Dick and Dom on Coding, Invention and the New Curriculum

Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

After being added to the national curriculum, computer coding is becoming an integral part of our kids’ lives.

Dick and Dom are a familiar double-act, whether you know them from the cult BBC kids’ show ‘Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow’, as regulars on CBBC or the presenters of the hit quiz ‘Are You Smarter than a Ten Year Old?’ Now, the comedy duo are on a mission to explore the innovative world of digital design and technology with their latest show, ‘Appsolute Genius’.

Simon Goodwin caught up with the pair after their appearance on Samsung’s stand at the BETT Show, where they were hosting a live coding session for kids with the Fuse robotic arm and showcasing the brand’s latest tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Education.

Tell us about the event at the BETT Show?

Dom: Well, the robotic arm was provided by a company called ‘Fuse’ who were working in conjunction with Samsung on their brand new tablet, and the Tab 4 had been coded to operate the robotic arm. It was incredible! Usually, to get a robotic arm to move with technology at school they would wire up electronics and use batteries, but this is completely using coding on a tablet.

Did you guys have fun?

Dick: Yeah, it was a great crowd. Classes of young people and school children from various schools came to learn about coding with us today. We were asking if anyone is interested in or inspired to become the future of computer science and loads of kids put their hands up, so it’s great to see people wanting to get involved in this area.

…And learn anything from the experience?

Dick: I suppose it’s just how much coding has come on over the years. When we were younger we used to do coding on our Commodore 64 or our ZX Spectrums, coding is the same kind of principle; type in the word and you get the message on the computer. But, what you can do now with code is amazing!

Dom: What coding used to mean was you get a result on a computer screen, now you can get a result on a physical piece of equipment, like a robotic arm.

Did the kids have a natural flair for technology?

Dick: Bloomin’ heck, yeah! Completely. Any kids can pick up any device and work it straight away, like when parents used to ask us to set the recorder for the video player. These days, kids can use a computer better than we can.

What are your earliest memories of tech?

Dick: Probably the Commodore 46 and the ZX Spectrum, but the end result wasn’t anything that incredible back in the 80s.

Dom: You never would have thought in the 80s that kids now would have educational tablets and be doing all their work from them. You know, as a parent, you ask your kids how school was and they kind of go, “I dunno”, and you can’t get anything out of them. Well, these tablets can sync up with parents at home. So they can keep an eye on what they’re doing and how much effort they’re putting in.

Back to the Future predicted we’d have hover-boards by now, do you think they’ll ever happen?

Dick: Weirdly enough, I was reading an article about this the other day, and someone in California has invented some kind of hovering system, but it hasn’t totally taken off yet! 

What tech product would you most like to see invented or improved?

Dom: Actually my kid woke up this morning, and said, “Daddy, I’ve got a really good idea for an invention”. It’s a metallic box that you put on a pets neck, or our cat, and whenever it goes, “meow”, it translates what the cat’s saying into English. What a brilliant invention, so you can find out what those conniving blooming sea lions are actually thinking about you.

Dom, do you encourage learning about tech at home for your kids?

Dom: Not a massive amount yet. One’s 4 and the other has only just turned 7, but they already have IT lessons at school. I don’t want to hammer technology down on them too much, we still go outside a lot, but it’s something you can’t ignore – it is the future. We do sit down and have a go on Google maps and experiment with loads of computer game apps.

As a dad, do you find kids are getting their hands on technology much earlier now?

Dom: Yes, you only have to go to a coffee shop and you’ll see mums and dads are nattering away while the kids are sitting there on the tablet. They’re being introduced to technology basically from birth.

Dick: It was quite disturbing actually; I saw a potty that had a built-in tablet holder. I think that might be taking it a little bit far…

Parents are concerned about their kids spending too much time in front of screens, is that something you try to moderate at home?

Dom: Even though I adore tablets and I think technology is fantastic and wonderful, I think you have to be very, very careful as a parent to know the boundaries. A lot of technology now has limitation controls, so that it will turn off and send a signal to the parent when it’s time to switch off – I think as long as we don’t get bogged down with technology.

How can parents wise-up on coding and keep up with their kids now it’s being taught in schools?

Dom: There’s so much online that you can look at, and getting your hands on one of these Samsung tablets can really help you understand what’s going on. There’s also information on about the computers and what to do.

What advice would you give dads who want to get their kids excited about coding and programming?

Dick: Watch our TV program of course! Appsolute Genius with Dick and Dom.

The BETT Show seems to bring a long a lot of digital alternatives to traditional ways of teaching and interacting, do you think kids will find it easier to learn with more screens in the classroom?

Dick: It’s really going to make learning more exciting, because this is what kids want to be doing anyway, they want to be on these tablets. So to learn a school lesson through it is the perfect way forward.

Dom: They can’t get distracted as well, because they have blockers on them so they have no access to anything else. It’s really got the people at the heart of it.

Why is it important for all kids to learn coding and programming?

Dom: It’s increasing their options really. It used to be a niche; IT used to be a bit of a doss about. Whereas now it’s actually integral because there are so many job opportunities out there that involve computers, so you have to learn it.

What’s next for you both?

Dick: Well we are going to be wrapping up the series that’s already transmitted, Appsolute Genius, so we’ve shot that. Part of the series was a competition to get kids to design their own app which will then get put on iTunes, so we’ve announced the winner and now the next part is their story – we went to Buckingham Palace to find out who the winner was – and that’s all going to be filmed and transmitted in about a month’s time.

Dom: We are also working with Aardman, who were putting the app together, so it’s going to be great to see the winner’s journey and how he did it.