How to teach Coding in the Classroom?

Technology in the mathematics classroom

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Video Transcript


Well, good morning everybody. My name's Michael Hilkemeijer from ICTE Solutions Australia, and it's my absolute pleasure and privilege to have Andrew Brodie from the EdTech Group who also runs Junior Engineers. If you haven't heard about Junior Engineers, they have won awards for programs for kids.


They also do Teacher PDs and after school and holiday programs in coding and have just been doing just phenomenal work. And like I said, today we have Andrew and he has been happy to speak to us today about what they can do for children, for schools, and for teachers today. Andrew, it's all yours.



- Thanks for that lovely introduction, Michael.



 It's great to be here and I appreciate the opportunity to talk about EdTech Group and the different businesses that make up EdTech Group.


Yeah, so I mean, I'm happy to start with with EdTech Group, which is the parent company of all our businesses. So, EdTech Group essentially is a group of businesses, Brisbane-based, who all have something to do with educational technology. Starting with our newest addition, Cyber Pathways. So, Cyber Pathways delivers accredited and non-accredited cybersecurity training courses.


 In terms of how we can help schools, schools are a target for cybercrime and becoming more and more so. There was a high-profile, Queensland-based school that was hacked late last year. And a lot of the work that schools do on cybersecurity really revolves around hardware. Over 90% of cybercrime that happens in Australia is actually due to human error.


So, that's, you know, the way we store our passwords, the passwords we use, you know, links that we might click. All of those type of things are the most likely things that causes- So, Cyber Pathways delivers culture and awareness training at schools, not just for staff, but for senior executives at schools and also for parents and students. We also have a business,


SkoolBag, which I'm the general manager of. SkoolBag is a communications platform that's designed to streamline and centralize communications between parents and schools. So, you know, a lot of you that I'm talking to are probably teachers at schools, but if you're parents that have children at schools, you'll know that you might get any mix of text message, email, Facebook posts, and it might come from different people within the school.


You know, SkoolBag really aims to really simplify and streamline the way that schools communicate with parents. It's a product that's used by over 1100 schools in Australia and not many of those are based in. But we're really aiming to grow the business in Queensland and we think that, you know, given how fragmented the way that schools communicate with parents is, we think we've got a lot to be able to help.


And then obviously, to Junior Engineers, which, you know, to put it in a basic sense where digital technology is education business, we exist to deliver high-quality and engaging digital technologies as educational to kids. We do that in a number of ways.


Our afterschool classes are designed to be very educational. So, the students work through workbooks. You know, their work gets ticked off, uploaded into a portal which the parents get to see and keep track of. We deliver, I think, 190 classes a week across Australia, majority of those being in Queensland. We've also got school holiday programs.


Now, the school holiday programs are designed to help parents out with holiday care for their students. They're also educational. You know, the kids are learning coding for coding competencies, but they're also, first and foremost, fun. So, our holiday camps are designed to be a really fun way that kids can spend a few days of the school holidays.


Junior Engineers also has a couple of other programs which I'd love to chat briefly about. One of them is Deadly Coders. So, we know that when it comes to who's graduating from STEM-related subjects at the higher education level, First Nation is Australia's.


So, we've got a program, Deadly Coders, which is to provide engaging and positive experiences with STEM from a young for First Nations students.


And that program, it's really early stages. We've been able to deliver, so far, to over 200 students in Queensland and, you know, I think there's a lot more we can do in that space and we're pretty dedicated to working in that space.


Codeflix is a online video streaming service for coding tutorials. So, it is all of Junior Engineers' content that we might deliver in a classroom on a daily basis. It's delivered by our instructors, so they're not paid actors, they're not reading from a script.


And all of the content has actually been developed and written by teachers who specialize in the digital technology space. So, Codeflicks is a really good way to help teachers who are... They may be really confident, and this is what I find a lot when I talk to schools and teachers.


If you talk to a teacher, especially one with a lot of experience, they're very confident in the way that they teach the digital technologies curriculum. When it comes to teaching coding as part of the digital technologies curriculum, sometimes there's low confidence levels.


