Encouraging kids to learn code model.
Code Rangers is a Sydney-based company, with a mission to “put kids in charge of technology”. It teaches coding to children aged eight to 18, either in partnership with schools or at extra curricular classes.
Founded in 2014, Code Rangers has benefited from the exposure given to the lack of computer science education, highlighted by political and business leaders.
Deciding to put talk into action, Nicola began her first pilot group in late 2014 with children ‘borrowed’ from friends who were keen to come learn to use an iPad in a different way.
While children spend more time than ever on devices, their digital literacy skills are actually dropping. Code Rangers wants to give children skills to be digital creators, rather than using their iPads and laptops to consume content created by others.
Initially, Code Rangers students explored online cod-ing tutorials – there are so many resources being devel-oped to teach children computational thinking, problem solving, and coding – they’re a great starting place.
But over time Nicola has realised the true point of difference for Code Rangers is the human touch. In a crowded market with new edutech startups jostling for position, Code Rangers is personal. “We adapt our lesson plans as we go, find out what our students are really interested in, and showcase the expertise of our tutors. We realised early that our tutors are highly skilled and want to share those skills – why use online tutorials when we can create great projects with our students, learning together as we go?”
When Code Rangers visit schools, they work with the school to find out what else the children are working on, and explore how they can use code to support other learning areas – which also has the benefit of squeezing more out of a crowded school day and busy curriculum. This might mean one week the team is working with students on their history projects – being created in a coding language like scratch, and the next week they’re demonstrating how to create an online survey to test the market and find out students reading habits, to develop a prototype book review app.
The personal touch also leads to greater student engagement. “With all this talk about coding, what get’s lost sometime is the why” says Nicola. Speak to a coder, and you’ll quickly realise it’s a means to an end. They don’t code to code, they code to get a result, solve a problem, make something work better.
Teach coding in isolation and much like our own memories of high school trigonometry, the “but how will I use this?” question comes from the back of the classroom. Teach coding with a project in mind, that’s relevant and meaningful to the students, and suddenly the room fills with a productive buzz, and the results are wonderful.
Creating engagement through working on relevant projects is especially true with girls. Research tells us that if we want to see more girls choosing computer science university degrees and career paths, we need to focus on the three ‘e’s – engagement, encouragement and exposure.
Code Rangers founder Nicola O’Brien says
teaching coding with a project in mind
is relevant and meaningful for students.
“We believe Code Rangers is hitting these key drivers strongly” says Nicola. “Our face-to-face classes allow our teachers (many of whom are women) to get to know the girls personally, offering words of encouragement when the project hits an obstacle, and making sure the content is relevant and engaging.
We also encourage our teachers to talk about #whatwedowhenclassisover – talking about how they’re using code in their professional lives.
This helps to break down stereotypes about what a tech career looks like, and these days so many jobs have a digital aspect that the coder is no longer the stereotypical guy in the basement”.
Code Rangers recently took a team of girls to a week-end all female hackathon at Sydney’s startup hub, Fish-burners.
They were building an app as part of the Tech Girls are Superheroes competition. The girls loved the buzz of the event, the venue, and the catering. “This “coding with a purpose” approach really fired the girls up, and I’m so excited that they’ve taken out top prize in the primary school division of this incredible competition with their Reading Republic app” says Nicola.
It’s too soon to say if any of them will found a tech unicorn or work at NASA (the girls are aged between nine and 12) but those kind of nudges can have an amazing influence on girls’ choices heading into high school, where there’s a traditionally a huge drop off in girls’ participation in computer science and STEM areas generally.
So is it ever too early to experience the wonder of making your own kitten website, anime drawing project, Justin Bieber game or version of Spotify*? “I like my students to be able to read, and manage a keyboard and mouse” says Nicola, adding “and then unleash those creative ideas and see what happens!”
*All actual projects created by Code Rangers students in the past few months.