Thanks to Assistant Headteacher, Claire Lotriet, who has been having a look at the programming software Python and the all new Switched on Computing for Year 6!
It’s probably fair to say that in the world of primary programming, Scratch rules! (Or its way up there at the very least!) And why wouldn’t it be? It’s free, it’s a visual coding language, which is great for beginners, but equally you can do some powerful things with it. However, when I saw a new Switched on Computing Year 6 programming unit, involving learning some Python (a text-based coding language), I was excited to get stuck in.
Part of me did however wonder how the children would react to a whole unit of text-based programming – would it be too heavy-going? Would I struggle to get them enthused? Three weeks in and I can confidently say “no” and “no”! Here’s the thing: they were so excited by the purpose of the unit – creating their own adventure games – and that is what has set the tone for the project. The fact that they are also learning how to programme some tricky commands is just part of the process for them.
At the start of the unit, I shared an example of a ‘choose your own adventure story’, provided in the unit resources, and from that moment they were hooked. They enjoyed participating in one so much that they couldn’t wait to get going with planning their own stories with multiple endings. It’s a tricky idea, but breaking it down into settings and using a tree diagram format, as advised in the teaching sequence, made it accessible for everyone. I also allowed time in that first session to explore programming some basic commands in Python, which I think is important when introducing any new programming language or software.
A wonderful bonus to this programming project has been the quality of the actual story writing. I did remind the children that the expectations for their writing would be the same as if they were story-writing in a literacy lesson and that it was an adventure story with suspense so they should choose language carefully, but that was really it. Despite this brief instruction, the children have really gone to town on producing a story that makes their game more enjoyable. The fact that their writing has a purpose and they know they will be getting other pupils to test their games is what has made the difference. They want their game to be exciting and so the writing has to match that – the coding and the content of the writing have equal importance. Using a text-based programming language has really lent itself to this project in a way that Scratch couldn’t. Stripping away the sprites, backgrounds and everything else Scratch has to offer has also helped them focus on the writing.
Ultimately, the primary computing programme of study has never stipulated what coding languages should be taught; it just sets out the concepts. However, I would definitely recommend giving some older pupils a chance to get their teeth stuck into a text-based programming language like Python. It’s great for them to work with the concepts of computing in different contexts and compare them and also put their debugging skills to the test with a different type of coding.
NEW Switched on Computing Year 6 is now available! Download a free sample and find out more.