With the new computing curriculum recognising the importance of children learning programming, the most common problem for teachers is having the necessary subject knowledge and confidence to deliver it.
Whilst coding may seem daunting for teachers, especially with all of the associated challenging vocabulary, there are some fantastic resources available to help unconfident educators to bring programming into their classroom.
Here are my current, favourite five coding applications (apps) for primary aged children (although they are equally fun for adults!):
Developed to encourage more children into computer science, Hopscotch is possibly my favourite app out of this whole wonderful list. Complete with lovable and unique characters, this app manages to look beautiful, be ridiculously fun and simultaneously teach children the key fundamentals of programming. The drag and drop interface makes it easy to understand and easy for the children to pick up with minimal instruction and input, which is useful for a less confident teacher. The children in my class absolutely adore this app and often beg me to have a longer coding session so that they can spend longer on it and learn more and I understand why! Daisy the Dino is another app by the same creators for younger children and is equally engaging.
Lightbot is another fun way to teach complex programming concepts. This app uses a problem solving puzzle format where the objective is to lead the robot around various squares, lighting up set tiles. The difficulty gets progressively harder, teaching concepts step-by-step starting from the basics of giving directions and leading to loops, conditioning and more. Because Lightbot is so clear in its instructions, and works on a trial and error basis, children are able to run through it without much support needed. It is also useful for adults to use to gain knowledge of key coding principles in an easy-to-understand format. There are two versions of Lightbot, one for children 4-8 and the other for 9+.
At first it feels like you are just playing a fun game, but Cargo-Bot is another powerful tool for teaching coding and problem-solving logical skills. The mission in this app is to control a robotic arm to move crates to the desired location in as few moves as possible. The tutorials are useful for teaching children the basic tools they need to complete the levels, although it would be useful for teachers to familiarise themselves with these tools by having a play around with the game before introducing it. There are varying levels of difficulty available which is a great way to challenge the more able and support those who need it. In my experience, children love the level of challenge and the sense of achievement when completing a level using an effective code. Cargo-Bot was built using Codea, a paid-for app which can be used with older children to create their own games.
This is one for older children and those who want to extend their knowledge of code to a more advanced level. Whilst this is the only app in the list that is not in a game format and therefore may seem less engaging, it is a valuable asset to computing teaching as it helps explain complicated jargon such as ‘variable’ and ‘Boolean’ and gives children experience with real code. Codecademy looks quite complicated, but it breaks tasks down into small bite-sized chunks for children to learn. It also has the added incentive of being able to creating a personalised webpage to share on the Internet after learning basic HTML. Codecademy is equally challenging for adults learning how to code.
This is a great one for younger children to be introduced to coding. In this game, you programme your colourful fuzz-ball to move around a maze, collecting coins. One of the best features of this app is the teacher section where concepts are explained and control is given to the teacher to manage student accounts and monitor their progress. There is also optional paid content including fun games to learn programming vocabulary. The step-by-step sequencing is clear to understand and new concepts are introduced at a steady pace to keep engagement levels high.
Gemma Sharland is a primary school teacher and computing coordinator at her school in Bristol