The Hour of Code is Coming!
Not long to go now for the Hour of Code 2017 (December 4th – 10th) and we can’t wait to see how many pupils and schools participate around the world.
iCompute are delighted to partner with code.org again this year by providing lots of fun, creative, activities for schools to use as part of this event and throughout the year. We’ve put together, free, Christmas themed lessons and lots more, including saving Santa with Scratch, animating a snowman and delivering Santa’s presents with parrot drones! Included are detailed step-by-step lesson plans with built in differentiation and creative ideas for extension and enrichment.
The Hour of Code™ is a global movement and worldwide effort to celebrate computer science. Organised by Computer Science Education Week and Code.org it reaches tens of millions of students in 180+ countries through a one-hour introduction to computer science and computer programming.
In England, children have a statutory entitlement to a computer science education from the age of five. iCompute provides full coverage for the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2.
Each year, we offer free computing lesson plans and computing resources to support the Hour of Code™ and help raise awareness of and engagement in computing science around the world.
BETT Award 2018 Nomination for iCompute!
We are thrilled to announce that iCompute has been shortlisted for a coveted BETT Award for iCompute in the EYFS.
The Bett Awards are a celebration of the inspiring creativity and innovation that can be found throughout technology for education. The awards form an integral part of Bett each year, the world’s leading showcase of education technology solutions.
The Director of BESA, Patrick Hayes, who chairs the panel of judges for the Bett Awards, said:
“This was a record year for the Bett Awards, with more applications from EdTech companies than ever before, coming in from around the world. This reflects the status of the Bett Awards as being the global gold standard when it comes to recognising excellence in education technology. The quality of applications was incredibly high this year, and judges had a lot of difficult decisions to make when deciding who the finalists should be. It is no mean feat to be a Bett Awards finalist, and huge congratulations should be in order for all of the companies who made the cut this year!”
The panel of judges selected iCompute for the shortlist according to rigorous criteria, taking into consideration the innovative nature of the products, their impact on teaching and learning in the classroom, and their cost effectiveness in terms of educational aims and results.
Find out more about iCompute in the EYFS.
Liane O’Kane, Managing Director of iCompute, comments:
“Being shortlisted as a BETT finalist this year is a great achievement and a reflection of our dedication and hard work in helping schools teach primary computing creatively and well. We constantly add to and update our product range to remain at the forefront of advances in educational technology. We never take these things for granted and are very proud that our expertise and innovation in teaching & learning with, and about, technology has been recognised by BETT and BESA once again. Fingers crossed for a win this year!’
The full list of finalists is available on Besa’s website. The winners of the Bett Awards 2018 will be announced on the evening of Wednesday 24 January 2018.
Teach Controlling Physical Systems
I’ve been teaching primary robotics for some time now as part of the computing curriculum that I write for iCompute. I teach with and have produced schemes of work for robotics from EYFS to Year 6 using BeeBots, LEGO WeDo, Sphero and parrot drones to name a few.
Whilst teaching computing itself can be daunting for many teachers, the prospect of the added pressure of actual things being whizzed around classrooms through code can push many to avoid the controlling physical systems aspects of the National Curriculum for Computing altogether!
The rapid pace of advances in technology means children are growing up in an age dominated by embedded computer systems and robotics. It is crucial they have an understanding of its impact on the world and their own futures. Teachers need to be in a position to provide pupils with the level of knowledge, understanding and skills they need to live in the modern world.
Including Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM subjects) in early education provides a strong motivation for learning and an improvement in progression. Teaching robotics is a great way of connecting with children and enables schools to engage the potential engineers and computer scientists of the future.
Most curricula in primary schools cover science and mathematics, but we need to do more in teaching problem solving, computer science, design, technology and robotics.
The use of robotic systems and robotics as a subject offers an introduction to the engineering design process and sets children’s learning in a fun, meaningful, contexts. The fundamental principles of computer science are applied and made easier as models and devices can be designed, constructed, programmed and executed in front of pupil’s eyes. This makes it much easier to learn what robots can and cannot do: their capabilities and, crucially, their limitations.
We’ve recently put all of our robotics units into one primary robotics pack that covers the controlling physical systems aspects of the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 (pupils aged 5-11).
