WIT brings coding alive for all 200 children in Gaelscoil Phort LáirgeWIT

Success of codeathon shows opportunity for industry to sponsor a library of kits teachers could borrow and use in the classroom

Thirteen WIT Computing lecturers held a one-day, whole-school, Codeathon event in Gaelscoil Phort Láirge primary school on Friday, 29 November. All 200 students were involved and learned coding skills through Bee Bots, Sphero Block Coding and Scratch. The initiative was spearheaded by Dr Siobhán Drohan, Dr Brenda Mullally and Rob O’Connor.

Kate Warren, vice principal of the Gaelscoil said “we were very excited to host WIT’s first ever Code-A-Thon. Siobhán and I had been discussing such a project for over a year and were delighted to see our plan finally come to fruition. The children were really looking forward to it as they love coding activities of any sort.”

The Codeathon consisted of a suite of lesson plans designed for 4 to 12-year-olds. The Junior and Senior infants programmed a sequence of instructions to move their Bee Bot robots around a map and to arrive at a chosen location. They even drew some of the maps themselves. Senior Infant teacher Fionnuala Knox said she was “amazed at how competent such young children proved to be as coders. As they had been involved from the design of the maps to the coding of the Bee Bots, they were wholeheartedly invested in the programme.”

The 1st and 2nd class children used iPads to code their Sphero Mini robots to knock down skittles and dominos. To drive the robot in a particular direction, they had to figure out the angle, the length of time and the speed. The 3rd and 4th class children also used iPads to program their Sphero Minis, but this time they had to navigate the robot around a maze consisting of a series of different angles and paths of varying lengths. The 5th and 6th class students built a game using Scratch block coding.  They connected their game to a Makey Makey invention kit and built a game controller constructed with PlayDoh. Ciara O’Connor, sixth class teacher, said, “To see children of all abilities working together in teams to create circuits was wonderful. A great mix of art, imagination and technology!”

According to Dr Siobhan Drohan, “the use of the Codeathon kit can be aligned seamlessly with school subjects, such as Maths, Science, Geography, History, Physical Education, Art, Music, CSPE, SPHE, and many more. Taking Maths an example, Spheros can be used to teach aspects such as time, speed, distance, angles, arithmetic calculations. Looking at Science, Makey Makeys, can be used to demonstrate topics such as electricity, circuits, conductivity and currents. The applications of the kit to the curriculum is endless really. Additionally teaching with the kit allows for various student learning styles (visual, aural, physical, etc).”

Kate Warren, vice-principal, Gaelscoil Phort Lairge, found “the children engaged in an incredibly enthusiastic manner with the Spheros and Makey Makeys and, from a teacher’s perspective, this type of engagement with concrete materials is invaluable to their learning. The students were continually planning, problem solving, innovating, collaborating and learning from mistakes through their engagement with the kit. They absolutely loved coding, wanting to be challenged more and more.”

The kit used by the WIT lecturers was funded by the HEA. Dr Siobhan Drohan said “when we finish any event in a school, one thing that always strikes us, as we are packing up the robotic and invention kits, is that we are not in a position to leave any samples of the kit behind, as it needs to be used at the next event. Also, we aren’t aware of anywhere the Sphero and Makey Makey kits are available for teachers to borrow”. Dr Brenda Mullally added “Ideally, if we could get additional funding or even donations from local companies of some kit, we could either leave samples behind in schools or leave it in a centre where teachers could borrow it from. This would enable the teachers and children to continue their learning. With our support, we could empower teachers to teach technology in a fun and engaging way.”

Principal Deirdre Cullinane said of the event, “The Codeathon was a great success. The pupils were very enthusiastic and interested in the activities organised by the lecturers from WIT. We hope this will become an annual event in the school. Bhí gach rud go hiontach. I would recommend other schools try a Codeathon! It was fantastic fun and provided a huge learning opportunity for all our children. Míle buíochas libh WIT!”

Further queries about WIT Computing outreach:

Dr Siobhán Drohan ([email protected])

Dr Brenda Mullally ([email protected])

Rob O’Connor ([email protected])