Coding Education

Why do we even teach coding?

For a while now, we’ve all been told that coding is the one crucial skill that the kids of today are going to need for the jobs of tomorrow. Governments are scrambling to integrate it into their digital technologies curriculums, and it’s almost safe to say that this will be a mandatory part of schooling everywhere around the globe by 2020.

However, Australian teen entrepreneur Taj Pabari made headlines earlier this year by questioning whether coding really is “a skill of the future”, claiming that in the near future, computers will do all the coding themselves thanks to technologies such as Microsoft’s Deep Coder research program. Furthermore, he also pointed out that it doesn’t make much economic sense to teach every child to code, anyway – this would just drive down the salary for computer programming occupations.

For some quick background, Pabari is the founder of Fiftysix Creations, Australia’s largest provider of entrepreneurship workshops for schools. His outstanding work in educating over 40,000 children around the country in business and soft skills have seen him featured on the likes of Sunrise, 60 Minutes, the Today Show, and more.

His arguments are, of course, somewhat true: Microsoft’s AI can certainly write its own code, but this is limited to just a few lines at present. It’s going to be a few decades, at least, until it’s likely for this technology to become mainstream and a real threat to coders. Oh, and unfortunately, this machine didn’t actually code itself either. That part did, and always will, require humans.

It’s also true that if every person graduating from high school after 2030 becomes a software engineer or computer programmer, then we’ll have a massive economic issue on our hands. Not only will there be an over-supply of programmers, significantly driving down their salaries, but there will be no-one left to run the rest of our complex economy. The App Store doesn’t yet have an app to replace our farmers, nor does Facebook have a button that can manage our whole businesses for us.

So if computers are going to eventually be able to do all the coding themselves, even if this is quite a while off, and it makes no sense for every student to become a software developer when they leave school, then why exactly are we all racing to force coding down the throats of this generation?

I think that it’s almost unreasonable to suggest that just because we’re teaching every student to code, every student will leave school to become a software developer. And nor will that ever change. We teach maths to every student in the country all the way up to year 10 – when students leave school, do they all become actuaries, accountants, and maths teachers? Science is another subject that runs throughout school – do all of our students leave to become marine biologists?

Coding is becoming a part of our curriculum, and the real reason why we should teach our children to code isn’t that we want to force them into a profession within the realms of computer science, but for the same reason that we continue to teach them subjects like English, maths, science, and history. All of these subjects help them to investigate and understand the world around them, regardless of the career paths that they eventually choose to pursue.

Although these subjects are very different in terms of their content, the way that they are taught, and their usefulness – this is the big point Pabari questions with coding – they are all incredibly relevant to the lives we lead in the 21st century. English, of course, outlines the way in which we interact and express ourselves with others. Is every student going to need to know what an oxymoron is? No. But complex language techniques aren’t what the subject is really about, the one thing people always seem to forget when they start attacking English; it’s all about predicting, interpreting, questioning and comprehending. And not every student is going to pursue a career as a language scientist or an author, yet this subject is considered to be one of the most critical taught in schools.

Coding is very much the same. Like with any other subject, only a very small amount of students will make use of the higher-level and more difficult aspects of a mandatory computer coding course. And that’s okay. What is important is the skills that this subject will engage. We already know that coding is great for the development of critical thinking skills, problem-solving, computation (that’s maths, not running apps in your brain), and creativity.

Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly relevant to teach coding to our children as we are living in an increasingly technological society. The apps, devices, and machines that we interact with each day are all powered by coding and were all developed by someone who knew how to code. It should be comforting to think that we are preparing a future generation against the mindless consumption of technology and apps, as we give them the skills to at least understand on a basic level how these things work.

We have already seen how technology and social media have empowered thousands already to express themselves, explore the world and become a voice for change throughout the global communities. Coding becoming a part of the curriculum means that we are giving the leaders, thinkers, dreamers, and creators of tomorrow the tools that they will need to change the world.

So Microsoft’s Deep Coder may eventually do most of the coding for us. But there will certainly always be teams operating this technology, designing the apps that it will create and furthering the capability of this technology. All of these people will have to make use of coding at some level in order to do their jobs. And for the rest of us left doing other jobs, most of which probably haven’t been invented yet, we’ll be able to look at the apps and games on our phones and know a little about how they were made. Coding isn’t dead. It’s something that can only be brought to life with the creativity and ingenuity of the generations to come.

Coding Education Schools

A Teacher’s guide to the Amazing Annoyatron

We’ve personally used the Annoyatron in a holiday workshop format so are happy to provide some recommendations on how best to use it as a teaching tool.

One of the first questions teachers are keen to ask is whether they can use the Annoyatron without sound. While kids love the idea of making a burglar alarm, the reality of 25 children all running an alarm project at the same time would be frightful for most – unless everyone has a set of earmuffs (and for the teacher possibly earplugs under the earmuffs).

The good news is that with the Annoyatron there’s a range of projects that use LED lights or can simply output results to a monitor. In addition many of the projects that do involve sound, for example, the burglar alarm, mostly can be replicated to work with sensors triggering a light rather than emitting an alarm noise.