I’m also including some free activities as part of our contribution to this year’s Hour of Code, adding to those already featured last year and still live. As the Hour of Code launches each year in December, I’ll be adding a nice festive twist to my teacher-led activities. Hint: Santa’s sleigh is broken but he has a drone! Here’s a sneak peek of the cover…
Check out my other blog posts for teaching tips and advice about how to manage programming physical devices with younger children. I cover:
The primary robotics pack is now available to purchase from iCompute.
Computing Tests & Tasks
iCompute’s Computing Assessment Tests and Tasks – designed to complement our comprehensive Primary Computing Schemes of Work and existing assessment toolkit – is out now.
Developed by our author – a computer scientist and primary computer science master teacher – the tasks and tests support schools in accurately assessing attainment, pupil progress and target setting in primary computing.
For each iCompute unit for each year, we have produced an associated end of unit online diagnostic test and an end of unit assessment project. Diagnostic testing assists progression planning and helps identify gaps and/or misconceptions. The end of unit assessment projects enable teachers to check skills in computing and computational thinking. The provided answers and assessment guidance informs assessment judgements and can be fed into our interactive digital pupil progress trackers.
Our diagnostic tests match the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. They are divided into iCompute units and are intended for use following each unit to assess pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills.
Our interactive, fun, quizzes are played online and bring a gamification aspect to assessment. Aside from being a powerful tool in measuring pupil progress, they also help increase engagement, motivation and encourage children to challenge themselves.
Forming part of our acclaimed primary computing schemes of work, our Tasks & Tests pack is available to buy from iCompute.
Computing in Primary Schools
This week Lindale CE Primary School were school of the week on Lakeland Radio. Last Friday our author, Liane O’Kane, who teaches computing at Lindale (a Lead School on the Network of Excellence for Computer Science) met with Breakfast presenter Yakkers and featured on their Back to School with Yakkers segment.
The children and Liane spoke with Yakkers about Computing at Lindale Primary. Lindale teach primary computing using iCompute for Primary Schools from EYFS to Year 6 and it was lovely hearing about how much the children have been learning and enjoying their lessons.
Aiming High in Computing
Using drones in schools has the potential to take learning, literally, to a higher level. As they continue to become increasingly practical, attainable, tools for education, teachers around the world are now using drones in their classrooms for STEM and STEAM activities.
In computing, programming drones helps develop children’s skills in algorithms, programming and computational thinking as well as addressing the ‘controlling physical systems’ objectives of the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 2. Exciting curricula and drone lesson plans are being developed that help teachers develop confidence and make the most out of connected devices.
Drones are revolutionising business and industry: engineers use the technology for site surveys, filmmakers capture images that would otherwise be unseen, drones are used in agriculture; farming; conservation; military operations and parcel deliveries. The potential for the application of drones and the rapid growth in the technology is huge. Understanding how they work, their potential and how to control them through coding prepares children for the modern working world.
iCompute lead the way in teaching and learning using educational technology. In anticipation of 3D robotics becoming the next big thing in education, we have extended our connected devices offering of comprehensive, step-by-step lesson plans, computing resources and assessment toolkits using Sphero and LEGO™ WeDo by adding an amazing, creative, 6-8 week coding with drones unit aimed at upper KS2 Computing (pupils aged 9-11 or higher).
Children learn how to program parrot drones to fly, create aerial shapes, navigate obstacles, fire ‘missiles’, pick up and drop objects all set in imaginative contexts. They program Santa’s ‘sleigh’ to deliver presents before going on an epic journey to a Galaxy Far, Far Away to take out the Death Star for the Rebel Alliance!
Two Education Resources Award Nominations for iCompute!
We are thrilled to announce that the ERA Awards 2017 panel have shortlisted iCompute in the following categories:
Organised by Brilliant Marketing Solutions and The British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), The Education Resources Awards (ERA) are now in their 18th successful year and are firmly established as the premier annual event to celebrate outstanding success for the suppliers and teaching professionals of the education sector throughout the UK.
The awards highlight and reward the quality and diversity of educational products, resources, services and people as well as the best educational establishments and the most dedicated members of the teaching profession. The ERA’s aims to encourage the raising of educational services & product standards throughout the industry and is recognised throughout the sector as the Accolade of excellence.
The panel of judges selected iCompute for the shortlist according to rigorous criteria, taking into consideration the innovative nature of the products, their impact on teaching and learning in the classroom, and their cost effectiveness in terms of educational aims and results.
