Friday 24 January 2020

US institute to use teacher's coding 'magic grid'

Seamus O’Neill at the CoderDojo club he founded in Navan. Photo: Seamus Farrelly
Seamus O’Neill at the CoderDojo club he founded in Navan. Photo: Seamus Farrelly

Louise Walsh

An Irish primary teacher has been contacted by the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a bid to use his coding work in a programming language.

The US creators of the free globally used programming language Scratch are to incorporate the work of Meath primary teacher Seamus O'Neill in its development. The visual programming language has been used by students and teachers to easily create animations and games since it was first launched in 2007.

The programme, which provides a stepping stone to the more advanced world of computer programming, was updated in 2013 and is now available online.

The makers, MIT Media Lab, approached maths author Mr O'Neill for permission to add his coding method into the software.

Mr O'Neill has long been a fan of Scratch and was the founder of the CoderDojo club in Navan five years ago.

"My slogan of Scratch with 'Ready-Steady-Code' makes coding simpler and fun," he said. "The 'magic mix' of vector grids on a bitmap stage makes it easier to teach logical thinking and children can complete assignments with code as easy as with a pen and paper."

It's this new grid that has impressed MIT so much that it contacted Mr O'Neill last week informing him of its decision to add it to its backdrops library.

In a series of emails, the director of learning resources and research of the MIT Scratch team, Natalie Rusk, said: "I recently learned about your grid backdrop and am planning to add it to the Scratch library.

"I see how it can be helpful to have this vector version of the grid.

"These look great to me. I'm going to add them to the backdrop library now.

"The two backdrops should appear in the upcoming release, which should happen within the next week."

A delighted Mr O'Neill said he hoped his research and techniques would help others embrace coding.

"I've never seen anything as good in my 50 years of teaching as the Scratch concept," he said. "The grid makes it easy to draw shapes, angles and loads more that you couldn't do before."

Mr O'Neill, who is running the National Scratch Conference in Trim on June 20 with the support of Meath County Council, is hopeful his grids will be incorporated into Scratch in time to demonstrate them at the conference.

Irish Independent

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