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Digital Schoolhouse: Learning computing through play

OpinionPrimary Education
By Heather McLean | 11 May 2017
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Create DateMay 11, 2017
Last UpdatedApril 20, 2017

By Shahneila Saeed, head of education at Ukie and director of Digital Schoolhouse.

It’s no revelation that teaching children complex theories and techniques is best done through playful and engaging activities, as this way, abstract concepts are made relatable, enjoyable and easier to understand. When this approach is applied to coding, an area of the curriculum which can seem dauntingly techy and complicated, it is amazing what children can pick up, without them even realising it.

The new computing curriculum came into effect across primary and secondary schools in 2014, and elicited mixed reactions. Teachers were aware of the challenges this would create, but for some these challenges were so daunting they couldn’t see past them and either stuck their heads in the sand or approached the new curriculum with great anxiety.

However, others embraced the challenges because they could see the larger picture; they were excited by it because they’d been campaigning for a forward-looking computing curriculum for so long.

Incredibly fun

One thing that all teachers agreed upon was that the compulsory introduction of computing into the curriculum was going to benefit children, but only if they truly engaged with it and enjoyed it. If taught in a very didactic fashion, computing can become a dry and uninteresting subject. However, when delivered through engaging games and activities, computing can be incredibly fun. This is where creativity and play come in.

Through the Digital Schoolhouse powered by PlayStation programme, we are able to get children involved in coding and computing by used play-based techniques, such as teaching programming through playdough or dance. Designed for all ages, this activity brings life to computing lessons by asking pupils to work in pairs, with one being the ‘programmer’ and the other the ‘computer’, to create a playdough model of an image, based solely on verbal instructions. This activity highlights the importance of precision and logic in sequencing instructions.

With minimal prompting, the discussions can be extended to incorporate more complex instructions and used to demonstrate programming concepts such as iteration and selection. Key computational thinking skills such as algorithmic thinking, abstraction and decomposition are also covered here, but in a fun, creative and hands-on way, not just in front of a screen.

Each Digital Schoolhouse is based in a school, college or university environment, and aims to deliver creative and cross-curricular computing lessons that use games to teach computing. These carefully crafted activities help children to develop strategic thinking skills which will benefit them throughout life, and help them to become well-rounded learners with the ability to master any topic, no matter how complex, by simply breaking it down into its constituent parts; that’s the way to crack the code!

Relatable and accessible

After all, when unfamiliar topics are made relatable and accessible, through things that children are already accustomed to like games, children are able to grasp concepts that they may have considered to be too alien to understand before. By removing this sense of trepidation about new types of learning, we can encourage all children to use their natural curiosity and creativity to find fun in computing.

The techniques the children learn are fully inclusive, so boys and girls of a range of ages are supported through the programme. Creative resources such as playdough or magic tricks are gender neutral, so using them helps to get all children engaged with computing, irrespective of their gender.

While the world is contemplating how to engage more girls in computing, we are making it happen every day; our programme doesn't just make computing accessible but it also helps to break down misconceptions and barriers to computing.

The not-for-profit Digital Schoolhouse programme, powered by PlayStation, uses play-based learning to engage the next generation of pupils and teachers with the new Computing curriculum.


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