Joshua Lowe, winner of Young Coder of the Year, speaks to Anna Malan about EduBlocks, the block-based Python tool helping children around the world to improve their coding skills.
Since launching our partnership with Uptree two years ago, we have accomplished a lot. Our UK offices have engaged almost 400 students through work experience days and #FuturesUP events. We’ve reached 4,165 students through face-to-face school workshops, and over 15,000 students through online content. But perhaps our proudest moment to date has been supporting Uptree’s Future Talent Awards by sponsoring the Young Coder of the Year award.
At Arm, we know that it’s not only critical to invest in the STEM talent of tomorrow, but also to recognise the amazing achievements of the young coding community. Our panel of judges, including the Arm School Program, shortlisted three remarkable students; Yasmin, Murats and Joshua, who each showed incredible drive, talent and curiosity about the potential for coding and tech to change the world for the better.
Our Gold Award student, Joshua Lowe from All Hallows High School, is nothing short of exceptional. In this interview, I chatted to Joshua about EduBlocks, the project that set him apart, and what winning ‘Young Coder of the Year’ means to him. As well as winning ‘Young Coder of the Year’, Joshua also won the overall ‘Student of the Year’ award – read on to see why!
"I am so honoured to have been chosen as ‘Young Coder of the Year’ for my efforts within the coding community. My main project, EduBlocks, was created when I started learning Python a few years ago. I found some parts of it tricky and I could see people in my class at school struggling too. I thought there must be an easier way, so over the past few years I created EduBlocks as a tool to make learning how to code easier. I started my coding journey about six years ago, when I attended an event in my hometown called “Preston Raspberry Jam”. Going to that event I've met lots of people that have sparked my interest in coding and helped me learn how to code. If you’d have told me when I started attending that event six years ago that I’d win a national coding competition sponsored by Arm, I wouldn’t have believed you! My coding journey has only been made possible by the amazing mentors, community members and my family that have supported me along the way, I really have them to thank for getting me this far."
"EduBlocks is a drag and drop version of Python 3 which allows students to learn the Python syntax with minimal errors, allowing younger children to access Python. I think this something that is a huge problem around the world; especially in the UK with the new computing curriculum meaning that students find it difficult due to a number of reasons; as well as teachers not having the correct training in which to deliver this language, I believe. The aim of EduBlocks is to make the transition from block-based programs like Scratch to Python easier for students and teachers, as presently there is no drop-in solution that bridges this gap."
"EduBlocks is currently being used in 140+ different countries around the world by students and teachers alike and includes support for teaching Python, Micro:bit, CircuitPython and Raspberry Pi to people of all ages. I travel around the world with EduBlocks talking about how my experiences of being a student in the classroom gave me the idea to develop EduBlocks. I’ve given talks to audiences of over 3500 people and deliver numerous workshops each month to kids in my local area using EduBlocks to give them an opportunity to discover the world of technology and coding. EduBlocks includes a number of resources and lesson plans that are available for free to all. EduBlocks is having major effects in schools worldwide with it being used in multiple cross curricular projects so that kids as young as seven can create fun projects using a proper software language."
"The great thing about the maker community is that companies are always coming out with new products and most of these products are Edublocks compatible, so all they need is for me to build support for them. An example is when the BBC Micro:bit was launched and MicroPython support was built for it; I was able to take it and build an EduBlocks editor for the Micro:bit. At that time, I had only supported the Raspberry Pi, but with the release of the Micro:bit, this allowed me to take my project further. I’d really like to see EduBlocks expand to more boards to allow more people to access it in the future. Also, I’d like to develop a full teaching curriculum so that teachers have lesson plans and resources to deliver EduBlocks in their classes with ease. I ran a crowdfunder and this is hopefully something we can see in the future too."
"There are 3 main barriers that I see for young people wanting to learn text-based coding. They are also some of the main reasons I developed EduBlocks:
1 - Some children might not have the typing skills.
Most of the time, text-based coding can be super difficult. However, it’s expected that in schools children as young as 10 to learn it. In the age of tablets and touchscreen devices, many children lack typing skills that are necessary to learn how to code and EduBlocks removes this barrier by providing a visual block based interface for Python that allows children to drag and drop blocks of Python code which makes them more familiar with the language before they jump into coding with text.
2 - Teachers might not have the required training to teach coding
A new computing curriculum was introduced in the UK in 2014 which lead to the removal of the well-known I.C.T subject. Teachers from Business Studies and ICT were left with having to teach programming to students without any training or previous knowledge. This is unfortunately still the case today. We’ve recently seen a £80m+ boost in Computer Science teacher training which will hopefully see computer science and coding being taught properly in most UK schools.
3 - Python can be frustrating with all the errors.
The majority of young children use a program called Scratch as their entry to the world of coding. This is a fun, visual way to learn how coding works and produces a result without any errors. Suddenly, at Year 6 level, children are expected to learn python which is a text-based programming language that relies on good spelling and requires you to make sure everything is correct or else it will throw unfriendly errors. EduBlocks minimises these errors and allows more freedom whilst learning Python making the learning process a much more friendly one."
"Tough question! I absolutely want to go into technology and software development when I leave school but I’m not sure exactly what type of field of technology I want to work in yet. Working in education software is something I want to explore or working for a maker company who are producing products for the maker market. It’d be nice to work on EduBlocks full time, but currently it’s not monetized, and I always want to keep it free so that might not be a possibility."
"One of the things I like the most about coding and tech is that things are always changing, so there’s always more to learn. The Arm textbooks and online courses will be a great way to extend my knowledge in areas that I’ve explored before and gain knowledge in new areas that I haven’t explored before. There’s a great range of topics that look really interesting and I can’t wait to take a look at them and see what I can learn and apply to some future projects."
Find out more about Josh's award winning EduBlocks.
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