1. Rapid Growth in the Technology Sector

IT is one of the top five highest paying sectors in Singapore 2016. Topping the list of high paying jobs, technology-related careers increasingly command top dollar, thanks to the Government’s push in the infocomm sector. Singapore’s Prime Minister has called for more focus on technology as part of the Smart Nation initiative. During his trip to San Francisco last week, Prime Minister shared that strong engineering capabilities will be needed to drive Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative.  [1].

With the Smart Nation Drive, Singapore will continue on its trajectory in going digital, sharing information that improves the quality of life (Eg. myTransport mobile app – making catching a bus a breeze, and passport renewal notifications). [2]

2. Technology is pervasive in almost every industry

Traditionally, digital technology has for many years been applied to imaging, design, education, manufacturing, supply chain and healthcare.

Today, apart from these industries, new uses for technology are sprouting, with FinTech (Financial Technology) being one of the hottest industries. (Eg. PayPal) [3]

According to McKinsey, even the traditional construction industry is ripe for a digital disruption, with technology touted as the way to reduce cost, and ensure timely completion on schedule given the increasing complexity of such projects. [4]

 

5 digital trends that will shape construction and digital projects [Mckinsey]

Fig. 1: 5 digital trends that will shape construction and digital projects

 3.Technology Literacy Makes Children Smarter

Research by Tufts University showed that young children who learned coding significantly improved their sequencing skills, which in turn is known to help with reading comprehension [5].

Similar to learning music, learning coding has now been proven to improve intelligence. Given that teaching Coding to children only started in the recent three years, we can expect more research in this area to come [6].

4.The right tools are now available to teach children coding

Commonly introduced only as a tertiary level subject for Engineering or IT undergraduates, the traditional programming curriculum was one with a very steep learning curve.

With the strong need to first understand the syntax (the grammar, punctuations and vocabulary) of the programming language, many an aspiring programmer has had sleepless nights debugging their code, only to realise that a simple error such as an extra bracket or a missing semi-colon would prevent the program from compiling.

Text-based Programming

Fig. 2: Text-based programming Language

Today, things have changed dramatically with the introduction of drag-and-drop programming software such as #Scratch and #App Inventor. Scratch, which is suitable for children aged 8-12, is an excellent introductory programming software while App Inventor allows development of actual mobile apps.

Instead of being bogged down by the syntax, children can now start as young as 7 and now go straight to the more important aspect of coding – the computational thinking behind algorithm.

Block-based Programming - Scratch

Fig. 3: Block-based programming Language – Scratch

5.Get a head start at school

From 2017, 16-year-old students will be able to take programming as part of their O levels subjects. [7] 

This follows the trend globally, where many countries have started to introduce Computer Science as a compulsory subject starting from Elementary School.

United Kingdom

In 2014, UK introduced compulsory computer science curriculum for children aged 5 to 16. Many parents are amazed by the tech vocabulary that their nursery-age kids are sprouting [8]. By the age of seven, all children will now be expected to be capable of writing and debugging a simple program. By 11, some will be exploring concepts once considered appropriate for undergraduate [9].

Japan

In Japan, computer programming will be a compulsory subject at primary school in 2020, with the aim of improving children’s ability to think logically and creatively[10].

Australia

In Sep 2015, Australia announced that Coding will soon replace History and Geography under their revamped national curriculum. Australian students will begin coding at age 10 and computer programming at age 12 [11].

 

  1. http://www.straitstimes.com/business/economy/what-are-the-hot-jobs-in-singapore-in-2016-here-are-5-highest-paying-sectors?utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&link_time=1462339435#xtor=CS1-10
  2. http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/smart-nation-report-card-lets-get-digital
  3. http://www.inc.com/magazine/201509/maria-aspan/2015-inc5000-fintech-finally-lifts-off.html
  4. http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/infrastructure/our-insights/imagining-constructions-digital-future
  5. http://ase.tufts.edu/DevTech/publications/aera%20handout%20sequencing.pdf
  6. http://www.editlib.org/p/39512/
  7. http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/19-schools-to-offer-programming-at-o-levels
  8. http://www.mirror.co.uk/tech/parents-left-baffled-nursery-age-8449057
  9. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/sep/04/coding-school-computing-children-programming
  10. http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0002951918
  11. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/australia-will-teach-primary-students-coding/
  12. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2015/dec/03/should-kids-learn-code

 

The other day, I was playing with my kids and they were trying to learn some new words. We had just watched “Room on the broom” the weekend before, and we had hours of fun replicating the play as a family. Through this play, they learnt the concepts of gravity: “Down!” cried the Witch; counting (how many persons are on the broom now?); as well as delayed gratification (the characters combine only at the end to slay the dragon).