Where you do want to run projects with the buzzers, to take the edge off the noise involved with multiple being operated in the one room you can dampen the noise by putting tape over the top of the buzzer, or taping on a small amount of dense dampening material like a strip cut off a pencil eraser.

The second most frequently asked question is how does the Annoyatron align to the curriculum. Below lists a number of Content Descriptions out of the Australian Digitial Technologies Curriculum where the Annoyatron may be used by teachers.

Foundation – Year 2
ACTDIK001 – Recognise and explore digital systems (hardware and software components) for a purpose.
ACTDIP004 – Follow, describe and represent a sequence of steps and decisions (algorithms) needed to solve simple problems.

Years 3 & 4
ACTDIK007 – Identify and explore a range of digital systems with peripheral devices for different purposes, and transmit different types of data.
ACTDIK008 – Recognise different types of data and explore how the same data can be represented in different ways.
ACTDIP009 – Collect, access and present different types of data using simple software to create information and solve problems.
ACTDIP010 – Define simple problems, and describe and follow a sequence of steps and decisions (algorithms) needed to solve them.
ACTDIP011 – Implement simple digital solutions as visual programs with algorithms involving branching (decisions) and user input.

Years 5 & 6
ACTDIK014 – Examine the main components of common digital systems and how they may connect together to form networks to transmit data.
ACTDIP016 – Acquire, store and validate different types of data, and use software to interpret and visualise data to create information.
ACTDIP019 – Design, modify and follow simple algorithms involving sequences of steps, branching and iteration (repetition).
ACTDIP020 – Implement digital solutions as simple visual programs involving branching, iteration (repetition) and user input.

Years 7 & 8
ACTDIK024 – Investigate how digital systems represent text, image and audio data in binary.
ACTDIP028 – Design the user experience of a digital system, generating, evaluating and communicating alternative designs.
ACTDIP029 – Design algorithms represented diagrammatically and in English, and trace algorithms to predict the output for a given input and to identify errors.
ACTDIP030 – Implement and modify programs with user interfaces involving branching, iteration and functions in a general-purpose programming language.

Years 9 & 10
ACTDIP039 – Design the user experience of a digital system by evaluating alternative designs against criteria including functionality, accessibility, usability, and aesthetics.
ACTDIP040 – Design algorithms represented diagrammatically and in structured English and validate algorithms and programs through tracing and test cases.
ACTDIP044 – Plan and manage projects using an iterative and collaborative approach, identifying risks and considering safety and sustainability.

News Schools

It’s YICTE time – pull out your Annoyatron!

Each year in Australia there is a program run called Young ICT Explorers or YICTE as it is commonly known. The YICTE program encourages kids to work in teams to use technology to solve real world problems. At the heart of most YICTE projects will be a programmable computer board. For those that have an Amazing Annoyatron you’ll be well on your way to having some pretty handy skills for getting a project up and running.

What’s great about the Amazing Annoyatron is that using it’s brain box isn’t just limited to the projects included with the kit. Kids are able to grab parts from their Annoyatron and use them to make various projects. An example of this was a year 6 team from Kooringal Public School in Wagga Wagga who last year built a fire detecting robot that integrated heat sensors to locate fires in factories.

Last year EduKits went to support the Wagga team and check out the YICTE action at the NSW state final for years 5 and 6 held in Sydney. It was awesome to see the diversity across the entrants. There were kids from public schools, private schools and from the city and the country. The winning entry for the final went to kids from the regional town of Kempsey who had come up with a system for monitoring the accessibility of fire trails using drone technology.

As an event the finals are an awesome experience for kids. They present their entries to the public and the judges in a science fair type scenario with each team having their own booth space to decorate and demonstrate how their solution works.

With the 2018 YICTE competition now open, it’s a great opportunity for kids to form a team at school and to start thinking about what problems exist in the world around them. A key date to be aware of is that registrations for the competition close on 10 June 2018. More information on the YICTE program can be found on their website.

YICTE Annoyatron Board RobotThe Fire Safety Alert Robocar. 2017 YICTE entry by Toby and Jayden from Kooringal Public School

Coding Education Schools

Founder presents at technology careers event

On March 7, Michael Nixon from EduKits presented at The BiG Day In, an annual Australia-wide IT careers conference for high school students interested in technology.

The conference is hosted at venues throughout Australia and nationally inspires over 7,000 students each year explore careers in the IT industry. This year, Michael presented his EduKits start-up story to the 590 students in attendance at the Charles Sturt University function centre.

Students were given the opportunity to hear from speakers from The Regional Entrepreneur, Adobe, Westpac, WeisTech Global, Agrinet, and, of course, EduKits.

One of Michael’s key messages from his presentation was the importance of failure, and how we can use it to create success. He told the crowd, “it’s very rare to succeed on your first attempt at something, and often if you do, that success will be unreplicable as you won’t have an understanding of what you got right”.

He also talked about the five-year journey that took him from reading coding textbooks borrowed from Wagga’s TAFE library to developing his award-winning coding kit, The Amazing Annoyatron. Michael then encouraged students to think about how they can use their own skills and talents to drive positive change.

Another highlight speaker from the event was Dan Winston, creator of Agrinet. He talked about his innovative solution that provides farm-wide wifi connectivity for Farmers, as well as his experience with ethical hacking.