Learning computing through play

Babies’ very first learning techniques are established through play; it’s how they navigate the complex world around them. The power of play is undeniable. Therefore, it makes sense that this learning technique should not be lost as children progress through the education system. Former teacher, head of computing/ICT, and head of education at Digital Schoolhouse, Shahneila Saeed, explains how computing can be demystified through play, allowing students to not only understand the subject but, more importantly, enjoy it.

When the new computing curriculum was made compulsory in primary and secondary schools in 2014, it didn’t automatically make the subject attractive to teachers. Ensuring not only their confidence in delivering this new curriculum, but also their buy-in, required lots of support, guidance, materials and ongoing training. And rightly so. It worked; teachers were on board. 

But what about the students? What was needed to engage them in this new subject that,frankly, had a lot of negative connotations already associated with it? A lot of my students assumed it was going to be a really difficult, ‘coding heavy’ subject they’d never master, something that only the ‘techy’ few would grasp; it needed to be as accessible as possible to all students in order to demystify it and for it to be completely effective.  

Demystifying computing

The not-for-profit Digital Schoolhouse programme does just that. The programme is powered by PlayStation®, and uses play-based learning to engage students and teachers with the computing curriculum.  Each Digital Schoolhouse is based in a school, college or university environment, and aims to deliver creative and cross-curricular computing lessons that use playing games to teach computing. 

To get an idea of how it works, let’s think about jigsaw puzzles. For a long time, they have been accepted as a great tool for problem-solving and logical reasoning. ‘Jazzy Jigsaws’ takes this well-loved game further by building in opportunities to develop computational thinking skills. 

Most people who solve jigsaw puzzles have some form of a strategy that they use to approach the puzzle. Thought about more specifically, this strategy can be seen as an example of algorithmic thinking. Decomposition is an effective way to help us solve problems, and we often use this when solving jigsaw puzzles by focusing on a specific group of pieces first. We may choose to group a particular number of pieces by their colour, shapes or proposed location in the final image. 

Carefully designed activities help develop strategic and collaborative thinking skills within learners, as well as all aspects of computational thinking. 

‘Paint by Pixels’ is another game that’s proved popular with learners. Data Representation is a key concept in computing, but often one that pupils can find difficult to grasp. Playing on the popular ‘paint by numbers’ game, this activity enables pupils to 'see' and manipulate bits and pixels to create their own graphics. Getting pupils to use a spreadsheet to create their pixelated graphics can help incorporate important digital literacy skills, while encouraging electronic communication to get pupils to send their stream of 'data bits' to each other can help illustrate networking concepts. 

When you take something that’s perceived to be difficult, and break it down into to bite-sized chunks, it instantly becomes more manageable. When you further add a fun play element to this process, it becomes enjoyable. Making computing enjoyable is key, as that will make it memorable, and ultimately that’s what we’re hoping to achieve. 

 

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