My Octopress Blog

because wordpress isn't hipster enough and tumblr is too easy

the problem with Code Club

| Comments

“just let volunteers do it” is not a sensible computing education strategy

In a follow up comment to that article in the Telegraph, Willard Foxton suggests instead of teaching everyone how to code we should rely on voluntary after-school schemes for the specially interested like Code Club. Here’s why he’s wrong:

We don’t just teach maths to those kids who are interested. We teach it to everyone because it is necessary to understand how the world works. The same is true for computing. Sure, there will be some kids who won’t like it, just like there are some kids who don’t like English, maths, music, arts, or maybe all the subjects taught in school. This is not a good argument not to teach coding.

Code Club can’t teach everyone. At the time of writing there are over 500 primary schools in the UK looking to start a code club who can’t because they haven’t found a volunteer.

Code Clubs are oversubscribed. Typically after a Code Club has started in a school and run for a few weeks, practically everyone wants to join. I get heartbreaking emails from parents saying their kids really want to learn how to program, but they’re on a waiting list, and what do they do now?

I regularly see tweets like:

We recommend 12 children per volunteer. Of course, school teachers usually have much larger classes than this, but they are professionals. Standing in front of a group of kids can be quite intimidating, and smaller group sizes are more manageable for volunteers who often have no experience in teaching, let alone teaching kids. This means we turn many kids away. The average club has 15 kids. We have some large ones with 30-45 kids, these are almost always led by teachers.

We operate on a very limited age range. Due to limited resources we can only cater for children in year 5 & 6 (ages 9-11). Children younger than that normally have to wait and it’s a shame that older children will have missed their chance. It is my strong belief that every kid should get a chance to learn computing. Those who do will have a significant advantage over those who don’t. The only solution to disseminating subject knowledge to 100% of the child population is for teachers to teach it.

Foxton thinks Code Club is doing a good job. I do too (obviously, as co-founder of Code Club, I may be a bit biased). He seems to think the government won’t do as good a job. I don’t see why this has to be the case. I mean sure, we have it relatively easy. We teach only to kids who want to be there, in small groups, and we don’t have any exam boards or national curriculum to adhere to. But only the government can ensure that everyone will get the chance to learn computing.

Geeky gifts for non-geeks

| Comments

Here’s what I’m getting my (non-geeky) family and friends for christmas.

MaKey MaKey

The video explains it all really, the Makey Makey is a very easy to use thingamabob that lets you replace a computer keyboard with anything that conducts electricity.

LadyAda coloring book

Why settle for a normal colouring book when you can sneak in some geeky vocabulary in there. E is for Elecontronics is both fun and educational.

And if you want crayons to go with the set, I reccomend this one which have super cute and awesome chemical names: crayons

Bare Conductive Card set

bare conductive christmas cards

For the sort of people who like to do scrapbooking or make their own cards, add a bit more bling with this Bare Conductive LED Xmas card set. Bare Conductive does paint that conducts electricity, which can be used on loads of materials, not just paper/cardboard.

Lego creationary

Lego creationary

One of my favourite family friendly board games, it’s like pictionary but instead of drawing you have to build it in lego. Available from the likes of amazon, argos, waterstones etc.

Makie Doll with brains

makie doll electronics can fit inside the head

Makie Dolls let you design your own doll, but the coolest bit is the head has room for electronics, and can easily fit a lilypad arduino kit so you can also program your doll :D


What to get the person who has everything? Sugru is the perfect answer. I belive everyone would benefit from some sugru in their lives. I’m getting this for my parents, aunt, uncle, cousins, grandma ++

C is for Computing

| Comments

Last week I jokingly tweeted that someone ought to teach Michael Gove the difference between ICT and Computing. Also, this week I discovered Adafruit’s lovely “E is for Electronics” colouring book. It’s a wonderful colouring book for children, that sneaks in some geekyness into their vocabulary. This is their entry for D:

A diode lets electrons flow in only one direction. It works like a switch: when current is flowing one way, the switch is on, but when current tries to flow the other way, the switch turns off. Sir John Ambrose Fleming is best known for inventing the diode, originally called the kenotron.