And I think that Codeflicks is, not only a tool to be able to help with teaching, but also a tool that is very useful for teacher professional development. Because if you're teacher and you wanna know how to teach a project in Scratch about IF statements, you can find the IF statements on Codeflicks video and have your kids go through that tutorial.


And if you are watching along, you are learning how to teach IF statements using Scratch. So I think that, you know, there are many benefits to using a platform like Codeflix and I'll be happy to show the platform a little bit later on as well.


In terms of Junior Engineers, we were formed in 2013. This is pre-digital technologies in the national curriculum. And a couple of local schools in Brisbane sent a note home asking if there were any parents who were interested in teaching an after school coding plan.


So, the Junior Engineers founders were both parents at that school and also engineering academics at the University of Queensland. They were friends and they put their heads together and agreed to teach this coding club. And then, the school up the road, they sent a letter and they wanted a coding club as well.


And Junior Engineers was formed, half a day, Fridays, from a garage for the first few years. And it was engineering academics who were hiring their students, the engineering students, to teach the classes. Fast-forward to 2017, that's when we really became a full-time business; our managing director, Adam, started.


I started not long after, and we're now teaching nearly 200 classes per week in Australia and we run nearly 100 holiday workshops each school holiday period. We actually employ over 150 young people who are our instructors.


A lot of those young people are engineering academics, but we also now hire a lot of education students. The benefits are different for each cohort. Our engineering students are really interested... They're subject matter experts.


They know everything that needs to be known about coding and technology and they're super-interested in that space, but they're gonna go out into the big wide world in the next three years and they need to learn how to.


And so, for them, they're getting some really good soft skill development by talking to groups of people, even if they're kids. You know, this helps develop your confidence when it comes to communication.


And then with our education students, you know, a lot of them are saying to us, "You know, "we get one unit on how to teach digital technologies," and they might wanna specialize, or they might just wanna be ahead of game. But they've got a really good grasp on things like behavior management, class management, how to handle kids, but we give them professional development on the digital technology side of things, so the coding.


We provide all the content for our instructors and ongoing professional development. So yeah, I think that it's a really exciting time for Junior Engineers. You know, we are growing really fast, but we're also looking for more schools in Queensland who want to host our programs.


And Michael, we were talking about this before we went on air and that's about, you know, the way that we operate is a little bit different than a lot of digital technologies businesses.


We do have qualified teachers who are digital technology specialists who deliver our teacher professional development, and we can cater customized courses that meet the needs of schools who might have niche needs.


You know, the last program we did was a customized Arduino program for some schools in towns. We had about five teachers who learned how to teach a customized Arduino project. But really, the majority of what we do is extracurricular.


You know, we hire space off schools, but we see it as a symbiotic relationship. We're offering extracurricular activity for their students. We're also providing income for the school in the form of hire rental fees. So, we hire space under a templated hire agreement and, you know, we're designed to be very.


- Yeah.


- And in terms of Junior Engineers, you know, that's the 30,000.



- That's awesome. So like, so yeah, you've just gone through and explained a bit about, like, being people who are, you know, really involved in the professional development part.



- Yeah, sure, yeah.




- You know, so you got, you know, there are, you know, actual teachers who specialize in digital technology. There is engineers as well.




- Absolutely, yeah.



- So I mean, that's a really great combination, you know, 'cause you just sort of click them together. One is a specialist in the subject, one a specialist in the curriculum and, you know, yeah, that's a really good combination.



- Yeah so, we're very conscious that schools, you know, have a lot of expertise and that we need to deliver extra value, you know, in terms of what schools can deliver. So, you know, we see our programs a lot as either an extension program, or an extracurricular program that compliments what schools are doing in technology space. And we're actually pretty flexible as well.


So if the school says, look, we want you to come and offer an extracurricular option, but we're actually teaching at this particular subject area at the moment, you know, we're pretty flexible with what we teach.


In terms of our staff, so I'm actually a qualified, registered teacher. We have three of those on staff here in head office. And our Head of Curriculum, Ian, is actually a developer. His first life was a developer for a big bank and then he decided he didn't like that and went did a teaching degree.


So, our Head of Curriculum, Ian, really has the best of both worlds where he is got that developer background, but he's also an educator and qualified in education.



