Category: Before Class
Computer programming in primary school
by Neil Rickus
Computer programming no longer needs to be undertaken while sat in front of a machine on a desk. Through using buzzers, motors, lights, buttons and a range of electronic components, pupils’ knowledge of computational thinking and programming can be developed in an engaging manner. In particular, producing physical computing projects can help motivate all pupils in lessons and allow for the creation of work linked to other areas of the curriculum.
What devices are there?
Outlined below are a number of devices often found in primary (elementary) schools, although the equipment available in individual classrooms varies significantly. The initial three devices are based around a micro-controller and consist of a circuit board with LEDs. Additional components can easily be connected using crocodile clips and wires, with instructions entered using a block-based programming environment, rather than typing in lines of code.
The micro:bit was given to every 12 year old pupil in the UK last year and is also popular in the primary school classroom. The micro:bit Foundation is now working with teachers worldwide to ensure the device reaches a wider audience. Projects typically produced by primary aged pupils include scrolling name badges, step counters and table football games.
The Crumble is an extremely accessible device for primary pupils and it works in conjunction with a programming environment allowing code to be downloaded to the device in a single click. Crumbs allow additional components to be added to the board without having to worry about resistors or lose connections. Moveable robots can easily be created through the addition of motors and proximity sensors, which provides an excellent link to the DT curriculum.
The CodeBug provides a good introductory physical computing device and is often used to make wearable technology, which could include badges or decorations within clothing. The CodeBug has a holder for a watch (CR2032) battery, rather than using bulky AA / AAA batteries, which simplifies the process of using the device away from the machine.
This robotic ball can be used to sequence instructions and react to events, or even used as a gaming device to take part in a range of challenges. Within primary schools, pupils can create an assault course or maze, which could be linked to another area of the curriculum and attempt to navigate Sphero successfully using appropriate code.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation has sold over 12 million units of this increasingly popular computer, which is now finding its way into the primary classroom. Physical computing devices can be connected directly to the GPIO interface on the machine’s surface, or add on boards slotted on top, which have electronic components built in. For example, the Pibrella board contains three LEDs, arranged as traffic lights, a button, buzzer and connectors for motors.
What are barriers to using these devices in the classroom?
Lack of money – devices could be bought second hand, or the cost shared with local schools. Alternatively, devices could be borrowed from a local secondary (high) school or University.
Lack of time – links could be made with other areas of the curriculum, or devices used as part of after school / lunch time clubs
Lack of expertise – more confident pupils could be trained up to assist in lessons, or sessions could initially be taught in conjunction with more experienced colleagues
Neil Rickus is a senior lecturer in Computing Education, primary school teacher and independent trainer / consultant. He is on Twitter @computingchamps