Teaching Kids to Code in Sydney

Loreto Kirribilli

Figure: photo credit goes to Loreto Kirribilli

This month I went to a private girls school on the North Shore of Sydney called Loreto Kirribilli.

We spoke to the entire year 7 class and the goal was to teach the girls to code. The girls were all about 12 or 13 years old, and although they used computers at school, most had never done any programming before. As a father, I was keen to see if these kids liked programming. This was a Microsoft-sponsored initiative and was led by Andrew Coates. I took along my mate TJ (Terje Sandstrøm) who was visiting me from Norway.

Before going to the school, Andrew, TJ, and I went through the website touchdevelop.com, which was developed by Microsoft Research. TJ and I expressed our doubts about the website to Andrew that the year 7 kids without any programming knowledge, would understand anything from the site, get any value from it, or even enjoy themselves.

Boy, were we wrong!

Figure: Loreto sits under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and has some of Sydney’s best views, as well as beautiful rainbow lorikeets.

Figure: Loreto sits under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and has some of Sydney’s best views, as well as beautiful rainbow lorikeets.

On the big day, prior to starting, I asked several of the kids if they were looking forward to the days programming. With big smiles, they all said that they were, although they had very little idea what they were really going to do. We got the kids to follow along with the steps Andrew was doing on the projector.

It wasn’t long before they had built their first square box on the screen by using four 90 degree turns. Before I knew it, they had the idea of basic programming, where they typed one line, and ran it to see what results they saw. I looked at TJ incredulously. I should have never doubted Andrew!

You could see a number of kids that were very advanced and were going well beyond the instructions and creating programs where I had to say, “Where’d you get that idea?”

Figure: The girls wrote their first lines of codes together, and were very good at helping each other out if they were stuck.

Figure: The girls wrote their first lines of codes together, and were very good at helping each other out if they were stuck.

Figure: touchdevelop.com was fun for the kids to code

Figure: touchdevelop.com was fun for the kids to code

The tutorials on the site are for beginners. Even if you have never programmed before, you can create your first app in minutes (with no human guidance).

Now check out the results the girls achieved. As you can see, as the kids started changing the variables like lines and angles, they made beautiful and unique applications (the girls might have called them “pictures”, but it was a running program they controlled which made these images).

outcome-1 outcome-2 outcome-3 outcome-4

Andrew asked the crowd if anyone wanted to come up the front and present what they’d created and to my surprise he got about 20 girls clamouring to show off their creations.

The kids were excited to share what they'd made

Figure: The kids were excited to share what they’d made

The goal of the website, created by Microsoft, is that by the time kids leave school, they can not only read and write, but also read and write code. I’m pretty sure these kids will.

The girls were so excited, they said to Andrew, “We had fun! Can Microsoft come back?”. With typical Microsoft aplomb, he said “That’s great feedback!”, and added that he would coordinate with the teachers.