Liane O’Kane, Managing Director of iCompute, comments:
“Being shortlisted as finalists in two categories is a great achievement and a reflection of our dedication and hard work in helping schools teach primary computing creatively and well. We constantly add to and update our product range to remain at the forefront of advances in educational technology. We never take these things for granted and are very proud that our expertise and innovation in teaching & learning with, and about, technology has been recognised by ERA and BESA for the second year running. Fingers crossed for two wins in March!’
The full list of finalists is available on the ERA Website. Winners will be announced at a gala event to be held at The National Conference Centre, Birmingham on the second evening of The Education Show: Friday 17th March 2017.
Laying Solid Foundations for Primary Computing
Our children grow up surrounded by technology. Their everyday interactions and experiences involve it, whether that is inside their homes, at school, out shopping or playing.
Their world is an ever-changing digital world. We owe it to our children to prepare them for living in it. I believe that it is never too early for children to start learning the fundamental principles of computer science because, as Edsger Dijkstra famously pointed out “Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes” (attrib) .
Much of computing as a subject can be learned without using computers at all. Primary aged pupils are perfectly capable of executing algorithms. They do so every day: they use algorithms to solve problems in mathematics, learn letter sounds, spell, use grammar – I could go on and on! Algorithms are designed and can be applied in a myriad of different situations.
Computing is much more than the computer, the device or the tool. It’s about developing computational thinking skills (more on that in this post) so that our children can become effective, analytical, problem solvers. It’s also about equipping them with an understanding about how computers and computer systems work so that, combined, they develop transferrable skills which will enable them to design, develop or even just adapt to new tools and technologies in this ever changing digital age. More than that, they develop important skills that will help them in their everyday lives, throughout their lives.
The best practice for EYFS is where computing activities:
- are imaginative and fun
- involve being creative
- require collaboration and sharing
- involve listening, understanding, following and giving instructions
- encourage describing, explaining and elaborating
- encourage investigation
- involve problem solving
- include lots of ‘unplugged’ activities: computing without computers
By offering your children an imaginative, engaging, introduction to computing you help them form solid stepping stones towards their KS1 computing and beyond.
iCompute’s expertise and innovation in teaching & learning with, and about, technology has been recognised by BETT and BESA with iCompute in the EYFS being nominated for two awards. Find out what BESA (chair of the judging panel has to say about the finalists:
The Hour of Code is Coming!
Not long to go now for the Hour of Code (December 5th – 11th) and we can’t wait to see how many pupils and schools participate around the world this year.
iCompute are delighted to be involved by providing a selection of fun, creative, activities for schools to use as part of this event and throughout the year. We’ve put together, free, cross-curricular computing activities that include Computing with English, Computing with Maths and Robotics with Sphero!
We really hope you join us this year for The Hour of Code and introduce your children to the joy of creative computing!
Preparing The Next Generation of Problem Solvers
iCompute’s computational thinking puzzles for primary pupils are a ground-breaking new development in primary education. In the digital age, the benefits of computational thinking throughout education are increasingly being highlighted. Our, colourful, engaging and challenging puzzles are designed for children aged 7-11 to independently practise and develop the fundamental computational thinking skills that lie at the heart of the National Curriculum for Computing:
“A high quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the World” (DfE)
Computational Thinking is about transforming a seemingly complex problem into a simple one that we know how to solve. This involves the use of abstraction, decomposition and generalisation when approaching tasks to remove unnecessary detail, split it into manageable parts and build on solutions we have used before. Finding solutions involves spotting patterns and using logical reasoning – applying rules to find solutions, eg. if this happens then I need to do that, otherwise I need to do this… Once we have a working solution, we then use evaluation to analyse it and ask – Is it any good ? Can it be improved? How?
Teaching computational thinking is not teaching children how to think like a computer. Computers cannot think. Computers are stupid. Everything computers do, people make happen. It’s also not teaching children how to compute. It’s developing the knowledge, skills and understanding of how people solve problems. As such, it absolutely should not be confined to computing lessons and should be used throughout the curriculum to approach and solve problems and communicate and collaborate with others.
Our puzzles help develop the fundamental computational thinking skills of decomposition, abstraction, generalisation and developing algorithms. This means children can find solutions and apply those already found to different problems, in different contexts. All of this helps lay the foundations for them to become effective problem solvers.
Solving puzzles leads to important outcomes including challenge, a sense of satisfaction, achievement and enjoyment. Puzzles rouse curiosity and hone intuition. Our carefully constructed computational thinking puzzles – designed by a computer scientist, software engineer and computer science master teacher – provide challenge, insight and entertainment all of which increase pupil engagement and promote independent learning.
