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Lego Education: Bringing computing out of the screen

OpinionTechnology
By Heather McLean | 13 April 2017
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Create DateApril 13, 2017
Last UpdatedApril 13, 2017

By Simon Davenport, senior marketing manager, Lego Education.

Teaching pupils how to code can be difficult. To begin with, it is often undertaken as an individual pursuit, with pupils sitting at computers alone working tirelessly with code on the screen, which can be demoralising and reduce engagement with the subject. After all, how can pupils be expected to appreciate the effects of their code without any tangible results? So how can we get pupils more engaged with computing?

Practical element

The main thing is to incorporate a practical element in the subject, beyond typing on the keyboard to see results on the screen. This could include a range of activities. For instance, you could ask pupils to draw diagrams of how a code is intended to work, almost as a blueprint for what they want to achieve before they try to code it.

You could even get the class acting out a set of instructions as though pupils in the room are the components of a system. For example, you might ask one pupil to give instructions to another to reach a certain point in the room, negotiating obstacles: “Take one step forward, rotate 90 degrees to the left, take two steps forward”. This reinforces the basics of code: an instruction is read, processed and then actioned by the computer or machine to perform a specific function, whether that’s providing information, or moving around the room.

To build on this even further, why not use robotics to teach coding? Robotics provides an engaging, tangible activity where pupils can physically see the results of the code they have put together. On top of this, the opportunity to build their own machines, vehicles or models that perform specific functions means that pupils can see the real-life implications of coding first-hand. These activities can relate to various aspects of the curriculum; such as input and output, where pupils can use sensors to input information into the system which will determine a specific output. It might be that a gyro sensor can detect a specific motion, which causes the machine to react with a noise.

Cross-curricular

You can even make this a cross-curricular exercise; for example, if you’re teaching a maths lesson, why not challenge pupils to calculate the speed necessary for a vehicle to move a distance in a given time, and to test their results with a code?  Or in science and geography, pupils could be challenged to build programmable models that demonstrate a particular topic or idea. For example, pupils could create and code a simple earthquake simulator, and build structures to test what works best in a tremor, recording their results.

This type of hands-on learning also provides a unique opportunity for pupils to enhance their problem-solving and resilience, as using robotics will help them to pinpoint where bugs or deficiencies in their codes are, or if something in their design needs changing. For example, they might code a robot to move forward until it reaches an obstacle, before turning left and carrying on, but it might still hit the obstacle, or not turn far enough to avoid it. This might be an issue with the code, or perhaps the sensor is positioned where it cannot determine its distance from the obstacle.

Whatever the problem, the pupils can see it clearly in front of them, meaning that they have the insight and power to trial different things, and debug their code themselves until they find a solution. This can be incredibly effective when the pupils are working in pairs or groups, as they can combine their strengths to create the best possible solution to a problem. For instance, one pupil may have a more practical mind, with a flair for design and fitting components together, whereas another might have an aptitude for the coding side. In this partnership, both pupils are able to teach each other and enhance their own skills in the subject through collaboration.

By implementing a hands-on, minds-in approach to coding, teachers can help their pupils to bring the code out of the computer and into the classroom, boosting engagement and improving understanding simultaneously.

For 35 years Lego Education has been working with teachers and educational specialists to deliver playful learning experiences that bring subjects to life in the classroom and make learning fun and impactful.


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