This year over 4 million pupils returned to school in England and became part of a revolution in teaching. A huge change in the 2014 curriculum has seen over 17,000 primary schools relatively quietly roll out a new, but radical way of teaching programming. It’s new and radical because for over a generation pupils have really only been exposed to applications like word processors and simple media tools. A situation that has begun to severely limit the UK’s development talent pool, and now threatens to damage the economy.
After a series of high profile industry campaigns, such as yearofcode.org, the emergance of products such as Raspberry Pi and Kano, plus pressure from figures including David Braben, the government has recognised the problem and challenged schools to gain the expertise they need to ensure that the next generation of technologists can compete on a global stage.
To support such a significant curriculum change, the BBC has overhauled the schools area of it’s website. It’s releasing games, videos and worksheets to help both pupils and teachers develop the skills they need to not only program computers but understand how important devices that contain computers are in our everyday lives.
Our production studio is home to some of the UK’s most talented programmers, and we are a collective of people who have turned our childhood passion for coding into a business. So it’s a privilege to partner with the BBC, delivering a suite of computer technology and coding games for school children, along with supporting material for their teachers.
Tablets In Schools
Tablets are now common place in English schools. According to a report by BESA, over 250,000 are available in England’s primary schools this year.
Integrating tablets into classrooms offers huge benefits, but comes with considerable challenges. There are the expected ones, such as online safety, and the less considered, such as the fact that 5-7% of iPads in schools are dropped. Some problems we have to accept, but others we can do something about. The mixed quality of commercial learning apps and a lack of support for teachers are two of those.
Working with the BBC and teachers we’ve provided children with original, high quality learning games that are expertly aligned to lessons and are available on desktop and tablets.
The games are free of charge and have launched with class worksheets and supporting materials for teachers.
A computer can follow stored instructions and do lots of useful things. In this game players help our characters Crash and Boot to identify which everyday objects contain computers.
Robots only do what we tell them to do. In this game players program a robot to help Crash and Boot deliver a parcel.
Icon Do This
We have to understand the images and language that help us control and program computers. In this game players match computer icons to words using their memory.
Important Things We Did
So how do you go about developing educational games to support such a high profile change in schools? As with any product development, making something easy to use and impactful doesn’t happen by chance.
Here are 9 important things that we did in order to be successful in delivering games for teachers and pupils through the BBC Schools website:
- We were product focused: teachers, pupils and stakeholders were brought together to capture requirements, apply their expertise and test iterations of the games.
- We used experts: what better way to ensure we meet the needs of teachers and pupils than to enlist the help of Professor Miles Berry who helped write the new curriculum. Miles helped us align the games with the work children would be doing in classrooms.
- We tackled the hard bits: by supporting the areas that teachers felt were the most difficult to teach we made sure our games were useful and effective in classrooms.
- We worked closely with teachers: we recruited a team of experienced teachers who helped us create over eighty game designs that were reduced to just a handful that best applied to the curriculum and stood out as great games in their own right.
- We stayed relevant: each game relates directly to children’s experiences in the classroom. For example, the floor robots (think BigTrak) that many children use at school appear in the games.
- We used HTML5 technology: which means that one version of each game works across practically all desktop and tablets devices, in classrooms and at home.
- We produced worksheets: over forty of them, created specifically to support teachers by providing lesson aids around each game.
- We built tools for teachers: the games come with configuration tools that allow difficulty levels to be set, turn on additional content and enable multiplayer modes.
- We tested and collaborated: the games were tested with children in classrooms. Everything from concepts through to learning outcomes were user tested. And the game characters, Crash and Boot, who bridge the stories from each game, were developed in collaboration with school children.