Puzzles help children develop general problem-solving and independent learning skills. Engaging in puzzles means that pupils:
- use creative approaches
- make choices;
- develop modelling skills;
- develop persistence and resilience;
- practice recognition of patterns and similarities, reducing the complexity of problems
Pupils use, applying and develop the following aspects of the National Curriculum for Computing:
* Logical reasoning
* Decomposition – splitting problems down into smaller problems to make them easier to solve
* Abstraction – taking the detail out of a problem to make it easier to solve
* Generalisation – adapting solutions to other problems to solve new ones
* Pattern recognition – spotting patterns and relationships
* Algorithms – finding the steps that solve a problem
* Evaluation – looking critically at a solution to determine if there’s a better way to solve it
* Testing – checking whether a possible solution works
* Debugging – finding problems with a solution and fixing them
Our puzzles are designed for independent pupil work and provide pupils with handy tips on how to approach the problems and challenges. They also make clear links between the puzzles being approached, the skills being developed and the relevance of both not just in computing but the wider world. This enables pupils to make clear links between subjects and helps pupils make meaning of their learning.
Download a free Computational Thinking Diary here:
Developing Digital Literacy by Blogging with Primary Children
Blogging is a powerful tool for developing digital literacy in primary schools. It provides a responsive community-driven environment that gives pupil’s writing a voice, an audience and a platform. When children share their world and their thoughts through writing, they understand how connected people are. They learn from each other, challenge one other, question and receive feedback.
My pupils love blogging and I often use it as a way to engage my reluctant writers. See below some of the comments the children wrote about blogging in my classes.
When pupils know they have a genuine audience for their writing, especially when its other children, I see both an increase in motivation and in product; which in turn helps me more accurately assess their work.
To help other schools introduce primary blogging into their classrooms, I’ve developed six new units for iCompute primary computing scheme of work. iBlog contains step-by-step primary blogging lesson plans and associated resources. Existing iCompute Online schools have access to all new units at no additional cost.
I’ve also put together a free infographic about the benefits of blogging with primary children that you can download here.
Develop Primary Computational Thinking Skills With Puzzles
Computational thinking is at the heart of the statutory programme of study for Computing:
“A high quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world” (DfE).
Since the introduction of the National Curriculum for Computing in 2014, schools now teach computing from the age of 5 and have developed curricula to meet their statutory obligations; however many lack a focus on developing computational thinking skills favouring, instead, to concentrate on the programming, or coding, objectives. In this post, I discuss computational thinking in more detail and how teaching it helps children become problem solvers which is important not just in computing but is an essential life skill.
There has been much research into the benefits of puzzle-based learning. Puzzles help children develop general problem-solving and independent learning skills.
According to Badger et al. (2012) engaging in puzzles means that pupils:
- take personal responsibility;
- adopt novel and creative approaches, making choices;
- develop modelling skills;
- develop tenacity;
- practice recognition of cases, reducing problem situations to exercises.
Additionally, in solving puzzles pupils use and apply a range of strategies that cross disciplines in entertaining and engaging ways.
So what does any of this have to do with computational thinking? By selecting the right variety and complexity of puzzles, children will independently practise and develop the fundamental computational thinking skills of decomposition, abstraction, generalisation and developing algorithms.
This will enable them to find solutions and apply those already found to different problems, in different contexts. All of this helps lay the foundations for pupils to become effective problem solvers. Skills that are increasingly important, as discussed in this post, given the digital world we live in and the need to prepare pupils to solve as yet unknown problems using tools and technologies that do not yet exist.
UPDATE: iCompute’s Computational Thinking Puzzle Workbooks 1-4 have been shortlisted for prestigious ERA (Education Resource Awards) 2017 for Best Educational Book.
Badger, M., Sangwin, C, J., Ventura-Medina, E., Thomas, C, R.: 2012, A Guide To Puzzle-Based Learning In Stem Subjects, University of Birmingham.