That is why I believe that all of us are always trying to make learning a fun and enjoyable activity with kids. Whilst this may not always be possible, the times that we have been able to achieve it forge many of our fondest memories with our kids.

Hence this blog post below, substantiated by research publications, which may shed some insights as to why learning in an enjoyable way can produce greater learning outcomes.

Enjoy.

Intuitively, from our own personal experience, we know that being engaged during learning is important for good learning outcomes (i.e. to understand, remember and be able to apply the learnings). Many research papers support this intuitive view [1][2].

How do we then, keep our kids engaged during learning? Gathered from research and my own experience, the following are 3 tips:

1. Use relevant fantasy context to make learning fun [3]

For many years, great teachers have sought to interest and involve their students by embedding instructional materials into appealing fantasy contexts [4]. It is a common conviction that such techniques not only make education more enjoyable but also enhance students’ learning – that children learn best, most effectively and most lastingly, when they are intrinsically motivated to learn. This study from Stanford University [3] demonstrated that increased learning occur when instructional materials are made more intrinsically motivating through fantasy embellishments.

For example, bring your child on a mental adventure to the treasure island. Start with the planning of ration and supplies (which provides the opportunity to learn calendars, multiplication, division and problem solving). Then chart the course with a map and a compass (and here will be a great opportunity to learn angles, speed, distance and time). And finally, end off with finding the buried treasure and sharing the pot of goal (where your child can then learn about money, fractions and percentage).

Another example would be to turn your child into a mini baking chef to teach him fractions and volume (while weighing and preparing the ingredients), time (while timing the bake duration), and angles (while cutting up the round cake).

In the world of fantasy, there is endless possibilities.

2. Embark on project-based learning [5]

[5] Using project-based learning, students pursue solutions to nontrivial problems by asking and refining questions, debating ideas, making predictions, designing plans and/or experiments, collecting and analyzing data, drawing conclusions, and communicating ideas/findings to others. The key to a good project is that it has to be novel (new) to the child, sufficiently challenging and has a closure so that an artifact (e.g. game, app, or physical product) is created.

For example, to learn Law of Motion (Physics), we can embark on a project to build a water rocket.

3. Gamify it! [6]

Games have the mystical power to hold our kids captives. The urge to keep playing is irresistible, especially when the exam is just right round the corner. It can be quite a bane to many parents. Many of us would hope to be able make learning as fun as gaming. Is that possible? This research [6] explored the key game attributes that make games intrinsically motivating:

  1. Fantasy (this is similar to our first point)
  2. Representation – Opposite from fantasy, this is to provide a close reproduction of the real world
  3. Challenge – It has to be the right level of challenge. Too easy or too difficult leads to boredom or frustration respectively (this may seem obvious, but executing it can be tricky)
  4. Assessment and feedback – Have immediate feedback for the child on whether the action taken was positive or negative
  5. Control – Children’s ability to influence elements of their learning environment (e.g. the pace of learning, type of feedback and how they navigate the content) [7]

Now that we know the key attributes, it is time to let our creativity run wild. Want to encourage your child to work on her assessment book? Why not set up an achievement ladder for your child’s chosen soft toy where each assessment completed will move the soft toy up by one notch, until the soft toy reaches its favorite food?

Bonus Tip: Edufy it!

An analogous approach to gamify would be to “edufy” existing games (i.e. modify existing games to include educational elements). This word doesn’t exist yet but it was thought of while we were working on our coding curriculum. Many games have an underlying Mathematical and/or Science foundation in-built in their game play. Putting in some efforts in gaining a deeper understanding of the game will often reveal these hidden educational treasures.

