on coding challenges and a platform for learning computer science from a global tech company. The independent platform enabled us to use Block languages in challenges and cover loops, conditions, functions, …puzzles take place in child-friendly environments.
The platform for learning computer science has classroom and student management. We use it for our for creative activities that go beyond coding, an ability we like very much. We run each these creative activities for two consecutive sessions.
The weekly code4kids workshops was a great success. Each of the 13 weekly workshops involved five to ten children with the support of two teachers. By teaching a group of children weekly, we were able to bring them much more than a single day event.
We received positive feedback from the children and their parents.
The benefits of code4kids are different whether it is run on single workshops or in the long term. It shows children that coding can be fun and a good option for their studies.
The time involved for teaching on weekly basis is much higher, it requires around two hours for two teachers. I hope we will find some new volunteers to help us and continue code4kids for a new season in the future.
Code4kids initiative was initially created to teach kids how to code, but in the end not only the kids learned but also the teachers. Indeed, teachers acquired online and general teaching skills.