May 09 2016
A science educator that I’ve been following said last year that all children should learn to code, because one day, it’ll be as important as English. (Update: She may have said “mother tongue” instead, but my friends don’t call me The Embellisher for nothing!) That got my attention, and I started to realise that yes, there was indeed a buzz around coding. But how relevant is it unless you’re planning for a career in computer science?
And then, quite coincidentally, a school called Tink Tank contacted me inviting Layla to attend an introductory coding workshop. It was a full-day session, very well planned (for our review purposes) as parents were allowed to sit in halfway to observe the class, and even participate in a board game that would ease us into understanding coding language. The trainers also gave a mini-presentation where they showed us the video above (a must-watch!), and talked about why they set up their school–to show kids that they’re not limited to consuming technology, but that they’re able to be technology creators themselves, inventing solutions for real-life problems.
During the workshop, Layla created games using Scratch, which you can read more about here. Scratch is a visually attractive and kid-friendly programming interface that allows kids to create stories, games, and animations–and learn about programming at the same time. I saw Layla working with it, and it’s like jigsaw parts, with embedded code, that you piece together for a final product.
In the first part of the workshop, which I didn’t get to observe, Layla worked with LightBot, which helps kids:
* understand step-by-step (i.e. logical thinking) processes
* learn the concept of “procedures” and pattern finding
* learn the concept of “debugging”
Next, she used Makey Makey to make a virtual piano with bananas. You can watch a short clip of her playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with her piano buddy here. Makey Makey is an invention kit that can turn everyday objects into touchpads–it works with programming tools like Scratch, and it’s a way for kids to experience how hardware and software interact to fulfil an intended purpose.
After a lunch break, they began on Scratch proper, where she created a ghoul game with Teacher Nekesh. I arrived midway through this segment, when she was already putting ghouls on the screen, making them move and bounce off the screen whenever they hit the edge. After that, she learned to make the ghouls disappear when “shot” (with a mouse click), and to create a scoring system for the game.
Her second and final Scratch project was to create a virtual candy store with a checkout system, and here’s a screen shot:
I was settled and ready to take notes at this point, so Teacher Himmy had my full attention. A few things that struck me about his teaching style, which showed he understood what kids need:
* He asked kids to partially close their laptops whenever he was explaining a new step, which I thought was a great strategy for minimising distractions.
* He broke up the task into little steps and asked many questions along the way, e.g. before the kids started making their store, they were asked to name the different elements of the sample store that they were viewing. There were only four students in the class that day, and I noted that all of them were called upon to volunteer answers.
* Sometimes, he would ask the kids to read out loud together, which I thought was another good strategy for getting everyone to focus.
* Kids could work at their own pace–those who finished a task early were given the go-ahead to move on.
* There was a bug in Teacher Himmy’s programme and he pointed it out to the kids, and explained what went wrong and how to fix it.
The set-up for our workshop was superb because each student had a teacher attached to them as well. For quiet students like Layla, this makes a huge difference because she’ll never raise her hand to ask a question, and it’s only when you’re dealing with her on a one-to-one basis that you’ll see what she’s having trouble grasping. However, this won’t be the case for Tink Tank’s regular classes, where there will be up to eight students in a class with 1-2 teachers; their guaranteed teacher-to-student ratio is 1:4, which is still cosy.
Before we called it a day, the teachers rounded us up for a quick game of Coding Farmers:
It’s a board game where players race to a farmhouse using action cards, which are written in plain English, as well as Java code. Again, the trainers showed that they were in tune with the kids, because when the pace started to lag, they stepped in to introduce new challenges that made the game more exciting.
I would definitely recommend Tink Tank based on our experience. I’m also impressed that they’ve mapped out their courses as a journey towards becoming a “Change Maker,” or someone who can use her coding skills to solve real-life problems and create change. The first step in that direction would be their Scratch Coder 101 classes, which begin on June 18. These are 2-hour classes that will be held over 10 weeks, at Park Mall shopping centre (near Dhoby Ghaut MRT). You can read more about the classes here. They’re for 8-12 year olds, but I’m sure they’d be quite flexible about age, as long as there’s readiness and interest.
And here’s a message from the Tink Tank team:
To give kids a flavour of what we offer before deciding if they’d like to join our regular class, Tink Tank will be giving your readers a special promotion to our First Line of Code workshop on May 29 2016. There are two slots available, 8.30am-12.30pm OR 1.30pm-5.30pm. Parents will be invited to sit in from 12pm or 5pm respectively for the kids’ presentation. Simply enter the promo code “EVELYNDISCOUNT” when they purchase the ticket here, and they will only need to pay $25 (U.P. $150)!