Article from INTOUCH Magazine October 2017: Coding is fast becoming a buzz word in education conversations. Although some teachers argue very convincingly that there is no place for coding in the already overcrowded primary curriculum, retired teacher Seamus O’Neill (co-author Mathemagic) is on a mission to demonstrate how coding can be used in primary schools as an extremely valuable teaching aid. Seamus has been an IT tutor with Navan Education Centre for almost 20 years. Since 2011 he has tutored teachers in Scratch and, in 2012, he established Navan CoderDojo, with the support of NEC. With passion for Maths as a teacher and his love of Scratch coding , he has developed a unique way of bringing the fun and freedom of CoderDojo into the structured time-table of school.
Scratch is by far the most popular coding language used by children in schools and computer clubs around the world with over 24 million shared projects. For those not familiar with it, Scratch is a free, colourful, block-based coding language for young and old. In June 2017, Seamus was approached by the director of learning resources and research of the Scratch team at the MIT media lab in Boston for permission to add a component that Seamus had developed to the Scratch backdrops library. This is the first time a teacher in Ireland has had content included in the library. Using this component, it is now possible for teachers and students to use Scratch in ways not previously possible.
From his work on Scratch, Seamus has developed Ready-Steady-Code vector grids. You can access these grids in two clicks if you visit Scratch online (scratch.mit.edu) and type ‘vector grids’ into the search box. You can see games, computer art, puzzles, mazes, geometry, patterns, language learning and maths – projects that can be easily designed and coded on the grid backgrounds by children aged 9 –16 years (from 3rd class to Junior Cert). With Scratch you can also code music, story, animations, designs etc. The ‘magic mix’ of vector grids on the Scratch bitmap stage gives it much more functionality in school. They make it easier for children to complete assignments with short scripts of code – almost as easily as with a pencil on paper. In two clicks, the grids make Scratch resemble the squared paper of a sum copy or graph paper. Being able to code the area of a circle or other shape in Scratch and then correlate and verify it by a drawing in the copybook is not just engaging to children but is hugely beneficial in consolidating learning. Secondary students can, for example, easily code the trend of a graph.
Scratch code is more than a subject on the curriculum. It is thinking made visual – a tool that helps its users think computationally.
Ready-Steady-Code is about perceiving the world of computational thinking and coding in original, inspired and artistic ways, which nurture imagination, experimentation, exploration, innovation, the ability to question assumptions and synthesize information, in an environment which values the journey of discovery. What teachers teach has its requirements and obligations under the curriculum guidelines. How teachers teach has always been a matter for each individual teacher. Ready-Steady-Code, when seen as a tool or methodology, allows teachers to upskill themselves in their own individual way.
Seamus’s book, SCRATCH with Ready-Steady-Code, is packed full with 70 short easy exercises for the adults. There are also over 100 projects shared online at scratch.mit.edu/users/readysteadycode.
Teachers can learn from the online examples and book or attend training courses in their local education centre. Alternatively they can receive whole school training organised by the school or local cluster. The book will be launched during Maths/Code Week EU. Enquiries for bulk orders can be made any time before that date.