Pycon UK 2014

Apologies for the lack of blog – as always, the new term has been somewhat busy.

This weekend I headed to Coventry for Pycon UK, a convention for users of Python. The lovely Nicholas Tollervay organised a two day education track; one day for teachers, one day for children. I was lucky enough to attend and found it to be a great opportunity for both teaching ideas and networking.

The key point from my perspective was how to introduce Python, as a text based coding language, to the primary school curriculum and whether it is necessary to move on from Scratch before secondary school.

The new computing guideline recommends that you start to look at a secondary coding language beyond Scratch in KS3 and the obvious choice is Python as it is a fairly user friendly and accessible language. It was generally felt that the most able children in upper KS2 could definitely handle Python, but more importantly, that Python could be used to introduce some more complex computational thinking to all children in KS2.

So how can we introduce a language that many of us don’t understand to children?

The first point is that it is important that you get yourself a basic knowledge of Python as a language – looking at the CamJam EduKit sheets or working through Codecademy is a great place to start. I’m only on about 30%, but I feel like I have a good enough working understanding to begin teaching it.

The key skills we felt were important for the children to understand were basic vocabulary and debugging. The concept of debugging was a popular one since the children need to be wary of capital letters, punctuation errors and spelling mistakes, much the same as in any other subject. Suggestions for teaching this involved writing a line of code incorrectly in both Python and/or Scratch and then asking the children to identify why it doesn’t work or else playing a game created by Alan O’Donohoe (techno teacher, podcaster and founder of Raspberry Jams) called Sabotage, whereby children write their lines of code then deliberately put errors in for their opponents to find.

In terms of vocabulary their was a feeling that children need to understand the following terms:

Variables

Control Structures

Functions/Procedures

Loops

I don’t know about you, but I’m already confused – fortunately the clever people at Cambridge University have been developing a Raspberry Pi based game called Pyland that they hope will help introduce Python to children aged 10-12 and so would be a perfect bridge between Year 6 and 7. They are hoping that it will be ready to beta test in schools early next year and if you’re interested it’s worth tweeting lead developer Alex Bradbury who will add you to his list of testers.

Another lovely idea was to present a piece of code in Scratch and then compare it to the same function written in Python, a number of people have said these resources are available on CAS so I guess I need to get hunting, but I’ve been unsuccessful so far.

So, what else did I learn from Pycon? I was reminded that Raspberry Pi have a great selection of resources readily available on their website, I met some lovely coders and developers and had the opportunity to make some great contacts that were willing to help and offer advice to help me teacher coding as best as I can.

All round a lovely weekend and I would definitely recommend that you go if you get the opportunity (and I haven’t even talked about the dancing Nao robots).

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5 thoughts on “Pycon UK 2014

  1. Pingback: Teaching children to program Python with the Pyland game | @charltones

  2. Pingback: An Update | Demystifying the Demystification – a real teacher's view of the new Computing curriculum

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