On the weekend of Sep 25 – 26th September, I attended the PyconUK 2011 conference. This was the culmination of a long journey which started by thinking “we need to start teaching children how to code” back in January 2011, then a long process of searching for an appropriate language to teach them, then finally landing on Python as the best language for children to learn programming.
Since I expected most of the audience to be well seasoned programmers and developers – I was not sure exactly what I would expect to achieve by going. I thought it might further the cause to raise the profile of teaching programming in school if I were to present a talk. So, I signed up to give a talk entitled from BBC B to Python GCSE. The previous weekend I pulled a stunt at Barcamp MediaCity to raise ‘Computing at School’ on the agenda and decided I would try something like this again, with some small variations.
The BBC CodeLab element was a short part of the talk, you can it again if you watch the video. My main motive was to provoke discussion and invite others to speculate about what could happen, especially if a respected organisation such as the BBC were involved. I would like to claim the credit for this myself, but if you look on the pages of python.org you will see that back in 1999 Guido himself launched a project entitled “Computer Programming for Everyone”, I highly recommend reading it, this is where my inspiration for CodeLab came from.
The CodeLab proposal was a vision of what could happen, (in my opinion with or without the BBC). After I revealed that the talk at BBC BarcampMediacity was a hoax, people approached me with suggestions and proposals of how to make it a reality. I was met with equal amounts of disappointment and disbelief -people wanted to believe that it was actually happening.
It was always my intention to reveal the truth of the hoax during the talk. At the start of the talk I said I had some questions to ask at the end (some questions that little by little would have revealed the extent of the stunt) – I didn’t need to, since somebody quickly realised that it was a hoax having heard of the stunt at Barcamp. I tried to give some subtle clues during the early part of the talk, eg. suggesting it was to be launched in early April (1st of April), also suggesting that people were soon going to be throwing their shoes at me.
In addition, I had already posted a blog the week before the talk explaining it was a stunt, however on the morning of my talk I made the blog entry ‘private’ and then made it ‘public’ again right after the talk – for the purposes of the talk. In addition to this, on Saturday morning I told one of the PyconUK team who was going to be the chair for my session that it was a stunt and I would reveal.
Many will argue that my motives or intentions were misguided – and I will not disagree. I did have one clear motive, to raise the profile of computing and programming in school – and I dont think anyone will argue that I achieved that, albeit using nefarious means. I know I upset some members of the PyconUK community – this was never my intention. I will have discredited and alienated myself in the process, but if I achieve my motive, it was a small price.
I was pleased to observe that the topic of “Python in Schools” was discussed on a few occasions during the three of the conference lightening talks, there was a reference to it in a coding dojo and two of the PyCon Panel questions . It was good to hear of the pioneering work that Garry Bulmer of Warwick has been involved with, and Nick Tollervey for all his efforts in introducing the Raspberry Pi to the community.
My final and possibly most important point – Earlier this year, I committed myself to learn how to program again so that I could teach children in my school how to. I spent many months searching for the right language to teach them, I looked at Basic, (even BBC Basic), BYOB, Java, Visual Basic and many more.
It is my belief that Python is the most appropriate for anyone of any age to begin to learn to program with. I am frustrated that I spent so much time searching for Python and wished that my search had been made easier. I was highly motivated to look for an appropriate programming language, I believe that PyconUK needs to be a little more outward looking and establish a more visible presence in the UK schools. So that teachers will not conclude their searches after landing on Java, Visual Basic or Ruby. If we want to rasie the profile of programing in the UK, Python provides the means to do so, it removes barriers.
It would be fantastic to hear that members of PyconUK community are now doubling their efforts to make sure that this becomes a reality and not just another stunt? When PyConUK 2012 conference takes place, it would be a fantastic opportunity to showcase the impact on computer programming in schools. A suggestion was made that education be a feature of the next conference.