100 Hours of Code at Fulham Prep School – Guest blog by Piers Young

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It has been 3 weeks now since Kuato Studios came in to our school and the children are still excited. There have been arguments, yes.  Some are convinced they have coded a game, while some are convinced they’ve only learnt the basics.  All, though, are walking tall because they have managed to get code working with real developers helping them.

As part of the 100 Hours of Code initiative, Kuato kindly agreed to come in and show our Year 6 students some basic javascript. The platform for this was Hakitzu, their own game that takes children through some of the basics. Initially, I had envisaged a lone (possibly disgruntled) outreach employee coming to visit us. As it happened we were very, very spoilt. Daniel O’Sullivan, the Science Editor, who worked on the learning side of the game, Steve Whiting, their Marketing Manager, Kris Turvey, their Creative Director, who worked on the concept art for Hakitzu and Adrian Anta, one of the Programmers who built the game all turned up. The fact that the students were in the room with real-life game developers was a success in itself. Better still, though, was seeing them work with the children. They were patient, great fun, and engaging – even when wifi was conspiring to make their lives difficult. At the end of the session, one student said that was the best hour he’d had at school. Yes, iPads help, but credit where credit’s due: the Kuato team were fantastic.

 

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So what of Hakitzu itself? As a teacher, it’s brilliant for a number of reasons.

  1. Students like it.The game-based front end gets them hooked very quickly and it helps them stick with trickier problems.
  2. Students start thinking like programmers very quickly.We’re trying hard to teach the children computational thinking in the round, rather than just “a language” and Kuato certainly helps this. Children start breaking prob
  3. lems down into smaller sub-problems, they discuss solutions with each other and they spot patterns. An added benefit is that this sort of strategic thinking shows students in new lights. We had one of our (on paper) better mathematicians happily listening to (correct) advice from one of our (on paper) less successful.
  4. Students aren’t shielded from the textual elements of coding. While Scratch/Kodu et al are good for basic sequencing, I’ve not found them very useful when switching to e.g. Python. Because Hakitzu doesn’t shield the players from the JavaScript, the students quickly gain confidence with it. In that respect it is much like Blockly, but with a more compelling interface.
  5. Kuato Studios seem to have found a sweet spot between pedagogy and fun.My Year 6 st
  6. udents all thought the sessions they had were the most fun they’d had for a while, but they all found it challenging. As one student said “It was fun but good fun. I’ve got a bit of a headache but I think I’m probably cleverer now”!

 

The challenge now is how to use it in the classroom. On the one, more tedious hand, we have a small issue with tablets. That issue is “we don’t have them.

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Like many schools we have an IT lab with desktops. On the other, more interesting hand, we have a programme of study where children look at computational thinking in a range of environments, each year edging towards more text-based coding: Kodu in Year 4, Scratch and HTML in Year 5, Lego Mindstorms in Year 6 and then Python in Year 7 and 8. The transition from more visual coding to text-based is a challenge and I’m keen to make use of Kuato to help with that. From what I saw of it in action it’s a great way of the children seeing the process and the code side by side.  Given the children’s understanding of HTML, we may well try to combine with that.

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Whatever we do, Daniel, Steve, Kris and Adrian – thank you from all of usat Fulham Prep!