- In education as well. That's, yeah.


- 100, so.


- That makes sense.


- Yeah, and really, you know, we don't sit around planning units of work and marking work and all of this sort of thing and we don't have other subject areas we're teaching.


Our pure focus is, how can we teach digital technologies in the most engaging way for kids? And that's what our focus is on. Although we teach Scratch, Python, Minecraft Education, you know, all these type things, we do teach them in really engaging ways.


And as a former teacher myself, you know, I've seen the way that, for example, Scratch gets taught to young kids. And you know, when you've got a lot of other things that you've gotta focus on, it's hard to come up with really engaging. But, you know, that's what we do and, you know, we can really focus in on cross-curricular ways to adapt on projects that are identified and all these types of things.



- Yeah. So, what have you found that, you know, schools most likely tend to gravitate towards in terms of your programs? Like, you know, do they want more Scratch, or Python or, you know?



- Yeah.



- Yeah.



- Good question. So, the majority of our schools are wanting Scratch for primary school-aged children, and Python, or JavaScript for the seniors, for the high school students.


I think our most popular program with the students and parents, however, is Arduino for the high school kids and Minecraft Education for kids. So, Minecraft Education is half a billion worldwide who use Minecraft Education. Very popular platform.


You know, Microsoft themselves have done a really good job at making the platform educational and you can do some really engaging stuff there if. I think that's an area where I think teaching professional would be super helpful.

Now, if you're a teacher and you are trying to think of ways to engage your kids, if you know how to teach coding using.



- Yeah.


- In terms of stuff for high school, I dunno how much of the audience is split between high school and primary school, Michael, but we do customized Arduino projects and we've got about five or six of them. So, these are... They're not off the shelf kits. These are, you know, prototypes that we've designed and built ourselves and then we built that content around that prototype. So yeah, I think that that's probably the most popular high school program.



- In terms of, with the schools themselves, you would at times get maybe, like, P-12 schools that, you know, would want to sort of maybe split the different programs. When that situation arises, is there a real connection between both the primary and the secondary curriculum in terms of how, you know, they can be connected together, or?



- I think, in a situation like that where, and I can give an example here as well, in a situation like that, it's a negotiation with the school as to, you know, here's the content that we teach, this is what it looks like. Wouldn't be super common for us to go into curriculum descriptors and things in that much detail with the school. We would talk about, you know, content areas. And so, probably the best example I can think of is Kelvin Grove State College. So, we teach three different topics at Kelvin Grove State College. We teach Python for upper primary, and that sort of spills over into lower secondary.




- Yeah.



- So, we'll teach kids in grade five who are at primary school, all the way up to kids in grade seven, or eight, Python. And then, we also teach an Arduino, you know, program there. And so, that program is only available for the high school students, so the primary school kids can't do.


But essentially, you know, I sat down with the head of the ICT, a long time ago, at Kelvin Grove State College and we just worked through where these are the programs that they've got, you know, let's negotiate a schedule that works. And look, they've been a partner of ours for a long time.


Amazing student numbers there. And, you know, I think that that's a good template in the way that our programs work. It's that consultative approach to talking to schools about, you know, what they want their kids to be learning after school in an particular environment.


We essentially work off educational best practice research, for example, so we tend to not run programs for children under the age of seven. We get a lot of demand, you know, for parents that wanna send their kids along. What we really want students to be well-developed when it comes to literacy and numeracy before they're learning higher, or thinking skills like computational thinking and critical thinking, and problem solving.


So, we start at grade two and then really then, once students are ready to move... I think the next question is, if you've got a student who's really engaged and doing well with the drop-and-drag visual-based coding, when do we transition most students on to text-based coding? And there's a couple of ways that we could do that.


We do that via a platform, CodeMonkey sometimes, which is activity game-based, text-based coding and copy script, which is similar to JavaScript. And that's a really good way to transition from visual-based coding too, towards that text-based coding. Generally with our Python classes, we'll wait for grade five and I think kids can grasp text-based coding from year-five onwards.


