STEMQuest: Teaching Coding at RGS

At the beginning of this project I considered starting my own small scale crowdfunding campaign to put some of my research into practise. In hindsight, this was a bit ambitious for the time frame I had but despite this I put a lot of the groundwork in place.

My plan was to introduce secondary school students to coding and app development in a new and creative way. I was introduced to coding in the first year of my degree but basically thought it was really boring and weird and annoying so I got through the coursework and moved on with my life. Since, however, I’ve realised how enjoyable and beneficial it is to learn. Furthermore, the whole process is quite logical and really rewarding.

I’m learning to code using websites such as Code Academy (www.codecademy.com) and Code with Chris (www.codewithchris.com) and what these sites have in common is the way they encourage the student to apply the code they’ve learned. I wanted to mimic this with secondary school students but in order to do this I had the task of taking those principles from a virtual environment into reality.

The structure of my lessons were designed to combine the creative side of app development with the technical requirements, to produce a well rounded series of activities. The first activity focused on the technical requirements by introducing the basics of HTML which began with introducing the syntax. I described this as the “characteristic” of coding languages. Just like you can look at a paragraph of French and know it’s French, coding languages have the same quality. I then showed this syntax in practise and introduced the structure of an HTML coding file. These slides from my powerpoint are shown below:

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Students applied the steps I had taught them by quickly designing their own website using their new code. While the second task was underway, I went to each group and used their code to create a mini website to show that what they’d learnt had genuine and useful applications. Trying to teach coding without the ability to supply every student with a laptop was of course a big hurdle, but this demonstration aspect of the lesson still proved to be really engaging.

The second task was more creative. I wanted students to consider the transferrable nature of coding skills and through this, I introduced the subject of entrepreneurship. Building an App starts with an idea and while I’d introduced the technical side of coding I felt that concept development should also be considered. I wanted to make this more than a brainstorming activity so I decided to build enlarged iPhone props that allowed students to create a visual representative of their design.

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iPhone prototypes used in second task

Alongside the iPhones, I had various whiteboard stick-on pieces in different colours and sizes, encouraging students to think seriously about the design as well as the concept. The task was to design an App for Year 7 students and it went down a treat. My particular favourite idea was a “Tinder for Teachers” – which isn’t as strange as it sounds. If you had a lesson with a particular teacher in the morning and they were in a bad mood you could swipe left to warn the rest of the student body. To summarise, while the lesson plan will be developed and improved, I felt the underlying principles worked really well.

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iPhone 5C shown on the right

Many thanks to David for doing the CAD for my iPhone design and thank you very much for Rochester Grammar School in Kent for letting me teach their students! After a successful series of lessons at RGS I am considering continuing to develop this idea into a business. It is of course in the very very early stages of development (as can be seen by the state of the twitter) but if you are interested in engaging with potential developments in the future follow @STEMQuest. In the meantime I encourage everyone to get on Code Academy now and have  a go!

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2 thoughts on “STEMQuest: Teaching Coding at RGS

  1. This is awesome Hannah! I was on code academy while on placement last year but stopped when I came back to uni. Thanks to your blog post, I’m definitely going to get back into it (Y)

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    1. Yey Saz! So glad to hear – Team Treehouse has just recently been recommended to me, picks up well where Code Academy leaves off if you’re interested in moving on from it. Go get em 💪

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