Sharing thoughts and ideas about teaching computing in school
You can probably tell by now that I find it difficult to rest during the holiday periods. I suppose the reason is that my work never actually feels like work – it actually feels pleasurable to do the kind of work that I do, and I derive my energy from the enjoyment that others get from it. So when 14 children came to Our Lady’s for this year’s Young Rewired State summer camp – it just fuelled my energy levels even further.
I had originally hoped to have a much smaller number of children since this was the first year that I was to become involved, and rather than volunteer at one of the other centres, I instead elected to host a YRS centre at our school, Our Lady’s, Preston. Also, I expected that I was going to have lots of adult mentors who were going to support our children.
Monday morning On the Monday morning Hamish, Nyam, Richard, Timothy, Jack, Alex, Sarah, Rosarie, Hannah, Sam D, Sam S, and Patrick all turned up with Elliot and Declan joining us later on. They ranged in age from 13 to 17 years old. Nine of the 14 that took part are pupils that attend my school and the remaining 5 are from other schools around the North West. One boy travelled from Carnforth each day by public transport (approx 4 hours travelling time each day). We used some ice-breaker activities to get to know each other better and I established the rules. Well there was only one rule – “Don’t do anything that Alan wouldn’t approve of“. Here we are playing one of my very silly ice-breaker games.
The mentors I heard encouraging reports from other YRS centres that the mentor to child ratio could be around 1:3. On our first day we had two mentors; Martin Pilkington (photo)and Ben Croston, but Martin was clear from the start that he could only attend physically on the first day, after that any support would have to be by phone. I was anxious that having only one mentor remaining, it would leave me in a challenging situation if Ben Croston was called away for any reason or unable to attend. While I am used to having class sizes of up to 33 children, I wasn’t convinced I could support them properly with just one mentor. So, I decided to change tactics and enlist the children’s parents and one of my neighbours as mentors. While our parents did not have backgrounds in software development – they had other backgrounds and experience that I thought would be useful. I should mention that my neighbour Ben Smith, is a teacher too. The parents and Ben were great and I was so glad I asked them to help. With a shortage of expertise in software development readily available, I made it pretty clear to the children that they were going to have to largely support themselves .
As the week went on, some other visitors including some of my Raspberry Jam and Hack To The Future supporters came in to see what we were doing and lend a hand for an hour or so. Ken Rigby came in on Wednesday with his son to demonstrate their 3D immersive reality environments. While this was very impressive, I think the children lacked the confidence required to utilise this technology in their designs.
Our best resource It became apparent that the children were the best resource that we had. After a couple of days, they formed themselves into their own groups and quickly established what it was that they were going to design, code and present. They mentored and supported each other, they taught each other new skills and technologies and formed new friendships. Occasionally they needed to be reminded to focus on the most simple solution to the problem.
A problem? I was concerned right from the start that two of our children were not working with the same focus as everyone else, ie. design and build a digital product. Instead they seemed to form their own ‘computing class’. This consisted of the older boy, coaching and teaching the younger boy. Initially, I tried to direct them along the same path as the other groups. However, they both seemed very happy with the arrangement and both seemed to be getting a lot from it, that I decided no more to force them into following the same pattern that all the other teams were working in. After all, like me they had given up their holiday to come and do this – if they were getting as much from the YRS experience as me, I was happy to support that.
Festival of Code Friday was the day that we travelled down to Birmingham for the Festival of Code in a minibus, unfortunately due to previous arrangements, Hannah, Elliot and Sam D couldn’t come with us. Two of our parents agreed to accompany us along with my teacher friend Ben.
There was such a fantastic atmosphere when we arrived at The Custard Factory in Birmingham with 100s of other children and adults all there for the same reason. After feeding us from the biggest mountain of pizza you could ever imagine, we were then enlightened and entertained on Friday night by ‘campfire talks’ from digital entrepreneurs, TV presenters, and software developers. I interviewed the TV presenter Dallas Campbell part 1 & part 2 and previous winner of YRS, Jordan Hatch as well as Sue Black, Tracy Green & Lily Cole’s cab driver, some Glitch & ChipCore musicians , Freda O’Byrne & son, Josie Fraser and Mike Little, Founder of WordPress, as well as a midnight round table discussion.
Accommodation On Friday night we slept on the floors with sleeping bags and camping mats, there were some very excited children and some adults who, judging by the sounds they made were very deeply asleep. Some of the older children stayed up all night hacking and playing minecraft until breakfast. Next morning, everybody was up and about by around 8am. Alex’s mum decided to get the train down from Preston to watch the presentations and join us for the day.
What did the children make? Allow me to introduce the teams and their hacks. If you visit this page it has more information about each hack, as well as the other 96 entries and the prize winners.
Let The Judging Begin On Saturday morning all the teams from all the centres had just 3 minutes to present their ‘hacks’ that they had created. We had 4 teams presenting hacks. Then during the afternoon we heard that our ‘City Safe’ team had been selected as finalists in the ‘Code a Better Country’ category. Of course, I was even more delighted because my son was in this team. This meant they had an opportunity to present in front of another judging panel and an audience of around 600. Unfortunately, we later discovered that they were beaten by the ‘Why Waste A Vote‘ team from London, a team that seemed much older than our team of 4 x 13yr olds & 1 x 15 yr old which is some consolation to our team.
Here’s a wonderful film put together by the YRS organisers, it features our children quite a few times.
We were all pretty exhausted by the time we needed to leave. Some even fell asleep on the bus on the way home! I really hope to host a YRS centre again next year, bigger and better of course. There were a lot of amazing people that contributed to making the whole event such a success, all of our children, parents and mentors as well as Emma Mulqueeny, Neil Ford and the red shirts at YRS. From talking to some of the winning teams, having the right sort and amount of mentors makes a massive difference. Please consider being a mentor for next year, register here. If you are under 18 and want to sign up for YRS 2013, you will need to register here. There are more photos in a gallery here.