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Computing at Schools - Rotwang's Lair
February 1st, 2013
02:25 am


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Computing at Schools

Well, this is my first post on DW as opposed to LJ so here's hoping this whole cross-posting thing works.

As many people know I've been involved for a long time with a number of groups that are involved with young people and technology including but not limited to STEMNet, Young Rewired State, Code Club, Mozilla, Apps for Good and The Social Mobility Foundation. For some time I've been meaning to find out more about Computing at School - the education arm of the British Computer Society. For those folks in the tech industry that  have heard of the organisation at all often have an unfortunate idea that it's a stuffy organisation dominated by the likes of Microsoft. So, when I had the opportunity to go along to their meeting at BETT this evening (having to cancel an evening with Martha Lane Fox at NESTA to do so!) I jumped at the chance.

What I found was an extremely open and welcoming group with a very much "no them, only us" policy. Jointly made up of folks with a technology background as well as teachers (of all ages), teacher trainers and academics I was very much impressed at what the group has achieved since it's inception. For example the inclusion of Computing Science as the "fourth science" in the upcoming National Bacalaureat is to be celebrated. This level of policy work, after dedicated and step-by-step work with the DfE, goes hand in hand with building up a nation-wide Network of Excellence of inspired folks of all backgrounds who really want to make a difference from the ground up. These are organised into Regional Hubs and I will certainly be looking into the one in my area.

Which brings me to my first observation:

There are many bottom up organisations working in this area - how can they best work together?

I asked the CAS folks if they work with the groups I've listed above. They answered that while they are impressed and inspired by their work their work they don't meet regularly with them and there is certainly the possibility of work being unnecessarily duplicated. I've strongly suggested that one way to help ameliorate this issue is to start by meeting regularly with the Digital Makers folks at NESTA as a cornerstone of starting to help get these groups working together.

Connected to that another observation:

How can groups in this arena share resources?

We all want the same things - to teach teachers, ideally to help kids teach each other and to produce projects that will delight and inspire the next generation of digital makers. The problem is that the groups doing this are locking what they are doing behind their own walled gardens. Is this due to how they get their funding, is it brand protection or are their other reasons? What can be done to overcome this?

For a start I would love to put together (in conjunction with someone with some actual design skills) one online map which can be toggled to show primary schools working with Code Club, unaffiliated computer clubs, schools involved with CAS (especially Lead Schools), locations of CAS Master Teachers, locations of hackspaces and similar organisations, involved university and college departments (both Computing and Education), etc, etc.

My next observation was:

There was a lack of hairy people in the audience.

It's a truism that long hair and beards do tend to go with the "hacker" end of UK technical community. While organisations like Microsoft were well represented and it was excellent to see a solid commitment from the folks at Raspberry Pi there wasn't much, at least in this meeting, from folks involved in what might be called the "hacker" or possibly "start-up" community. I spoke to a couple of the folks who run CAS and suggested that I could work with them to highlight a number of places (Google Campus, Silicon Drinkabit, Hacks and Hackers, Hackspace Network, many others) where such motivated people hang out on a regular basis and lightning talks and chats over beer could be done to help spread the word and generate new volunteers.

Another thought:

Should CAS and the other groups get involved in gamification of this area?

Should thought be given to awards at different levels for schools, teachers, teacher trainers, techie helpers and most of all kids for achievement in key areas? If so how would this be managed given the current level of limited resources?

I was extremely pleased to hear people discussing the idea of running multiple "hack days" (some people don't like the name) to bring teachers and technologists together. I've been suggesting to the Digital Makers folks for a while that this is desperately needed to get CAS and the other folks I've mentioned under the same roof while mixing with teachers and teacher representatives.

How do we best run a number of awesome "mixer" events without it becoming overwhelming for non-techies?

Lots of thought needs to go into this but I think the most important objective has to be coming up with something like "5 things I can do after I leave in order to stay in touch and make this a success" for each type of attendee so the ball keeps rolling. There are so many awesome technical groups that could get involved - starting with the folks that were at the recent Mozfest.

On top of all this there are still my long-term questions:

How do we fix the terrible CRB system?

How do we build a social network of people who are keen to be involved in this area?

Pertinent given Emma M.'s recent "thunderclap" post

How do we fix the problem of kid-to-kid and adult-to-kid online communication?

Possibly by using a platform like Makewav.es? What I'm very keen to do is leverage the new Government Digital Platform Identity Assurance platform to allow adult-to-child online communication by solidly verified adult users.

Now - on top of those I can add:

Which awesome people can I find to help me realise my dream of building a production line of Scratch / Arduino powered micro quadcopters?

Who was it tonight that said that they had a great set of "Wonders of Computer Science" slides? Can I steal them?

How do we answer the "why bother learning this stuff?" question? Should the community be building a set of videos by people kids know (a-la Brian Cox et al) and kids themselves showing off what they can do that can be used to answer this question?

Anyway - that got less and less structured as it went on but I think I covered everything I meant to ;-). Tomorrow it's time to sign up to the CAS forum and start opening some of these as threads!

(2 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:February 3rd, 2013 12:01 am (UTC)
Ah, perhaps a misunderstanding. I'm certainly not against the principle of CRBs. What I'm against is it having to involve regular face-to-face meetings with document checks and, even worse. the existence of companies that make money by helping organisations deal with the process. If that is happening something is fundamentally wrong.

It's a very good idea in principle - it just needs bringing into the 21st century.
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