That's a little bit earlier than the curriculum prescribes, but I think that this is another area where we. I think when we first looked at what Junior Engineers was teaching, one of the things that I was hearing from schools was real difficulty that students had adapting, transitioning from learning drop-and-drag code to text-based coding.


And I think part of it was the way that. So, I think if you're in Python and you try and execute a piece of code that doesn't work and it just says, "No," it doesn't give you any feedback, you know, the code just doesn't execute, right, so, as a student, when you are trying to learn in that environment, it's not overly engaging.


But if you've had two or three years of coding in an activity-based platform where if you get the code wrong, it'll actually go back and tell you what you did wrong and then give you another go at it, and then, when you do get the code executed wrong, the activity will actually play out. You'll be able to visually see where you got the code wrong.


So yeah, that was a need that we saw, you know, probably about four years ago, that needed to be filled and I think we're filling that in a lot of schools throughout Queensland environment.




- Okay. In terms of coding, I know you specialize in digital technologies, but with coding, what skills are transferrable, do you think, in other content areas? So for example, you know, could a student use coding skills in an English, you know, sort of context? Yeah.




- I think the way that we look at it is because we specialize in digital technologies, we look at it the other way around.


We look at what other skill, or what broader skills can we integrate into our content. And obviously you've got the main overarching skills, which are problem solving, critical thinking, computation and thinking, all of those important sort of broader skill sets.


But I think that, as an example of a cross-curricular link, or other area, you know, I think... And I've done this as a teacher myself, right? So, this is not criticizing teachers.


This is what I did when I was a teacher. So, you've got a teach a lesson in Scratch, okay? So, we're gonna put a sprite on a screen and then we're gonna write some codes and move that sprite around the script. Okay, so the kids would probably enjoy being in Scratch and not learning math, but how engaging is that?


Now, one of the first Junior Engineers Scratch programs we have, is tessellations of patterns. So, rather than moving a sprite around the screen, they're gonna draw really cool different colored tessellating patterns. And so, you're not only teaching coding, but you're integrating cross-curricular links of maths, you know, angles, patterns, tessellations, all of those type of things. And that's all in. .



- Okay. You mentioned-




- I hope, I hope that explains it-




- It does, yes.


- because a lot of teachers will be trying to integrate digital technologies into a unit of work in another area, whereas we only do it the other way around, if that makes sense.


- Yeah, no, absolutely. You know, you guys are the experts. You know how to use it. So, you know, if you find that works the best way, I think it's a example that many teachers can, you can follow. So, no, that's great. You mentioned that you could do a bit of a demo on-


- Yeah!



- Yep.



- Absolutely, so to do that, I'll have to share my screen.



- Yep.



- And I just wanna make sure that when I do that, I do... Oh, host disabled.



- Okay, there you go. Done it.




- Okay, so with this one, there should be a little share sound button that I'll try and do. And I might just share the screen and see if I can... There we go. Okay, can you see my screen?




- I can, yes, yep.




- Excellent. So, this platform that we're seeing here, is the teacher dashboard for code.


So, you can see that we've got many different subject areas.


Now, these are all linked to the digital technologies curriculum.


And we've got many different types of content in each of the areas. So, we've got Start with Scratch, we've got introductory, beginner, intermediate, advanced. And then, you go to Minecraft Education, beginner, intermediate, and advanced.


In the Minecraft Education Scientist tutorials, there's chemistry and electricity, which again, you know, that's cross-curriculum, is the science, which is super-engaging for students.


We've got three levels of JavaScript, some Roblox content, and we actually have quite a bit of Python content and we've got an integration there with micro:bits.


So, that's all the different types of content. They're broken down into these little modules. So, say I click on the module here of beginner, what I'll have is a lot of different projects that can be built in Scratch. Now, these are relatively engaging activities like building a game, for example.


So, create the Fizz game, create a maze, there's drawing Polygons, here's the Angry Birds one. So, you can see there that I've got a bit of a progress tracker for whether or not I've completed that content.


And then if I click on the module itself, I've got a couple of options over here. We've got the video, I might just play the video quickly. I'm not sure how I've got my sound set, so this could be a little loud. Just down a little, but I'll play the video.


