The disconnect between children and their technology - teaching kids why code is important

A common sited problem in teaching kids about technology is the difficulty in helping them make the connection between the tech they use and the code they’re learning – something story character Detective Dot might tackle.

In 2014, the government ushered in a change in the curriculum which made it mandatory to teach computing in schools to pupils between the ages of five and 16.

One of the reasons this change was so important was the growing skills gap in the UK IT industry – the number of jobs that need filling is only going up, but the number of people with skills to fill them is not.

Whenever I speak to someone from the education sector about the new curriculum and teaching children to code, there’s one question I always ask:

How are you making sure children understand that the concepts you are teaching them are affecting their daily lives and could be a potential future career for them?

It might be just as simple as saying something along the lines of: “If you like video games, you could get a job making them one day – and you’ll be using your coding skills.”

But Sophie Deen from children’s education company Bright Little Labs has taken the concept one step further, creating a detective book series where the main character uses code and technical skills to be the best detective possible. Detective Dot understands the systems around her, is a white-hat hacker, and she uses code to program her drone sidekick to help her investigations.

The series not only tackles the issue of making sure children are aware that code is what drives the digital objects they use every day, but also stars a young female software engineer as the protagonist throughout the stories. 

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, the Detective Dot interactive books will aim to encourage children to take more interest in IT and the world around them. 

Deen has worked with children in the past, both teaching kids to code and as a play therapist, and states that there are not enough positive tech role models in the media for children to aspire to, particularly for young girls from minority backgrounds – an opinion that’s industry-wide.

“In kid’s cartoons, 0% of princesses are engineers, 2.9% of characters are black, and Batman doesn’t recycle,” says Deen in her Kickstarter pitch for the book series.

“Children, particularly girls and minorities, need positive role models in engineering, science, technology, arts and maths.”

Deen hopes that the development of Detective Dot will help children to begin to understand where the objects and technology they use come from and how coding is used to control them, as well as the importance of computational thinking in day-to-day problem solving.

The digital versions of the books, which are aimed at seven-to-nine-year-olds, also include built in games and personalisation to get children excited about science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (Steam) based subjects.

When the new computing curriculum was introduced, many teachers were concerned about the new subjects they would be asked to teach, and last year one third of schools admitted they had invested nothing in coding training for teachers.

As well as the stories, Bright Little Labs is working on resource materials for teachers to help them use Dot to teach children some of the concepts in the new computing curriculum such as computational thinking and debugging for KS1 and KS2.

The Kickstarter for Detective Dot – Adventure stories for a fairer world closes on January 7 2016.