For example, when playing the classic boardgame Risk, calculate the odds of winning – this will teach probability. In fact, most card games have a probability component in its game play.

Angry birds provides us with the opportunity to learn about projectile physics while Lego can be used to teach Mathematics to young children.

Share with us your experience and examples

Do you have other good ideas and examples? Do share with us through the comments box below.

[1] R.M. Carini, G.D. Kuh, S.P. Kliein, Student Engagement and Student Learning: Testing the Linkkages. Research in Higher Education, Vol. 47, No. 1, Feb 2006
[2] G.D. Kuh, Ty M. Cruce, R. Shoup, J. Kinzie, Unmasking the Effects of Student Engagement on First-Year College Grades and Persistence. The Journal of Higher Education, Volume 79, Number 5, September/October 2008, pp. 540-563
[3] LE Parker, MR Lepper, Stanford University, Effects of fantasy contexts on children’s learning and motivation: making learning more fun. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 62(4), Apr 1992, 625-633
[4] Chabay, Ruth W. “Self-perception and social-perception processes in tutoring: Subtle social control strategies of expert tutors.” Self-inference processes: The Ontario symposium. Vol. 6. Psychology Press, 2013.
[5] Blumenfeld, Phyllis C., et al. “Motivating project-based learning: Sustaining the doing, supporting the learning.” Educational psychologist 26.3-4 (1991): 369-398.
[6] Wilson, Katherine A., et al. “Relationships between game attributes and learning outcomes review and research proposals.” Simulation & Gaming 40.2 (2009): 217-266.
[7] Harbeck, Julia D., and Thomas M. Sherman. “Seven Principles for Designing Developmentally Appropriate Web Sites for Young Children.” Educational Technology 39.4 (1999): 39-44.

 

Hi! This is my first blog. I am so excited to be able to engage you. In this blog, I would like to share with you how Coding Lab got started.

“Let’s teach kids to code”, TED talk

I have the habit of watching TED videos on my morning drive to work (a habit I started to deal with my frustration of being robbed of my otherwise productive time by traffic jams) and I saw the video “Let’s teach kids to code” by Mitch Resnick of MIT Media Lab.

I first started coding in university as part of the curriculum and had enjoyed coding ever since – be it simple VBA codes to automate mundane tasks or trying my hand at iOS programmming. As a father of two, I often indulge myself in imagining what my children will be like when they are older, the hobbies they will have, and the enrichment classes (yes, I’m a typical Singaporean parent) they may enjoy. Never had I imagined them coding… at least not till I saw the TED video by Mitch Resnick.

I would have wanted to start coding at a younger age

The benefits of knowing coding is very clear. In the “if I can travel back in time imagination”, I would no doubt want to start coding at a much earlier age. It would have been very difficult for kids to stay engaged and really grasp the concept of programming back in the 90s. But now, with programs like Scratch, kids learning how to code will be as easy as teaching them Mathematics, Science or even the piano. In fact, coding could well be the new literacy – the language which you have to know to interact (at a substantial level) with the endless number of gadgets.

A curriculum to teach my own kids to code

As a parent who wants the best for their children, I started researching about teaching children coding with the intent of ensuring that both my kids are “future-proof”. It was almost like doing a thesis by the time I was done with the research and I was satisfied. Satisfied that I’m able to utilize my strength (in computers, coding and logical thinking) to prepare my kids for the future.

The world would be more efficient if everyone knows coding

The next thought of teaching other kids to code came when I ran into difficulties coaching a few members of my team at work on how they could automate some of the analytical work they were doing. The thought in my mind then was “this could easily be solved with a few lines of codes”. Alright I exaggerated a little; it would probably have needed more than a few lines of codes, but the bottom line is that if the team had known the fundamental concepts of coding, they would have been far better off. That’s when I thought of joining Mitch Resnick in encouraging children to learn coding. The seed got planted in my mind, and I started developing the purpose of (doing my small part) to teach the world to code.

Thanks guys! Will share more with you in my next blog post.

Code well!

Yong Ning

P/s: Sharing with you the video that got me started. You might want to turn it on during your morning commute tomorrow for an entertaining journey to work 😉