So, just before I start the video, I would like to point out this is what we call PiP technology, so Player-in-Player.


So, this is specialized technology that we've been able to put our tutorial videos in situ in the Scratch platform. So, rather than having to use two screens and watch the tutorial on one screen and code along on the other, you can actually play our coding tutorial while it's sat within the Scratch platform space.


Space key pressed block, and then change the number from zero to 12.



- As the video changes-



- Now, that we have set the height to 12-



- I can actually-



- we want to use the variable to change the height of Flappy. To do-



- Sorry, that was probably enough. So, as the video is playing, I can actually still code in the background and listen along to what our instructor is teaching.


And as you heard, you know, that's not a scripted video.


That's one of our experienced instructors who have taught this stuff, so they know what they're talking about and, you know, they're engaged.


So, I think that the ability to code along in the platform while you're watching the tutorial, is amazing. I'll just click here on the lesson guide.


So, each module comes with teaching resources. So, you can see here, this is the Flappy Bird project, and we've got all of our theory in really engaging slides for the teachers to use.


So, not only does it go through all of the different elements, what you're building, it then also goes through step-by step the code.


So, if you are a teacher and you are not 100% confident with coding, you know that you can pull Codeflicks out, press play, put the teacher resources on a screen, and it steps it out for yourself and for the students, so that they know exactly what code needs to be on their screen.


And as a teacher, you know, all you should really need to do is move along on the resources to where the students need to be and just check in with the students to make sure that no one's been left behind and no one's stuck.


So each of our... Need to maybe minimize here so I've got a panel on the top here. There we go. So, you can see that there's this teacher resources. Once we complete the course, the students get a dashboard where you can download a that they've completed. So, that's, obviously, Scratch. There are programs in JavaScript which is text-based coding. And you can see again, we've got that, that Player-in-Player technology that lets students code along while they're playing.


Hi everyone. I'm Angelica from Junior Engineers, and today we'll become digital artists and create a super-cool bouncing game program using JavaScript.




- Yeah, so look, I remember as a teacher, you know, teaching BTM where you do your- I dunno if they still do that. It's been a while since I've been in the classroom, but-



- There's a flashback for you.




- Yeah, you know, but I see this is something a little bit similar where the students are all sort of working along as the video's playing.


The teacher can stop the video at any time to ask questions, check understanding, you know, all of those sort of things.


And you know, it's a fantastic tool, developed in Brisbane by a Brisbane based-business. And you know, we're really excited to have as many schools in Queensland use this as possible.





- Well, that just look, you know, I really like that concept, Andrew, is, you know, the fact that it's, yeah, you got the guide there, you know, the step-by-step guide and you've got the video. It just makes it really easy, you know, for teachers to follow and to clone-




- Yeah, absolutely.




- and then to, not only to learn, but to apply in the classroom as they're doing it.




- Yeah, absolutely.




- You know, it's just great.




- Yeah, and I think, probably a little bit more background onto why we came up with that platform. So, we are the exclusive distributors in Australia for a platform called CodeMonkey.


Now essentially, CodeMonkey is a platform which is a bit more activity-based. So, the students are coding along to solve a problem, but it gives lesson plans. So, the teachers are actually standing up in front of the class and teaching.


So, there's really broken down sort of lesson plan, which even, you know, gives teachers examples of questions to ask.


It's very detailed. But what we found was, even with that level of support, there were still some teachers who were not confident to get up in front of the class and teach 'em how to code.





- Not every school has a specialist digital technology support, so the Codeflicks really takes that platform idea to the next level where, yes, we're providing a platform where your students can code within that platform, but we're not leaving the teaching up to you.


We're gonna actually take care of that part of it as well.


So, I think that was the rationale behind the platform.


You know, it's very early stages for us and we're still developing new features, but, you know, the platform's ready to go and I'd love to talk to any schools in Queensland, or Australia for that matter, that would be interested in using it as a platform.


I could take you through it and show you a little bit more. But there is there to it, and yeah, it's very well-priced as well, very reasonably-priced for a platform for schools and yeah, happy to talk to any schools.