Add a slightly stressed/tired/frustrated Linda on a Monday afternoon, and voila “C is for Computing” was born.

My first task was finding what words to illustrate. I certainly had fun coming up with possibilities. If anything, the problem was choosing what to illustrate for each letter.

For instance, for ‘B’, I could do George Boole, Boolean logic, Charles Babbage, Tim Berners-Lee, and many more, I’m sure. Boolean logic is perhaps the most important with regards to computer science, but as an illustration in a children’s book perhaps not the most suitable. I could of course go with George Boole the person, and introduce him as the inventor or Boolean logic, still mentioning the concept but with more meat to colour. On the other hand Charles Babbage is also a very important figure in computing history. Then again I could possibly fit Babbage under another letter, under A for Analytical engine or under D for Difference engine. And as much as I love Tim Berners-Lee, I think I’ll save him for W. I also thought of illustrating “bugs” for B. Children love colouring in animals (and insects), and I could sneak in a history lesson about how when computers used to be big machines that filled entire rooms sometimes bugs would be attracted by the light and trapped inside tubes or relays causing a malfunction, and how we still use the term “bug” today to describe a software failure. For a serious intro to computing I’d definitely go for Boolean, but as a children’s colouring book, bugs is more fun.

At first I thought “E for Electronics” had it easy, all those gadgets and gismos to draw. Most of the words I could come up with for computing were abstract concepts, and difficult to illustrate. Of course, some proved quite fun to illustrate, Yak-shaving being my favourite one.

Here is the list of words I had, the one I think I’ll illustrate is emphasised. If none is emphasised it means I haven’t decided yet.

  • A Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, agile, Arduino, automata, the Analytical Engine, analog, API
  • B Boole, Boolean, BUGS, Charles Babbage, Tim Berners-Lee, bit, byte
  • C computing, computer, C, CPU, CERN, Code Club
  • D data, difference engine, digital, deep blue
  • E ENIAC, EDSAC, Enigma
  • F Fortran, Failwhale (children like animals!)
  • G Giga, gigabyte, Grace Hopper, GO TO, Git(Hub), geek
  • H HTML, hyper links, Grace Hopper
  • I Internet, IDE
  • J Java, Javascript, Jobs
  • K Kenbak-1, Donald Knuth
  • L Lovelace, Linux, Lyon, loop, LOGO
  • M microcontroller, Manchester baby, Mark I, Mark II, memex, mars curiosity rover, markup, markdown
  • N NAND, nerd
  • O open source, object orientation, Octocat
  • P programming, programming languages, processor, punch cards
  • Q quicksort, query
  • R resistor, relay, robots, regex, RESTful, recursion, RAM, rasberry pi
  • S semiconductor, silicon, source code, sinclair ZX80, scripting, switch, Scratch (advert for Scratch rather than a history lesson hmmm)
  • T tubes! turing, Turing machine, turing-complete, transistor
  • U unix, universal machine
  • V Vannevar Bush (B is taken), variable, von Neuman (should be under N I guess)
  • W world wide web, Watson
  • Y yak-shaving
  • Z ZX Spectrum/ZX80

If you have any better ideas please let me know :)

One of my problems is I want both Turing and transistors to be in the book somehow. I know transistors was in the E for Electronics book, but people might not have both, and it is the most important invention, ever. It is possible to sneak Turing in under U for universal machine or A for Alan or E for Enigma, but he deserves better. Dilemmas, sigh.

Next steps:

  1. I’m not an illustrator, I’ll try converting some of my sketches to vector files and see if they are good enough. If not it might be worth getting a professional illustrator to do them.
  2. Write the little infoboxes to go with the illustrations
  3. Investigate publishing - it would be cool to do a physical book that people could buy. It will of course be available free to download and print out yourself, with some form of Creative Commons license (might be difficult finding an illustrator who agrees to this).

octocat rough drawing