Having fun with coding and learning coding are not exclusive to each other. The two can be one and the same thing, but they can also work against each other if not done right.
In this blog, I'll look at the range of ways in which coding can be taught to children and teenagers to find that sweet spot where fun and learning are both at a maximum.
There is also more information about coding for kids in our Parents' Guide to Coding.
Learning through fun
We're all aware from our own experience that when we enjoy a learning experience, we learn more. A great teacher makes it more likely that his or her students learn more not just because they can explain things more clearly but because they instil a sense of enjoyment in the subject.
But this leads to some interesting questions. Is fun necessary for learning? Is fun the only ingredient that's needed for learning? Does everyone need to have the same 'amount of fun' to learn?
Is fun all that's needed to learn?
No, unfortunately, just having fun is not quite enough to learn. We can see this with games that our children play. Some of them are educational; others less so. The amount of learning is more in educational games, even if the amount of fun is the same.
Of course, on a certain level, children are always learning through every experience and every game. The type of learning I'm referring to here is that which is linked to learning a new subject or topic.
The teaching of coding can often fall into the "fun" trap. By this, I mean that the focus is exclusively on making sure the kids have fun but at the cost of losing sight of the educational aspect.
Platforms such as Scratch and devices such as robots are often used to engage students in technology and coding. This is great, especially for those who may have the wrong impression of what coding is and may think it's not for them.
However, these tools can often lead to the focus shifting to the fun aspect without going deeper down the educational track. We see this often when these tools are overused and used as the main way to teach coding–which they cannot do–rather than just a way of getting students through the front door.
Can there be learning without fun?
Yes, it is possible to learn when the fun aspect is missing. We've probably all had to do this at some point in our lives, either as children or as adults, when there was something we didn't enjoy but we still had to learn, and succeeded in doing so.
However, learning without enjoying the subject is not ideal. It will make the learning harder and slower, and almost certainly, students will not be able to understood the material at the same level as when they learn it with the fun aspect in place.
The 'old-fashioned' methods for teaching and learning coding are quite dry when it comes to coding. These methods are still used sometimes in certain parts of the coding education space. For those students who have a very strong affinity with coding, this is not too much of a barrier. These students will enjoy coding even if the teaching is not inspiring and the projects and exercises are not exciting.
These are the students who will learn coding, one way or another. In the past, these would have been the only students who would have ever learned to code. The problem is that many other students will be put off the subject before they could get to the parts where they can start enjoying coding. This method will lose many students who would benefit from coding.
Coding educators should no longer use the 'old-fashioned' way of teaching coding in which the tools and methods are introduced through unimaginative short exercises.
The sweet spot where learning is fun
This leads me to that sweet spot where coding is both fun and educational. The main challenge when it comes to coding is that coding can only be truly learned when using a full-featured programming language, such as Python. Platforms such as Scratch can only, if I may, scratch the surface with some of the most basic coding concepts.
When coding with a programming language, it can be a challenge to work on exciting projects when at the beginning of the journey as a student still doesn't have sufficient tools to write anything but the most basic programs.
Challenging? Yes. But impossible? No. It may be hard to make those very first steps engaging and fun while still allowing the students to experiment and be creative. But because it's hard doesn't mean we shouldn't do it!
The benefits of finding this sweet spot are huge. This is where we can engage as many students as possible and teach them coding in a fun, yet thorough, manner.