2 easy and 2 professional ways to teach coding

I’ve been teaching coding (along mathematics) for kids aged 9-16 for several years. I’ve proceeded in this order:

  • code.org
  • Scratch
  • Python
  • Unity

First two are quite easily doable for teacher/parent with no programming experience. About the last two, I personally think that Unity is more appealing for today’s youngsters, but as an example of text-based coding Python is ok.

Code.org

Contains several lesson for different age groups. Still, consider your pupils experience before starting. If they have no experience at all, they could shortly go through materials for younger kids before proceeding to their own age group and vice versa. If you have no experience yourself, it’s highly advisable that you do the lessons yourself beforehand. Make sure that you find the ways to use suggested amount of code lines, as there are sometimes many ways to solve a task, usually the shorter the better. Link: code.org

Scratch

Compared to code.org, Scratch is more open environment. It needs Flash player. You can actually do your own games if you’re registered user, for others to play. Coding happens by dragging blocks from left to right. Here is a picture of one of the most basic programs in Scratch:

Pay attention to block colors; color of the block will tell you from which block group it’s from.

  1. Every program has to start somewhere. This will start when clicking the green flag. This is a common way to start Scratch program. (Other common option is starting with a key from keyboard.)
  2. Forever-loop is important. Otherwise program will end before user gets to press anything.
  3. There is a coordinate system. Using this system makes it easier to move the way you intended. Other option is to use steps, but then you have to be cautious with direction. Steps always uses direction to determine where to go.

And there you go! You can modify this basic program in numerous ways.

Python

Sometimes you need an example of text-based programming language and Python is one of these. It’s relatively simple to learn. It can be used many ways:

  • Install Python to your computer. Write code to .py text-file and compile it. This is the hardest way, but best if you write longer programs. If you’re using Windows, change path-environment variable from settings according to where your python.exe is located.
  • Install Python to your computer and use ide that comes with installation. Ide means that you can write code and see the results right away.
  • If you don’t want to install it (yet), you can use online ide, such as ideone.com There you can also use other programming languages. Downside is that if you are not careful, you may lose some work.

Here are some very basic examples (and by the way, printing doesn’t mean it prints on paper, only on screen):

Printing numbers form 0 to 9:

for i in range(10):
	print i;

Printing multiplication table of 5:

for i in range (10):
	print ((i+1)*5);

Printing first Fibonacci numbers:

numberA=1;
numberB=1;
temporary=0;
while(numberA<1000):
	print numberA;
	temporary=numberA+numberB;
	numberA=numberB;
	numberB=temporary;
Unity

Unity unites text-based coding to graphical interface, making it fast and relatively easy to develop games. Several commercial games have been created with unity, see list of examples here. Unity is not the only one of it’s kind, but it is definitely one of the most significant game engines.

Good news is that Unity is free for private use and even when you are earning a little with your game you’ve developed. I’m not eager to put any specific details here, please check from Unity’s website if you have any questions with licences.

I have a plan to make some Unity related content for educators but that idea is still in its infancy. Before that, you can check their own learning page: https://unity3d.com/learn

Unofficial remarks on Finnish school system (part 1: Literacy)

It’s been widely noticed that Finnish school system definitely has some good properties. You can find official description for example on https://www.oph.fi/english/education_system but in this series I take into consideration some features that may not come into attention internationally that often.

Literacy rate in Finland is very high. Wikipedia uses Unesco 2015 list that doesn’t have Finland in it, other sources claim it to be even 100% [1]. This is rounded number, but we can anyway say that literary rate has been very high for decades.

The language

It’s said that Finnish language is very difficult, it’s conjugations are numerous. That’s true, it’s hard for foreigner to master these perfectly. But, when you can speak Finnish, it’s ridiculously easy to read. All letters have one-to-one pronunciation. Exceptions are very rare and minor. Here is a major advantage to English speaking kids, who almost have to learn new language, written English after learning spoken English.

Donald Duck

Wait, what some old Disney character has to do with this? Donald Duck (Aku Ankka in Finnish) is an institution when talking about magazines in Finland. It’s by reader count the most popular magazine if free [2][3] magazines are left out.  Reader count is bit bigger than number of under 20 year olds [4] , because some adults read it, too.

Lively language used in Aku Ankka has received several awards. University of Helsinki noted Aku Ankka in 2001 [5]  and Finnish Mensa in 2014 [6].

Television

You may know that it’s common to dub TV shows to other languages? In Finland, programs that are intended for adults are never dubbed. Programs for teenage audience very rarely are dubbed, either. Dubbing is for kids, and self-respecting 10+ years old can watch television with subtitles. If you are a school kid in Finland and want to see original (or new) Star Wars movies for example, you have to be able to read subtitles fast enough to keep in track. That’s one thing that adds motivation.

The last random fact

Finland has been under Swedish reign for centuries and Swedish language has been the language in society’s top layers for long, too. One of the first novels written purely in Finnish was Aleksis Kivi’s Seven Brothers. It’s a growth story of seven orphan brothers. One part of the novel describes how it’s very difficult for this boys to learn to read and their theacher is harsh on them. But, they bang their heads on the wall (methaphorically) until they figure it out and that will give them church permission to marry. That is one of the stories Finnish school children have to get familiar with.

To sum it up, in Finland, there is a very strong assumption that every proper citizen can read. It’s the matter of discussion wether reading and understanding read text has gone downhill due to digitalization.

Random numeric facts about the author:
5 Number of years she’s been teaching in Finnish public school (other than public schools are rare exceptions.)
8 The author’s grade in English language (scale 4-10) in Finnish school. That should explain funny grammar/word choises in text.
20 Number of years the author has been a subscriber to Aku Ankka magazine.

References and notes:
[1] https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-highest-literacy-rates-in-the-world.html (English)
[2] Some corporations send magazines to their customers, but people won’t pay a penny for those, so these aren’t quite comparable. (Yhteishyvä for S-Group, Pirkka for Kesko and OP magazine for Osuuspankki.)
[3] http://www.aikakauslehdet.fi/Etusivu/Tietoa–Tutkimuksia/Levikkeja-ja-lukijamaaria/Lukijamaarat-Suomessa/Lukijamaariltaan-suurimmat/ (Finnish)
[4] https://www.tilastokeskus.fi/tup/suoluk/suoluk_vaesto.html (Finnish)
[5] https://web.archive.org/web/20080612222837/http://www.helsinki.fi/hum/skl/helmi2001.htm (Finnish)
[6] https://www.mensa.fi/wordpress/?p=851 (Finnish)