Just Like Music

February 07, 2018

A fortnight ago, I was in the Drumoak church hall running a robotics workshop.  We were learning how to use loops in our programs.  Loops allow a series of actions to be performed several times without the need for endless lines of code.  It’s a core coding concept.

I floated from team to team, checking understanding like every tutor does.  Then it happened – one of those magical moments.

A seven-year-old boy smiled and told me that loops were just like ‘repeat’ in music.  We went on to chat about his drumming skills.  But I stood there thinking how magical his statement was.  This young drummer drew a link between his prior knowledge and what we were learning.  He owned loops!

I believe that early coding is not (only) about nurturing a nation of Ferrari-owning software engineers.  Instead, it has a kaleidoscope of benefits.

By coding, children learn how to bring order to their ideas, be inventive and innovative. In programming a sumo robot to conquer the ring, they learn how to use information from their sensors, think critically, strategically – how to solve challenges.  In fact, once they become comfortable coding, there is often a flood of ideas.  Whenever we learn something new, it’s common to hear “Can we also program our robot to do…” and “What if…”  That’s the palace of wonder I seek to take children to.

In using loops, early coders realise the importance of identifying patterns of repetition that make writing code exponentially simpler.  The ability to identify patterns of logic is a treasure for artists, musicians, doctors, electricians, engineers, and yes, programmers.

Can we really place a value on critical thinking?  Surely all doctors must think critically to help patients?  Most entrepreneurs probably know how important it is to be strategic and think outside the box.  Critical thinkers can venture beyond a list of pros and cons and become ‘intuitive’ in their decision-making, making life much more laid-back whether it’s about choosing a new car or picking a new location for their innovative startup company.

Robotics merges coding and engineering to make innovation tangible and ‘alive’.  It makes coding much more social as children work in teams to build and program their robot.  Through robot races and tug-of-war, we build our gamesmanship skills, grow in confidence, and have a ton of fun!   Beyond the laughs, building a robot allows us to think about structure stability, how gears work together, and how we can ‘borrow’ motion from our motor using pulleys.  Furthermore, it opens up the world of sensors as we can interact with our ‘friendly’ robot.  I’d even venture to say that robotics builds empathy as programmers must see the world through the eyes of someone else (the robot) in order to ensure that their code induces the right robotic behaviour.

So, I’d like to say thank you to the drummer in Drumoak, for reminding me how awesomely expansive programming is.



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