By Sabine McKenna.
Just one second! Coding? Yes, digital literacy, ok. We can all go along with the need for basic computer skills. BUT: Why should everybody know the basics of coding? Or programming? Does Joe Soap, does Josephine Bubbly need to know how to use Java, or C-Sharp?
No, they don’t. Not everybody needs to be able to hardcode a website, or to create a functioning banking app. Or even a blockbuster game, like Flappy Bird. (Remember Flappy Bird?)
However, I argue that Joe and Josephine would indeed benefit from learning the basics of coding – for instance from Scratch, i.e. by using the free online coding platform Scratch.mit.edu.
- Basic coding allows you to explore computational logic - how computers think. Everybody should understand the underlying principles of coding – how commands, grouped in a logical sequence, are carried out under certain conditions. Conditions the programmer can define.
- It is empowering. Everybody should experience the joy of making a computer (or a sprite on a computer screen) do something.
- It is fun. Everybody should have access to a creative outlet such as the inbuilt graphics editor Scratch comes with.
- You can be part of a large online community. Everybody should be able to see what others have created, and how they have created it – and if they have an idea how to improve on those creations, they should be able to do so. (In the Scratch community, that is called “remixing” and is a sign of respect.)
- Coding with Scratch is too good to be left to the kids!
And coding is something you can, and should, start today. All you need is access to a laptop or PC (Scratch doesn’t [yet] work on tablets or smartphones), and to the internet. Have a go now!
● Go to scratch.mit.edu
● Click on “Create” in the top menu
● Drag one of the Motion blocks across to the right (the work space)
● Add a “turn 15 degrees” block. See how they snap together!
● Click on “Events” in the scripts selection and drag “When sprite clicked” across. Let it snap to the top of the other two blocks.
● Now click the cat (= the sprite) and watch it move and turn on each click!
● Would you like the cat to move and turn 10 times? Go to the Control selection and drag “repeat 10 times” across, so that it “eats” the move and the turn blocks.
● Test your mini-program by clicking on the sprite again. Hmmm, you can’t really see what’s happening. We need to slow it down!
● Add “wait 1 secs” below the “turn…” block. Click into the 1 and change it to 0.2 - now try again. Perfect!
Easy, wasn’t it? You were using triggers, loops, directions, control, and all without working up a mental sweat. That’s the beauty of Scratch! The first steps are really easy, and yet it is extremely powerful.
If you’d like to explore some more, there are lots of tutorials on the Scratch site. And if you’d like to be able to save (and maybe share) your projects, you can join Scratch for free. It’s not just for youngsters, you know!