Controlling Physical Systems – Robotics
As part of my role with Computing At Schools (CAS) as a Primary Computer Science Master Teacher, I have recently been fortunate enough to teach using Sphero, having been lent a set by @cas_lancaster. The task was to produce a set of step-by-step Sphero lesson plans and associated teacher and pupil support materials for primary teachers to use. That is all now done and I’ve had great fun creating our new robotics unit – iCompute with Sphero – which forms part of our iPad pack , as well as being available separately. It will be lent out to other local schools by @cas_lancaster. Teaching progressive lessons using Spheros enables primary schools to meet a number of the objectives of the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 2 Specifically:
- design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts
- use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output
- use logical reasoning to explain how some simple algorithms work and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs
- select, use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to design and create a range of programs, systems and content that accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information
Here, I share my experiences of using Spheros with primary pupils and give some general advice and classroom tips about how to use them effectively, engage and challenge your pupils.
What is Sphero?
Sphero is a robot ball with several features that can be controlled though apps and also includes the facility for pupils to create their own computer programs. The main features are:
- Rolling – Sphero can roll at specified speeds and directions
- Colours – Sphero can light up to a specified colour
- Bluetooth – Sphero connects to mobile devices through wireless Bluetooth
As Spheros are connected to iPads via Bluetooth, preparing to use them in your classroom before your roll up brandishing them and creating general hysteria is vital! Make sure all are fully charged and that your have paired each to a particular tablet in advance. Each Sphero flashes a unique sequence of colours when they are ‘woken’ which can be used to identify them. A Sphero will appear on your tablet’s Bluetooth list using the initials of the three colours it flashes in order, Eg. Sphero-RGB for a colour sequence of Red, Green and Blue.
I added stickers to each of the Spheros with their unique name, as ‘YGO’, ‘RGW’ etc., and also to the corresponding tablet I’d paired it to. This made distributing them and the iPads much easier when in class.
You need lots of space to use these. I used the school hall. I refer back to ‘Preparation’ for this as it may be something you need to organise. I forgot on my first session and arrived with a very excitable class to a hall full of lunch tables. The first half of my lesson therefore involved getting those out of the way.
You can also buy covers called a ‘Nubby’ for outside use.
I tried this with one of my classes and we had to come back inside as it was sunny and therefore impossible to see Sphero’s tail-light: essential to be able to aim it to move in the direction you want it to go. Also, we had iPads and the children couldn’t see the screens.
Now on to the good stuff. My specialism is teaching primary pupils aged 5-11. I think Spheros are suitable for Key Stage 2 pupils, children aged 7-11.
I suggest your first session focus on teaching the children how to wake Sphero, Orient (aim) it and control it using the standard Sphero app. Each Sphero comes with, amongst other things, a pair of ramps and once the children have got used to moving Sphero forward and backward with reasonable accuracy, add the ramps and other obstacles to make things interesting and develop accuracy further.
A lesson, including step-by-step instructions for both teacher and pupil for this are available in our robotics pack.
The following lessons progresses to using the Sphero Draw N’ Drive app enabling the children to gain greater control and begin to understand that Sphero can be controlled to perform specific actions.
I then move things on for the rest of the unit to programming Sphero using Tickle.
We created quizzes that the children programmed Sphero to move and change colour to answer. This presents great cross-curricular opportunities. We create algorithms and program Sphero to be our dance partners for Physical Education. Also, mazes to navigate with excellent links to Mathematics for distance, direction and angle work. The children also program Sphero to travel the globe, linking to Geography, using a free floor map from National Geographic.
Using robotics in the primary classroom presents creative and engaging opportunities for the children to extend what they have learned about algorithms and programming in Computing by understanding that physical systems can be controlled too. With the right blend planning and imaginative resources, using Sphero’s in your classroom has the potential to inspire the next generation of software designers and systems engineers! The possibilities are exciting…
Visit icompute-uk.com for primary computing lesson plans.
How to Assess Primary Computing
Assessment presents particular challenges for computing and many schools have not yet addressed how to accurately assess pupil progress and provide evidence of it. Let’s see what David Brown, former HMI Ofsted’s National Lead for Computing, had to say about computing in schools.
Mr Brown’s message is overwhelmingly that of outcomes with no specific advice about how to achieve them. Having taught Computing in primary schools since 2013, I have found that the time required to cover the programmes of study for Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 is one hour of computing each week for Years 1-6, coupled with cross-curricular work to practise and consolidate skills in other subjects.
