Guide to Coding in the Digital Technologies Curriculum

Coding is an extremely helpful way of understanding how digital technologies work, so naturally it also forms a core part of the Digital Technologies curriculum. But what exactly do your students need to learn about coding, and how do you go about teaching it?

Digital Technologies can be a difficult subject to navigate due to the scope, breadth, and relatively open structure of the Digital Technologies curriculum. It’s often left to individual schools and teachers to work out the exact details of what to teach classes and how to teach them.

To help you plan your Digital Technologies curriculum more effectively, this guide will cover everything you need to know when it comes to teaching coding in Digital Technologies and how it’s involved.

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Understanding and Explaining Coding

The very first thing you need to be able to teach coding is an understanding of what exactly coding is. After all, you’ll find it hard to explain it to your students if you don’t have a working definition for coding yourself.

At its core, coding is the process of writing out steps for a computer or other device to follow in order to achieve a given goal or task. It uses a variety of different programming languages such as Java, Python, and C++ in order to translate the coder’s instructions into sequences that the computer can understand and interpret as commands.

Coding is one of the key parts of the wider process of computer programming. As well as the actual writing of code, the coding process includes design stages where the coder considers how to approach a particular task or problem, testing stages to see whether the code actually works, evaluation stages to figure out how the code can be improved, and revision stages to implement these improvements.

It’s important that your students understand that there’s more to coding than the code itself – it’s an entire process that engages their creative and critical thinking, as well as problem-solving skills and the ability to reflect, evaluate, and make improvements.

Teacher's Technical Guide to Coding for the Digital Technologies Curriculum

Why Teach Coding?

Another important factor to consider when building your coding curriculum is why it’s important to teach students to code in the first place. The main reasons that Digital Technologies requires students to learn to code is that coding helps to build a variety of useful, transferable skills, and that understanding code is a powerful way to build a greater understanding of technology.

Coding itself is a highly valuable skill in our increasingly digital world, with many professional and academic settings requiring at least basic coding abilities. However, it also helps to build other skills that students can apply to all manner of different contexts.

Coding encourages students to think creatively by finding creative digital solutions to a variety of problems and giving them new ways to bring their ideas to life. It also encourages critical thinking, as evaluation and revision are a core part of the coding process.

Moreover, coding can help to develop effective communication skills. Learning to code is essentially the same as learning another language, and encourages students to think about how best to convey information and instructions.

Coding also allows students to build a deeper understanding of the digital technology and systems in the world around them. Understanding the codes, sequences, and programming that underpin technology allows students to build a deeper understanding of how that technology works and how it affects them.

For example, coding can help students understand how the algorithms behind social media, search engines, and shopping platforms filter content. This allows them to see how the way these platforms are coded can affect the content that they highlight and thus how they can influence opinions and actions.

Coding in the Digital Technologies Curriculum

The next thing you should consider when planning your coding lessons is how coding is handled by the Digital Technologies curriculum. The Digital Technologies Hub is a fantastic resource for this, as it breaks down how different subjects should be taught for each age group and provides numerous lesson plans, exercises, and other resources to help you plan your teaching. 

The Hub provides guidance on the subject areas, topic weighting, and recommended modules for year groups from Foundation all the way through to Year 10. We’ve broken down the guidance for teaching coding to each year group below.

Teacher's Technical Guide to Coding for the Digital Technologies Curriculum

Foundation to Year 2

While it may seem like coding is too advanced a subject for the youngest learners, the truth is that there are many ways you can begin to teach the youngest age groups some basic coding principles through guided play and creative exercises. At this stage, it’s recommended that Digital Technologies is integrated into other subjects rather than as its own subject, though.

The recommended coding modules for this age group are Pre-Programming and the Introduction to Algorithms. 

Pre-Programming aims to teach learners basic computational skills and problem-solving through guided play and visual coding. One way of doing this is through block-based programming apps. The key is to get students to design sequences of steps and understand how this leads to different actions being taken.

Introduction to Algorithms again uses guided play, this time to explore algorithms. The aim is for learners to start to conceptualise algorithms as sequences of steps to carry out certain instructions for different goals.

Year 3 to Year 4

For this age group, it’s again recommended that Digital Technologies teaching be integrated into other subjects and classroom contexts. However, learners can now begin to take on slightly more complex coding projects, as reflected in the recommended Programming Projects module.

The aim of this module is to develop an understanding of computer programming as a series of instructions that changes depending on different conditions and inputs. It may help to use visual representations of coding to emphasise this, such as flow charts, block-based coding apps, or cards representing different instructions that can be arranged in sequence.

Teacher's Technical Guide to Coding for the Digital Technologies Curriculum

Year 5 to Year 6

This age group sees another jump in complexity, introducing more tangible coding projects for them to work on. As with the other primary school age groups, it’s recommended that these projects are worked into existing subjects and classroom contexts as opposed to teaching coding as its own subject.

