Children’s TV presenters Richard McCourt and Dominic Wood, better known as Dick & Dom, can usually be found exploring history’s greatest science and technology discoveries in their CBBC show Absolute Genius. However, the duo are also big fans of modern-day tech and the fact that coding is now being taught in schools.
We caught up with them at the BETT learning technology event in London, where they teamed up with Samsung to host a live coding session with a class full of children. As well as discussing the computer programming revolution, we also picked their brains about the world of gaming, life-changing inventions, and why they were once mentioned in the Houses Of Parliament…
Why do you think it’s important for kids to learn to code?
Dick: Well, coding technology is definitely the future of the world; it’s the way forward! So, it is essential that coding becomes a part of the national curriculum.
Dom: It’s going to seem a little bit strange in the beginning because this has just been announced by the government, and it’s just coming into schools, but there are so many job opportunities out there that it’s absolutely integral.
Dick: And, as we have heard today, there aren’t enough coders and programmers in this country, so we need more people to get involved, especially kids.
What’s the best way for young children to get started with coding?
Dom: Well, there are loads of different programmes out there that make coding extremely simple that give you step-by-step instructions on how to do it. Scratch is one of them, which we used on a programme we did called Appsolute Genius. It’s very, very simple; you put in the liner code, you put in the instruction, you get given a little computer character – which you can design yourself – and then move him around the screen. It’s simple: you put in the code – the key – that you want to do the operation, you put in the command of where you want him (the character) to go and you press enter.
Dick: But, as we’re learning today here at BETT, Samsung have come up with some great new products which can get kids started on coding – one of them being the new T4 educational tablet device. Hopefully this will start being introduced in schools and the kids can use it to learn; it can be their new text book because they’ll be getting together with Google Play and every single lesson you want to learn about will be on there! And also the new head gear, the Gear interactive headset. It’s virtual reality.
Dom: Virtual reality, yes – the VR head set!
Dick: Yes, thank you Dom! And for a subject like history, you can be transported through the world, to any era.
Dom: Even space.
Dick: Even space.
Dom: So that’s going to make your boring history lesson get absolutely blown out of the water; when you can actually take a journey to that era and look 360 degrees around you.
Dick: So, I think kids are going to be far more interested in how these things operate – how they work – and again, hopefully move into the area of coding.
What websites and apps would you recommend for children wanting to learn about coding?
Dom: Fuse have developed an even simpler version of coding using language that we actually use as opposed to computer language, so that’s a very simple and yet effective introduction into coding.
Dick: And of course, the Samsung website – there’s more about coding on there.
How can parents get involved with helping their children learn to code?
Dom: There’s so much advice on the Internet that’s definitely worth reading up on. Coding is one of those things that, although kids are very computer savvy these days, they will need help with; it’s like trying to learn the piano without a piano teacher – you need someone to hold your hand along the way, and if you’re learning together, it’s even better! My eldest kid and I are learning to play the piano together and it’s become fun, so if you can learn coding together – great!
Dick: And with the new Samsung Tab 4 Educational tool, there’s going to be an option for parents to have a look at how their kids are getting on at school. One of those subjects will be coding, so they’ll probably learn something from that as well.
In your spin-off show Appsolute Genius, you focused on the world of gaming. What was the most interesting thing you found out on the show?
Dick: We learned about Ada Lovelace, who was one of the first people in the world to do coding. She wrote the first lambeth code, which was very interesting. But also, we learned about Alan Turing – the man who invented computers and coding too, really!
Dom: Also, the man who invented Pong, whose name was Al Alcorn! We also found out a lot about Pacman – which is obviously a retro game that we all love – and met the inventor, Tōru Iwatani. He explained to us that the reason the character Pacman came about was that he was in a pizza restaurant, took one slice and there was his character – Pacman.
Which games do you both like playing at the moment?
Dom: I like a bit of Minecraft, obviously.