Assessing Computing Summary
- Evidence – Use e-Portfolios such as SeeSaw or maintain individual folders on the network for each pupil to contain digital work
- Teacher Feedback – Face-to-face or by using digital ‘marking’ strategies such as adding text comments in digital work or adding audio of your comments
- Self/Peer – Blogging, Vlogging or Video Screencasting provides excellent opportunities for pupils to reflect on work
- Diagnostic Testing – Creative online interactive quizzes (e.g. Kahoot) provide engaging opportunities to assess pupil understanding and bring a gamification aspect to assessment
- Assessment Projects – Using end-of-unit open-ended project tasks allow pupils to demonstrate learning
- Progress Tracking – Understanding where pupils are and planning next steps to meet age-related expectations
Read on to find out more…
Enrich learning with a cross curricular approach to primary computing
Computing is one of the most fundamentally cross curricular subject areas in education. It’s about using technology, logic, creativity and computational thinking to solve problems that cross all disciplines. It requires the systematic breakdown (decomposition) of both the problem and the solution. We need to prepare pupils for how to live in an increasingly digital world by equipping them with the knowledge, understanding and skills to solve as yet unknown problems using tools and technologies that do not yet exist. We can work towards achieving this by using computing as a means of making sense of the world and using what the children learn in computing across the curriculum.
The best primary practice includes blending thorough, discrete, subject teaching with effective cross-curricular work. “…high standards are best secured when essential knowledge and skills are learned both through direct, high-quality subject teaching and also through this content being applied and used in cross-curricular studies.” [Rose, 2009]. Both approaches are needed for effective learning to take place, to enable children to make links between subjects and to set learning in meaningful contexts. Using computing throughout the primary curriculum offers a way to enrich and deepen learning through engaging, interconnected, topics.
Our cross-curricular computing pack is designed to complement our whole school primary computing scheme of work. It provides pupils with an engaging exploration of computing through a rich variety of media and technologies set within other subject areas.
Rose, J (2009) Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum, Nottingham: DCSF (pdf)
iCompute Shortlisted as Finalist for The BETT Awards 2016
The BETT Awards celebrate innovation in technology and education as well as recognise, reward and promote excellence. They are regarded as one of the highest accolades in the industry. The selected finalists have been chosen by a panel of independent teachers and educationalists and are recognised as ‘best of breed’ amongst the sector.
Debbie French, portfolio director at i2i Events Group for Bett and the Bett Awards, says: “The 2016 awards highlight the most effective and pioneering companies and solutions in education, and all finalists are to be applauded for their contribution to education. This year’s awards have seen an incredibly competitive cohort of entries, and we hear that the judging process to select the finalists was challenging in the best possible way. This is testimony to the world-class level of innovation in the education supplies industry, and it is a true pleasure to recognise these companies for their excellence.”
Liane O’Kane, Director of iCompute said : “We are thrilled to be shortlisted again this year for another of our ground-breaking primary computing products. We lead the way in providing educational products and materials that support schools in creatively teaching primary computing. As an organisation that passionately believes in engaging all children in the creative use of technology in education, we work hard to ensure that schools have high-quality support and resources to teach computing at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. Our iPad app puts these resources at teacher’s fingertips.”
I’m not cut out to be a participant in online social media campaigns. I’m a Computer Scientist and a teacher. Case in point: I’m having a touch of angst about a selfie I posted on Twitter yesterday to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day. I’m now wondering whether I’ve addressed sexism in the technology industry or perpetuated it?
Being a graduate of computing science in the 90’s where I was one only one of three women in my year and now as a teacher of computing, I was thrilled to see that #AdaLovelaceDay was trending on Twitter yesterday. I had just written a computing unit for primary pupils featuring her contribution to history as the worlds first computer programmer as part of my primary computing scheme of work. I then saw that it was being celebrated by thousands of women around the world in technology/science/engineering/maths posting photographs of themselves at work with the hashtag #iLookLikeAnEngineer. I joined the many women keen to dispel the stereotype of what constitutes an engineer – in my case a software engineer – by adding my photo.
All good. Except that I then spotted the BBC headline “‘Too hot to be an engineer’ – Women mark Ada Lovelace day”. The connotations of that headline and my contribution marking Ada Lovelace Day did not sit at all comfortably. Some posts on Twitter, by women, added to my unease: asking whether women posting images of themselves inevitably focused the conversation towards looks, thus perpetuating perceptions of women in technology. True, if that’s what is is about. But it’s not. Note the quotes in the headline – ‘Too hot to be an engineer’. That is a comment made by male colleagues to a female software engineer after she took part in a promotional campaign for her company. To put it diplomatically, they questioned whether her image fit that of a ‘typical’ engineer and suggested that people would find it unlikely that she was one. The Twitter campaign, #iLookLikeAnEngineer, has taken flight because women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) want the world to see that women are engineers – in my case a software engineer.
