Decoded: Learn Coding and Reach Digital Enlightenment in One Day

The internet and digital technology touch upon so many aspects of our lives across the world but so few of us have even a basic understanding of how things work.

Over the last 20 or so years ICT in the England had become nothing more than learning propriety Office packages, this undermined the potential that had been created by the 1980's micro computer boom (an interesting read is the 'Legacy of the BBC Micro Report').

In 2011, Ian Livingstone (OBE, CBE , co-founder of Games Workshop, co-author of the Fighting Fantasy series of books, Life President of Eidos and all-round general polymath) co-authored a review of the UK computer games industry called the 'Next Gen Report.' Livingstone called it a "complete bottom up review of the whole education system relating to games". He identified that much of the systemic issues affecting the industry were down to the uninspiring teaching of computer science in schools and universities.The report proved influential and education secretary Michael Gove confirmed that proper computer science teaching would return to the curriculum;

"Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch," he said. "By 16, they could have an understanding of formal logic previously covered only in university courses and be writing their own apps for smartphones."

Gove implied that this will give pupils a better grounding in the fundamentals of computing, rather than simply teaching them how to use everyday applications. With the arrival of the Raspberry Pi, Ouya and other cheap hackable computing alternatives, the next generation of children have more opportunity than ever to learn the skills to become the next coding entrepreneurs.

This is all great news but there are a lot of issues; the curriculum has been hard fought over and there is the fact that teachers will need support if they are going to make the best use of the new found freedom. To ask teachers to create an exciting and stimulating computing curriculum requires a lot of knowledge and unfortunately there is a skills shortage across Britain.

This is where organisations like 'Decoded' come in. The aim of Decoded is to go beyond changing mindsets and actually teach non-developers how to code. Decoded offer a variety of courses but one of the most popular is 'CodeED in one-day' course;

a one-day course and online platform that inspires and empowers teachers with the knowledge and confidence to teach their students to code.and confidence to teach their students to code.

I went along to the CodeEd training day along with Simon (an ICT Coordinator and Specialist), excited at the prospect of building a multi-platform location-based app in HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript. I have never learned coding in any academic setting, I am self-taught and anything I have learned has been through trial and error and self-teaching through books and online tutorials. I was very confident in using Scratch, Kodu and even some rudimentary Ruby language (through work I had done with RPG Maker in Cambodia) but had never actually understood a real coding language.

Simon achieving flow during the coding session.

Simon achieving flow during the coding session.

The day got off to a great start with a sumptuous breakfast packed full of delicious brain food. This was a great chance to meet everyone and share a little about ourselves and with the Instructors, Alasdair and Tina. There was a nice mix of teachers from EYFS, Key Stage 1, 2 and 3. Once everyone had arrived we went through the itinerary for the day, which was going to be split into 2 parts. The first part would discuss the theory including the evolution of computers and the internet, and the second part would be planning and developing our app.

I found the discussion about computing interesting and whilst quite knowledgeable about what browsers, servers, ISP's etc were I still learnt a lot. I knew a lot of things in isolation but being able to make these links through the discussion suddenly made things much clearer to understand.

We then went through the three different types of code we were going to be using and discussed the purpose behind each one. The code languages we discussed were JavaScript, HTML5 and CSS. We were shown examples of each and steps were broken down so we gained knowledge but weren't overwhelmed with reams of code. There is a whole community with huge libraries of pieces of free code for almost anything, all you have to do is ask through a search engine! The fact is that with that many resources available out there so you don't have to know every line of code, but being able to spot errors and debugging are essential (and a part of the new Computing curriculum in KS1 and 2).

Decoded has a wonderful chilled vibe,

Decoded has a wonderful chilled vibe,

Once we had an understanding of the principles of coding we had a brainstorming session where we had to discuss and plan the type of app we wanted based on the task of creating a multi-platform app which tracks your location and sends a message asking a question once you have reached a certain location. The planning session was a wonderful experience as it was easy to describe the type of app you wanted to create but breaking down the algorithms required took a lot of thought. With careful planning and group discussions we were able to create a flow diagram and were ready to start coding!

For the second part of the day, after lunch, we opened our Macbook Airs and got into coding, guided gently by Alasdair and Tina. It felt really liberating for me as I have wanted to learn coding for so long and through the use of Decoded's excellent compiler we were able to create a real-time app, testing it on the fly through QR Codes on our mobiles. This enabled us to see what we were making and spot any errors, of which there were plenty but by peer debugging everyone was able to help each other out.

I'm not going to lie, it was an intense day and lasted from 9am to 6pm, but at the end of the day I walked away with a working app and more importantly, the self-belief that with a little practice I could code. In the images below you can see my app, a hotel checking in website. My app tells you how far you are from the hotel and when you do get to the hotel it will ask you a question which only you would know (i.e. date of birth, favourite food etc). Once you answer the question correctly you get the passcode for your door.... it's a simple but practical idea, a keyless door.

This is part of my coding, it looks complex but actually it's all pretty simple.... honest!

This is part of my coding, it looks complex but actually it's all pretty simple.... honest!

To test out my app scan the QR code.

To test out my app scan the QR code.

In my current role as a year 2 teacher the level of coding from the course was well above what I would teach but it was useful as many of the structures shown in the course were transferable to an educational setting. Also it has proved useful to me as a teacher as I can now clearly see the progression expected.

Decoded has received an educational fund which allows it to offer the Decoded in one day course for free to whole schools or for 2 individuals to go to the various centres, it is an amazing course and I can say hand on heart one of the best Professional Development courses I have been on.

LINK- Decoded Generic Resources

LINK- Decoded School Specific Resources