- So schools, you know, Australian schools, they will be able to have access to it. But what about, you know, schools that are outside, you know, overseas? Is this still possible for them to have access to the same platform themselves, or?




- Great question. So, the exciting answer is that there's more students outside of Australia currently using the Codeflix platform than there are inside Australia.


So we've got, I think it's over 20,000 students in the U.S. currently logging in to Codeflix and using it.


We've got supplier agreements with some countries where the platform is accessible and we have other countries who we've spoken to where unfortunately the platform can't be accessed.


So for example, the videos that sit inside that LMS platform are hosted on Vimeo, and Vimeo is blocked in some countries throughout Asia.


So for example, the platform could not be accessed in China, can't be accessed from Indonesia. But there are certainly countries. . You know, more broadly in the U.S. at the moment than it is in Australia.




- But obviously, you know, we'd like to sort of see, you'd like to see more Australian schools take this up-




- 100%, yeah.


- and, you know, use it in their teaching as well.




- Yeah, so the exciting news is that we've just signed an agreement with MTA, Modern Teaching Aids Australia. So, they're the biggest educational resource distributor in Australia and they'll be distributing this product from, I think this, month.




- Wow!




- I think that- Yeah, so for us that's really exciting, you know, but we'd obviously still, you know, we're a business that deals exclusively with schools and parents.


And the more we have conversations with schools, the more we learn about schools, and that helps us guide what we do as a business because, you know, we're in the business of supplying solutions for teachers.


And so yeah, even if, you know, you can purchase from MTA, you know, we'd love to talk to you. We'd love to have conversation with teachers about what they like about the platform, what they don't like about the platform. You know, it's continuously growing and evolving. And yeah, the more conversations we can have, the better.





- Fantastic, yeah. Well, you know, we'll certainly, you know, help you out with that. Is there anything else that you sort of like, you know, people at schools, teachers to sort of know, you know, what, you know, you guys can do?




- Yeah, look, I think just a couple of observations that I've had. You know, I've been teaching in Queensland for 15 years and then, I've been working in the education sector, you know, as well.


And so, a couple of observations that, you know, for schools is, they do get bombarded, so, you know, many, many emails, many spam marketers, you know, trying to sell things to schools.


I think that that can lead to some schools really, really closing off to help from outside. But there are solutions out there that are developed by teachers, you know, locally, at local businesses, that can actually really help schools. And that's what we're here to do, is help schools.


So, I think not being closed off to external help to solve internal problems, is one of the big pieces of advice I would have for teachers, I think, that we get lots of really good facetime with principals, deputy principals, teachers at conferences.


But conferences for small businesses, you know, we just got quoted $32,000 to attend one particular conference. So, for a small business that provides great solutions, you then have to go directly to schools and that's really difficult to get time talking to a relevant person at a school.


So yeah, that's one piece of advice. I think the other one is, you know, my observation is that there's a lot of schools out there who've gone really hard on spending money on STEM resources.


And they have a lot of teachers at those schools who aren't confident enough to teach with those resources. And one big example of that is drones.


You know, I've seen schools with just brand-new drones that have barely come outta their boxes. And I've sort of said, you know, "What's going on here?" And they'll say, "Well, you know, "we bought these fantastic drones, "now we've gotta figure out how to teach "a subject with them." So, you know-



- To do it, yeah.


- Yeah, so really, you know, building teacher capability in spaces like, you know, being able to teach a class with , teach a class with a drone, you know, to teach a class with Lego Robotics.


I think that the first step in any really successful digital technologies approach is, don't go out and buy all of the fancy equipment before you have the capability of teaching staff to be able to use that equipment.


Yeah, so those are my two really key things that I've noticed . Being open to external help and, you know, building your teacher capability, is the first port of call.




- Yeah, those are wise words. Thank you so much, Andrew, for your time today and for your knowledge and expertise and that information about the EdTech Group and Junior Engineers and all the other areas that you specialize in.


You know, again, it's been my privilege and pleasure to meet you guys because you have done, you're still doing such, you know, phenomenal work, you know, with children and in schools today. And, you know, I look forward to seeing a lot more of the great work that you guys do. So, thank you so much for your time today.




- No, thank you, Michael. It's great to be here.