I’m not interested in showing men that I’m an engineer because I have never, in all my many years in the computing industry, encountered what I would call sexism. I’ve never missed out on a job, had my contributions dismissed nor been promoted because I’m a women. I’ve been mistaken for the tea lady in meetings but I didn’t get hysterical about it – I simply spoke with some authority on my subject and they no longer expected a milk with two sugars. I’ve also been asked, when taking notes, if I was writing a shopping list for making my husband’s dinner. That was a joke and I laughed. We women need to lose the silicone chip on our shoulders. They’re not out to get us and we’re not posting pictures of ourselves to look good.
I participated in the campaign because I’m a teacher and I want more girls to take STEM subjects. I want girls to know that they won’t be the first woman in technology (thank you Ada Lovelace) and that there are lots of us out there continuing to make a contribution. A contribution that we’d love them to be a part of. So girls, here is what an engineer looks like:
The BBC have a track record in leading the way in technology and innovation. I have much thank them for. By providing my school with a BBC microcomputer in the 1980’s it provided me access to a new and exciting discipline that I was to be immersed in from that day to this – Computing Science. Because of inspirational teaching at secondary school I studied computing at O & A Level and as my first degree before retraining to be a primary teacher.
The BBC’s latest move is to provide every year 7 schoolchild with their newest innovation – the micro:bit. As part of their Make it Digital initiative and in collaboration with a number of others, the main aim is to inspire the next generation of ‘coders’ with the hope of bridging the huge skills gap we face in the forthcoming years and diversify computer science by appealing to girls. But will it achieve those laudable aims or create it’s own set of problems?
I, more than most, am aware of the stereotypes associated with computer scientists. Geeks and nerds. Oh, and mainly male. I’m proud to dispel most of them – I think! But I am female (was one of two in my university year) and I have taught both genders computing for longer than most as I introduced it before it became statutory. I feel I’m qualified to comment on what inspires and motivates both boys and girls in becoming digital creators rather than consumers. The thing is, I’m not sure this is it.
In a previous post about a similar device, the Raspberry Pi, I expressed my concerns about introducing bare board computers to primary children. Thankfully, the partnership behind the micro:bit favoured year 7 children over the proposed year 5’s so the issues I have with the fragility of such devices do not necessarily apply with that age group. I have other concerns though. Firstly, the devices are going directly to the children. They can take them home, investigate, explore and keep forever. Or – as I fear is more likely without some speedy training and resources in place – not. Some are going to teachers just before they are given to the pupils in October, during the summer. So that teachers can have a poke around and play using the supporting website and wealth of resources that will be up and running during the summer too at www.microbit.co.uk. Summer? Teachers?
Then there’s my worry that, well, they’re just not that interesting to children. Remember, today’s 11&12 year olds have incredibly powerful computers on them most of the time that do really great things already – without having to add bits to them: their smartphones and tablets. There’s a danger that handing them a device (without exploring their potential beforehand) that, on the surface, does nothing will see them gathering dust on the bookshelf – next to that book their mum said was a ‘must read’. I can’t see children engaging in self-directed learning with them. Sinead Rocks, Head of BBC Learning, stated here that ‘We happily give children paint brushes when they’re young, with no experience – it should be exactly the same with technology’. Most though, I’m afraid, don’t go on to be the next Monet. To me, it’s like suggesting we give kids a bunsen burner each, minus the gas and chemicals, and see how many of them get into chemistry. Interest and talent needs inspiring, nurturing and, arguably, directing. Budding computer scientists need, as I did, someone to inspire and engage and I’m not sure that hardware is that inspiring or engaging – especially to girls. In my experience, without wishing to generalise, girls are less interested in the engineering of devices than in how the software that sits on them can be engineered in creative and expressive ways.
The micro:bit has a lot of competition on its hands for children’s attention in the digital world we live in but I’m confident it has it’s part to play in computing classrooms. I’m just not sure it’ll make it into them after they’ve been given to the children. Teachers are already grappling with a subject few of them have been adequately been trained to teach and the micro:bit risks creating further fear and panic. The BBC and its partners are to be applauded for their efforts in resourcing and promoting a subject I am passionate about. I would have preferred they be given to schools, backed up with a fully developed, creative, curriculum and robust training that would allow the people we pay to teach computing to do so with confidence and, above all, enthusiasm!