Dick: We worked alongside Stampy Long Nose, who is an absolute megastar in the kids’ world – he’s a hero in the playground! He basically does instructional videos on YouTube so that kids know how to use Minecraft. He’s so infectious and he knows his market; he’s become a global superstar, earning an absolute fortune! So Minecraft is certainly an interesting one.
Dom: I’m still into my retro games to be honest; I still have Pacman on my phone. Actually, I found my old Atari in the loft the other day. I got it out and I’ve been playing Frogo since.
Dick: Also, the boys and me love Skylander – it’s just the ultimate fantasy adventure…and I did the voice over for the commercial.
Dom: Yeah, that’s why he said that – no other reason!
If you could create your own gaming app, what would it be about?
Dick: The Dick and Dom Universe!
Dom: It would be a cross between Dennis the Menace, Horrid Henry – all that kind of stuff.
Dick: You – the person playing the game – would be able to take over the world with us.
Dom: There would be no rules, no one telling you off. In fact, we were part of a computer game that involved us smacking turtle’s heads with a mallet, and it got mentioned in the Houses of Parliament!
Dick: We should just verify what you mean by that! We used to have a character on Dick And Dom In Da Bungalow called The Turtle Head – which was a turtle’s head puppet.
Dom: The BBC released this game where you got a mallet and had to smack it on the head. Anyway, Peter Lock MP stood up in the House of Commons and complained about it, saying ‘is this really the stuff of public service broadcasting?’ We were only the second kid’s TV programme to get brought up in The House of Commons.
What was the other one?
Both: Blue Peter.
On your show Absolute Genius, you’ve looked at some of the world’s greatest scientists and inventors. Who did you find the most fascinating and why?
Dick: I know we’ve already mentioned him, but it would have to be Alan Turing -because of the computer connection I suppose, and also because of the story behind how he pretty much invented computers and coding through the enigma code during the war. He brought the war to and end many years before it would have otherwise been.
Dom: We might be speaking German if it wasn’t for him.
What do you consider to be the greatest invention or discovery in history and why?
Dom: The wheel.
Dick: Computers! Where would we be without computers?
Dom: Well, we wouldn’t be here today without the wheel, would we? How would we have gotten here?
Dick: Erm, okay…a computer on wheels – best of both worlds.
What was the most bizarre thing you learnt on the show?
Dom: The way penicillin was invented – by mistake! Alexander Fleming put some matter in a petri dish, went away on holiday –
Dick: He left the window open slightly and the wind blew some mould onto this petri dish, and there you go!
Which of your own genius ideas that you came up with on the show do you think was the most genius, and which ones were not quite so successful?
Dick: One of the genius ones: we were looking into the genius Marconi, who invented wireless technology, really. I had to hand glide off a Cornish cliff – Dom was on the ground live on BBC Radio Cornwall – and we had to connect wirelessly whilst I was 500ft in the air.
Dom: The other genius experiment that we enjoyed was ‘The Wall of Death’, which is where you have a vertical drum and you have to ride a motorbike round and around and around. You’re at a right angle to the wall and you have to go all the way to the top. You had no seat belt, no one’s holding onto you; the guy was sitting on the bike and I was on the handlebars in front of him and he just said ‘good luck!’
Dick: Just gravity!
Dick: One that wasn’t very successful was when we reenacted Angry Birds. It all went well but then two days later, Dom found out he had actually broken his collarbone. It wasn’t a very clever idea, swinging into boxes and trying to hit frogs – we made them frogs not pigs.
Do you have any ideas for a life-changing invention that hasn’t been created yet?
Dick: Oh yeah, it’s the one Dom’s kid came up with: a cat voice box. Well, it doesn’t have to be a cat – an animal voice box. It translates what they’re saying.
Which new inventions and discoveries do you think deserve a place on a future episode of Absolute Genius and why?
Dom: Samsung’s Tab 4 Educational Tablet device; Samsung’s 82inch interactive whiteboard and Samsung’s Gear Interactive VR.
Dick: Definitely not, nothing else deserves it.
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