Parent-led Programming Club at Flora Stevenson’s Primary

For many parents and teachers, computer programming can initially seem intimidating. This is not the case, however, for the pupils who take part in a very successful weekly programming club at Flora Stevenson Primary School. At this club, pupils are currently working on increasingly complex projects such as building calculators and stopwatches.


Steven Clarke, a parent who works in the ICT sector, runs the club. This is becoming increasingly common in the city where parents with experience working with ICT volunteer in schools, helping to broaden the experiences of the pupils and teach them complex new skills. Meeting with these parents also encourages children to learn more about working in the ICT sector after leaving school, meeting many of the Entitlements and Expectations of the Career Education Standard included in the Curriculum for Excellence. (For more information on this please click here.)

Here, Steven describes the activities that his junior programmers currently take part in:

“At the programming club we have up to 10 children who attend and who each work on different programming challenges that I set them, all using Scratch on a Raspberry Pi. The challenges I set them depend on how experienced they are. My intent is to enable them to use most of the constructs in Scratch and to gain an appreciation of computational thinking.


If they have never seen Scratch before, I give them a short introduction to how it works, then ask them to write a program that moves a sprite across the screen. I then get them to think about different ways that they could have written the same program. After that, I give them more challenges that introduce more concepts such as loops, conditionals, variables etc (e.g., a guess the number game).

I also introduce them to the idea of how to write effective code. I have a simple challenge where they have to make six sprites dance when one of them is clicked. Then I ask them to change the program so that the sprite that is clicked doesn’t dance but the rest of them do. This often leads them down a path of writing lots of convoluted code which really gets them thinking about how to write that code better. This introduces the concept of messaging and reinforces the idea of state.


After this I keep giving them more challenges. I ask them to build a calculator for example, which gets them thinking about lists and parsing data structures. They work on

a stopwatch getting them thinking about design patterns like model view controller. I also get them to start thinking like an engineer by giving them incomplete specs of what I’d like them to do and then encourage them to keep asking me questions about what I mean as they work on the program.

I don’t do any lectures. I sit with individual children as they need help and work through a problem with them. So pretty much each child works at their own pace.

We meet each Friday morning for an hour. I have to admit, I don’t do a lot of preparation for this now as we’ve been running it for a couple of years with lots of different children so I’ve seen quite a few progress through the different challenges above. The club has kind of evolved to how it is now. Watching how the children learn helped me figure out what would be a good challenge for them. The biggest challenge for me is thinking of more challenges that will keep pushing them.

The children seem to enjoy it. They keep coming back and asking me for more challenges.”

image001Here are a few words from the children involved:

Tom, P7: “I like the way the challenge stays in your mind and you become determined to do it. Programming is fun and you don’t always realise you are learning new coding. I used Scratch to program an animation showing the Battle of Killiecrankie. It was difficult but really good fun. You do lots of problem solving which I think helps in other things. I really like that programming could be a job.”

Chapman, P5: “I really enjoy the end result, knowing that you have made something and that people do this as a job and you can too. It really helps to have an expert with us and Mr Clarke has really helped us to get better. Coding is fun but can be really difficult too.”

To actively encourage more female pupils to take part in STEM activities, Flora Stevenson’s will be taking 40 girls to RBS in March for a day of Coding as well as starting up a similar club for girls after the February break, run by a mother who works in programming.

If you’d like to start something similar at your school but have no parent volunteers with appropriate experience, a popular alternative is Code Club, a UK-wide network of free, volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children aged 9-11. Several Code Clubs have already been set up in Edinburgh schools. For more information please see

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Free Programming Workshops from ComputerXplorers

computerXplorers1-150x150In conjunction with British Science Week (11 – 18 March) ComputerXplorers are offering free programming workshops for pupils which will teach them to program their own computer games.  In addition, teachers are offered a free ‘Introduction to Programming’ session designed to increase confidence in programming.

Schools wishing to sign up for free on-site children’s ComputerXplorers coding workshops or teachers’ computing CPD sessions on British Science Week’s digital day, Friday 11 March, should email for more details.

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Online Safety Competition supported by Brainpop

To coincide with Safer Internet Day 2016, the Digital Learning Team are calling on Edinburgh pupils to use their creative powers to create a short video encouraging young people to stay safe online. The competition, supported by Brainpop, is open to primary and secondary schools and there are two Brainpop classroom subscriptions up for grabs for the winning videos.

To tie in with the competition, Brainpop have offered all Edinburgh schools an extended free trial of its services, running from now until the Easter holidays. If you are interested in finding out more about Brainpop and the hundreds of resources it offers both online and through apps, click here. To sign up for this, please email Rob Richardson at the address on the poster below. You do not need to enter the competition to sign up for the free trial.

See the poster below for details and check out the Brainpop video for inspiration or to use as a starting point for the activity with your students.

Online Safety Competition

See the Brainpop Online Safety materials here:

Download a PDF of the competition poster by clicking here.

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Leith Primary School Win a Place at First Lego League Final

Last weekend, a team from Leith Primary School won the regional final of the First Lego League, beating 17 other teams (both primary and secondary) to secure their place in the UK and Ireland final next month. The all-girl team, made up of one student from primary seven, two from primary six and two from primary five, won a trophy and £1000 for their school at the competition.


This year, the theme of the project strand of the competition was ‘Trash Trek’. Teams were asked to identify a problem with the way that waste is handled and then design a solution to the problem using Lego Mindstorm materials. Another strand of the competition saw the team creating and programming a robot to take part in a robot game. Students were interviewed by Lego judges to find out about their core values as a team as well as their technical understanding.

The First Lego League club is run at Leith Primary School by the Headteacher, Mr Alasdair Friend, who has overseen it for the last six years and who accompanied the two teams from his school to the recent competition. He is very enthusiastic about First Lego League and believes that it helps learners in a variety of ways, developing team work and language skills as well as building on their computational thinking and problem-solving skills. He has witnessed notable improvements in the language acquisition of the EAL members of the team and thinks believes that it is a very worthwhile project to take part in.


Becoming increasingly popular in Scotland, Mr Friend says that there is always a great atmosphere at the First Lego League competitions and he is looking forward to the team having fun at the finals in Loughborough on 21st February.

Speaking about the competition, Mr Friend said:  “I am delighted the girls team from Leith Primary did so well. They are great role models for girls achieving in science, technology, engineering and maths.”

The winning team members said:

“We feel really proud because it was our first time in the Lego team.”
“It was so surprising to win because we thought our robot wasn’t doing so well at the end.”
“I have learned more about computers doing Lego club.”
“I have met new friends and it’s helped with my maths.”

For more information about First Lego League, see the website here:

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DLT CPD January-March 2016

CPD iconPlease click on the icon or here to view the courses that are being offered by the Digital Learning Team this term.

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Creating a course in iTunes U

Guided access piciTunes U is an iPad app where you can create a course and deliver it to your pupils. Pupils are able to submit homework and staff can use a built in gradebook to store marks. Staff can access all the resources on the iTunes store and the materials on iTunes U.
iTunes U works best when every pupil in the class has an Apple device.

Click on the icon or here to see the step-by-step guide.

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How to use Guided Access on an iPad

Guided access pic

By using Guided Access, you can ‘lock’ your iPad to one app. This is useful if you want students to stay within an app or not to exit an app by accident. Many teachers find this particularly useful when setting up younger children to work independently with an iPad.

Click on the icon or here to see the step-by-step guide.

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