With technology being prevalent in the world today, it’s become increasingly important to introduce this technology to the youth so they may understand it better and improve upon it.
Progress is being made towards that end at MacDonald Drive Elementary in St. John’s, where Grade 4 students are given the opportunity to learn scratch programming, a form of computer programming.
Kevin Duggan, the instructor for scratch programming at the school, initiated the program. Duggan is the CEO of Camouflage Software, a St. John’s-based security software company.
“I act as a coach, not an instructor,” said Duggan. “I show them a video at the beginning and give them a progressive component that they can choose to work on, then the rest of the time I’ll spend going desk to desk, trying to see if they have any problems and pointing them in the right direction. Not doing anything for them, but trying to help them learn.”
Initially, it was expected that the program would pique the interest of only a handful of children. It came as quite a shock to both staff and Duggan as the group quickly reached maximum capacity of 15 students.
Students were quick to sign up for lessons in computer programming and now every Thursday a classroom is filled with eager faces and attentive youth for an hour after class.
“Coding is becoming more important. You need coding, in my opinion, for almost any job,” said Duggan. “Whether you get into a spread sheet or accounting, any discipline ultimately, will have an aspect of coding. It can be developing a program or as simple as doing a calculation.”
Scratch programming is a free desktop and online multimedia-authoring tool available for anyone without downloads. It gives students a useful tool to strengthen their creativity and obtain hands-on learning.
It offers the ability to create games and it can also open the door to more advanced levels of computer programming.
Scratch programming can be used in several ways involving entertainment and education. It can be used for science projects, recording lectures with animated presentations, and for art and music.
According to Allan Kirkpatrick, marketing specialist with Camouflage Software, children as young as five are learning how to code.
The U.K. has already added programming to its schools’ curriculums and there is a push in other schools, including those in Canada, to do the same.
Duggan hopes to follow the Grade 4 students into their fifth year of school to teach further lessons in coding. If he can find help, he would like there to be more tutors who spread out to other schools and other grades.
“If I can get more people to participate, you can introduce this whole program to more of these kids,” said Duggan. “Just like in sports, there’ll only be one or two of them that’ll latch on, but that’s one or two more that’ll be entering university, and this is the driving force for what they do down the road.”
Near the end of the lesson, curious parents stepped in to watch over their child’s back with questions of their own, such as what the child is doing and how they’re doing it.
“I think it’s a real benefit to the kids because it gives them exposure to programs that they normally wouldn’t have access to. Kudos to (Kevin Duggan) for coming in and volunteering to teach,” said Carl Lee, a father of one of the children who attend the weekly lessons. “Anything that helps a child’s ability to create and helps develop an interest in something is great for the kids, and you never know what it’ll lead to for their future.”