National Coding Week: when is the best time to move from blocks to text-based programming?

Coding languages

It’s day three of National Coding Week! Today focuses on when the best time is to move from blocks to text-based programming.

The English curriculum for computing states that text-based programming should be tackled from age 11 but this isn’t a universal view. Ben Hall promotes early experiences with text-based languages, as Scratch doesn’t allow students to see under the hood.

University of Roehampton lecturer Miles Berry suggests not rushing but, instead, mastering programming using blocks. If you prefer to press on, he commends Java-related language Stride, in the Greenfoot environment, as a next step.

Jon Witts gets his year 7 students onto text-based programming from the start, making use of the BBC micro:bit and the Mu Python environment. Claire Wicher recognises the leap required by students beginning text-based programming and uses Edublocks to help smooth the transition. Martin Caddy recommends another tool, espresso coding that minimises worries around syntax through the use of Python blocks; and Sue Sentance highlights the micro:bit environment because it is possible to switch between block and text views.

We asked our STEM Ambassadors for tips, too. A popular view, and rightly so, is that students should get into the habit of writing code that will be readable by others. PhD student Scott Morgan asks for code that is reproducible and readable with sensible variable names.

My observation is that it’ll be a long time before students are fluent in any language and there are many ways to ease their journey. Don’t give them a blank text file and ask them to fill it with code; rather get them to fix (or sabotage) sections of code and build up gradually.

Whichever path you choose, Code club South West advise you to start simple, don’t rush, enjoy the learning experience and have fun.

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