4 Learning through exploring and making
Children are usually willing to explore and experiment. Just observe what happens when a very young child is given a tablet or smartphone. This willingness to try things out is key in learning computing. For very young children, playful learning is an essential stage in their development. For older children, play can be a way of understanding how something works and of connecting cause and effect. This process of experimentation and exploration in computing is often referred to as ‘tinkering’ (Barefoot Computing, 2014b). Tinkering is not a mindless exploration; it’s a way for children to construct a mental model of how something works. Children and adults will explore systems (a digital device, a computer program or a game) in different ways, following what interests them, trying things out and making connections.
Computing is a creative subject and is often about making things – a game, a tool, an animation or a robot. In school, helping children to design and make things can be particularly rewarding. Learning to program allows children to become ‘digital makers’. Programming can be described as:
…the process of designing and writing a set of instructions (a program) for a computer in a language it can understand …
Computing at School (2014) describes programming as a two-step process:
- Analysing a problem or task and designing a solution. This process draws on the full range of computational thinking skills (logical reasoning, decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, generalisation and evaluation) to design an algorithm to solve or model the problem.
- Translating these ideas to a programming language that a computer can understand. This is ‘coding’ and the instructions that make the program are called ‘code’.
In the next activities you will learn about practical ways of teaching computing in the primary school.