Chris Roffey, Head of Science at Ewell Castle School, has been concerned about the lack of good programming books for children for some time; this in an age when computers are so important to everyone’s daily lives. He therefore set about writing materials for Ewell Castle School’s lunch time Coding Club to fill this gap. Thanks to some lucky timing he has been able to turn these initial ideas into a series of books that are being produced by Cambridge University Press. The first book, Python Basics, is out now with the next two available in early 2013.

Children in this country use programs and apps on computers and their phones every day, but they often have no idea how they are made: our children are become consumers rather than creators of software. Unfortunately, most computer books, aimed at the novice, are difficult to use: they try to cover everything in a specific programming language; are full of jargon; are immensely long; and are not aimed at kids. They teach how to write code but not why certain decisions were made or how to design programs.

The first book is attractive, short, costs little more than a magazine and covers the basics of the Python programming language. Although Python was designed as a teaching language, it is used extensively in industry and is one of only three languages that Google Apps can be written in. Python Basics is one of a series of short books produced by Cambridge University Press that, it is hoped, will be a little like a reading scheme but for coding. Each book encourages readers to experience writing code while building small, fun applications. The readers are challenged to hack the code and make it do new things. The aim is that students learn how to code well and become great coders through practice rather than the impossible aim of learning to program in a week – as some books promise.

Chris is not the only one who thinks this way. Google chairman, Eric Schmidt has said that he thinks the UK has been throwing away its computing heritage. The Raspberry Pi foundation is selling £30 computers to encourage children to try programming. The books get a technical edit from Alex Bradbury, the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s lead Linux developer.

Chris Roffey said:
“I was lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. What initially started as part of the lunchtime coding club at Ewell Castle has grown into a much bigger project. I realised that I had the same aims as the Raspberry Pi team at Cambridge University and they have been extremely helpful. I met with Cambridge University Press at last January’s BETT conference just minutes after Mr Gove made his keynote speech disbanding the current ICT National Curriculum.

Too many of the computer books available today end up as door stops! I sincerely hope that these books will provide a better way of learning to code that will suit many 10-14 year olds.”

Python Basics is currently available from Amazon at £6.95