Teaching Coding

Sounding out the London tech industry recently it seems there is a shortage of good, experienced coders and developers right now, and those that are around have been snapped up by the financial services industries.

Being involved at my daughter’s primary school and thinking about Eric Schmidt’s comments about our education system I’ve been thinking about my experiences learning to code and how we can find ways to encourage our children to become more active coders.

After visiting Bletchley Park last weekend and playing with the BBC Acorns and ZX Spectrums it took me back to my youth and how I learnt to code. Back in ’82 about 20% of my 150 strong peer-group at secondary school would play and exchange games on these platforms, games like Dogfight, Deltawing, Commando, Turbo Esprit and Elite.

DeltaWing Loading Screen

We were all pretty passionate and excited about the latest release just like my children are today with the latest games. A handful of us got a bit more interested and would go through the laborious process of typing in simple games from computer magazines, and even designing our own games (I remember trying to develop a Spectrum version of Galaxians for example), but the majority were happy just to play games. The few of us who did write were self-taught from the code examples we were learning from as we copied and typed.  IT/ITC didn’t even exist at our schools.  The closest we got to an IT education was programming simple Space Invaders games on our HP programmable calculators in Maths when the teacher wasn’t looking. None of our teachers were programmers and I don’t remember being encouraged by my parents to programme either. It was just exciting, new, and it felt limitless, and the games we were playing were being developed in London and they were cool – that is what inspired me.

So how can we get more children programming?

I think Eric Schmidt was right, we need to stop teaching them how to use applications and start showing them how they are written and can be developed. If we could show children what is possible with a text editor and the right libraries then surely they must be inspired to create their own projects – after all sharing them these days is going to be a whole lot easier too. I’m right behind the BBC and Manchester Metropolitan University’s aim to encourage more people to have an interest in programming – let’s hope it takes off!

(btw I still claim to have developed a basic website back in 1985 by producing a simple paginated text based magazine (about my ski-holidays and local events) and remember sleepless nights working out the business plan wasn’t going to get off the ground because the costs of sending out the content on C15 by Royal Mail was going to be prohibitive – thank goodness for TCP/IP.)

Feeling Local – Sentiment Analysis for Communities

I have the vision for a local website which aggregates all the news feeds from Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, and Flickr in the local area and then runs a quick sentiment analysis on the information to decide if the area is overall happy or sad. Using a weather metaphor we then can show the users if the area is sunny/stormy/rainy depending on the emotions captured. We will then encourage users to add their own images and messages to the page to give them a greater feeling of connection, and empowerment over the feelings in their neighbourhood. We would allow users to share their sentiments and comment on the page using existing social networks and to encourage other local users to participate.