There are two main coding modules at this stage: Creating A Digital Game and Problem Solving Processes. The first, as its name suggests, is centred on building a digital game, with students exercising creative thinking to create a concept, assess user needs, and how the game should look and operate.

Learners can then write the rules of the game as an algorithm and use a basic programming language to create it. Afterward, they should evaluate how well the game works and whether it meets the original requirements they set for it. You may find it useful to use ready-made online courses built around game-building for this module.

Year 7 to Year 8

At this stage, Digital Technologies can be more easily taught as a subject in its own right rather than working it into other subjects. This is reflected in the fact that the suggested weighting of subjects and activities at this level puts a heavier emphasis on practical coding exercises.

One of the main coding modules for this age group is Robotics and Embedded Systems, which aims to help students develop an understanding of computer programming as a collection of smaller programs. To achieve this, students will use programmable robots or similar tools to solve increasingly complex problems.

The other module with a coding focus at this level is Creating an App/Game. Similar to the module for Years 5-6, this module requires them to build a more complex app or game that includes functions that enable branching choices and iteration. 

Online tutorials can be extremely useful here; consider finding an online course that explains the game designing and developing process step-by-step so that students have access to instructions and guidance even when you’re unable to provide one-to-one support.

Teacher's Technical Guide to Coding for the Digital Technologies Curriculum

Year 9 to Year 10

At this stage, Digital Technologies is usually treated as an elective or optional subject by most schools. The benefit of this is that you’ll likely have smaller class sizes and the students you’re teaching will usually have more of an interest in the subject, allowing you to go much more in-depth on various topics.

The curriculum for this age group again places a heavy emphasis on practical work creating digital solutions to complex challenges, giving a lot of scope for you to develop coding projects for your students to embark on. The curriculum for Years 9-10 builds on the same modules as Years 7-8, providing a chance to develop your students’ skills even further.

The Robotics and Embedded Systems module offers four project options that you can choose from based on your students’ experience level or interests, the resources available to you, and your own areas of expertise. No matter which option you choose, the overall aim is for students to develop coding, design, and problem-solving skills through robotics before evaluating their finished project in terms of how successful it was and how it fits into the wider tech landscape.

The Creating A Digital Game module, meanwhile, operates much as it does for the previous age group. As a group, students should use problem-solving skills and logical thinking to design, build, and evaluate a game for a given audience or purpose. Again, students should evaluate their finished project against their initially stated goals.

What’s the best way to teach coding?

The answer to which methods are the best for teaching coding will largely depend on the context, such as how old your students are and what experience they have had with coding previously.

For younger age groups, it’s best to introduce coding concepts gradually through practical activities that don’t necessarily involve a computer. In particular, activities involving sequenced instructions can be a great way of introducing them to the way a computer “thinks”.

As learners get older, they’ll start to be able to do some basic coding of their own. Rather than jumping in with a full programming language, it may be easier to start them off with a visual programming language or block-based coding apps. This allows them to become familiar with the process and rules of coding without being overwhelmed with learning a complex new language.

Visual programming languages and block-based coding can also be effective learning tools for older students if they haven’t had much prior experience of coding – even adults may find them useful as a way to get started with coding.

At the secondary level, students will be able to take on steadily more complex coding projects, moving from visual coding to actual programming languages. Try to tie these projects to tangible, interesting coded objects such as robots, apps, and games. In doing so, you’ll more easily retain students’ interest and attention by showing them how to recreate technology they may already be familiar with using.

For older age groups, teaching in smaller class sizes can also be very helpful. Due to the added complexity of later projects, they’re likely to need more one-to-one support to get around technical issues they may experience. Navigating complicated new concepts, techniques, and challenges can easily become overwhelming, so it’s vital that you’re available to help them work through issues rather than simply giving up.

Teacher's Technical Guide to Coding for the Digital Technologies Curriculum

What are the best resources for teaching coding in Digital Technologies?

Always remember that you don’t have to work out every aspect of your lessons yourself – there are plenty of great resources available online that can help you to build out your lesson plans. The Digital Technologies Hub is one such example, but there are many, many more websites and services that offer activities, lesson plans, and other resources to help you teach more effectively.

You should also consider using online coding courses in your lessons to provide structured guidance from the start of a project right through to its completion. One great example is Zenva Schools, which offers a variety of courses designed to get students into coding. 

It has a particular focus on games development, which means it’s great for getting students engaged with each project. It also includes many teaching resources including on-demand video lessons, live coding in-browser, in-platform reporting tools for teachers, and a whole host of other great features. Many courses are also entirely free for teachers to use, meaning it won’t break your school’s budget!

Of course, there are many more resources out there to choose from as well. Regardless, however, you can now see what a big role coding plays in the Digital Technologies curriculum and can begin to plan accordingly how you can go about incorporating it.

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