Computing…more famous than the Angry Birds?

When I hear myself say, “I can’t believe so much happened in just 12 months”, it sounds like an embarrassing cliché, but I honestly can’t believe all the things that have happened this year. At the start of the year I was determined that I was going to do everything I could to raise the profile of computing in school.

It started around Christmas during a desparately fruitless trip to WH Smith in the January sales. I was looking for computing books, but the only books I could find were idiots guides to using Microsoft Office. As a reponse to the WH Smith shopping trip, on New Year’s Eve last year, I wrote and recorded my Hack Rap which was meant as a humorous way to help children in my school understand what ‘Computing’ is. In only a few days, it had received 4000 downloads and I still encounter children walking down the school corridors chanting the words “Computing, it’s taking over the World, not just for men but all you women and girls…” and ” …will make you more famous than the Angry Birds

A few days later, I was asked to write a blog post for The Guardian, I ended up writing two – the first was was my top ten resources for teaching computing and the other one was a real stroke of luck. I had been informed that Michael Gove was to make a speech about the teaching of computing in schools at the BETT show in January and I was asked to write a blog post Computer Science Reboot suggesting what I would like Michael Gove to announce. On the morning the Guardian were to publish the post Gove’s speech was very much as I had hoped, he stated the need for the curriculum to focus on the teaching of computing science.

All through January 2012, I was busy promoting and planning our first Hack To The Future event which took place on a freezing cold Saturday in February . In all, 365 children, teachers, parents, computer scientists, developers took part in our computing conference. I was convinced that an event like this would persuade children to choose to study computing and it worked, we doubled the numbers opting for GCSE Computing and increased the number of girls too. It was fantastic to have backing from giants like the BBC, Microsoft, Google but equally important were the less well known like Freaky Clown and Play My Code.

There was such a fantastic buzz from this event, that we planned another for March. This time we held it at Media City in Salford, with lots of support from BBC North. Again, I tried hard to encourage lots of positive female role models to take part, to reverse gender stereotypes. This was another amazing success, particularly the Meet The Geek session we developed. We then held another Hack To The Future event in October for 270 people. Each time we changed a few details to refine the blend.

I remember the bitter disappointment on February 29th at the crack of dawn ( along with thousands of others) when I tried unsuccessfully to order my Raspberry Pi to find that both RS and Farnell online stores were unavailable such was the demand. I firmly believed that if I could get my hands on one that it would help me in my mission to raise the profile of computing. A few months later as the first few people starting tweeting photos of the arrivals of Raspberry Pi computers in the post, there were also jealously worded tweets and anger directed towards those who were distributing them.  I hatched a plan to bring all the current owners, prospective owners and the curious together in one space and call it Raspberry Jam.

On the morning that I published the event details for the first Raspberry Jam, all the tickets sold out in just half an hour. Then with the help of  volunteers we spawned many other Raspberry Jam events around the country, Cambridge, Bristol, London, many of which also sold out and then around the World too from Melbourne to Manchester and Silicon Valley to Singapore.

When the amount of fellow teachers requesting support increased significantly, my school suggested we put on some training for computing in the curriculum. In 2012, we offered 3 professional development courses for teachers, Teach Computing, Teach Scratch and Teach Python. These too have been selling out and the feedback received really has made it all worthwhile. By the end of this academic year we will have trained around 140 teachers. One downside has been that it has been difficult to find time to sit down and write blog posts.

The Young Rewired State Summer School we ran during August was an amazing experience from start to finish. We had 14 wonderfully talented children some of whom were finalists at the festival in Birmingham. It would not have been possible without the support of parents, teachers and experts.

A very enjoyable aspect this year has been meeting so many people with similar interests and aims at the conferences and events I’ve been invited to. In 2013, I look forward to meeting many more enthusiasts. The next big event is the Raspberry Jamboree in Manchester on Saturday 9th March, one year on from the release of the Raspberry Pi Computer, we hope to discover how it is helping children learn about computing. I really hope that you can share the experience.

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