Winning the Digital Makers Fund

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Update: I am delighted to announce that I did actually receive the grant that I applied for. Nesta, Nominet Trust and Mozilla will be providing my school with a £50,000 grant to enable me to scale up the Raspbery Jam and Hack To The Future events to make them more accessible to families everywhere.

With this funding we have seconded another computing teacher, Vikki Dodd to work at our school for 12 months and to share the load of spreading Jam and Hacks around the UK. Vikki takes up her post full time from September, but the challenge between now and then is to try to respond to the current levels of demand. Some great folks have also stepped forward to volunteer to take on some of the many roles that I have been trying to manage and I am extremely grateful to them for that.

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Original post: On Wednesday this week, I had a fantastic, but rare opportunity to expand yet further, the Hack To The Future and Raspberry Jam events that I started. Except this time, I think I may just have failed because I now believe that I am the problem. Allow me to explain.

A few months ago I submitted an application for a £50, 000 grant from the Nesta Digital Makers fund. Two weeks ago I was delighted to discover that my grant application was one of the 15 that had been shortlisted from the many hundreds they received. I was invited to come down to London on Wednesday 27th February to present a 10 minute pitch and attend a 35 minute question and answer session.

In the last 18 months, you may have noticed that I have formed a massive ‘army’ of digital makers: computer scientists, software developers, teachers, educators, parents, designers. With this army we have managed to put on a huge amount of events across the UK and beyond, with 2000 attending events in a 6 month period in the UK alone. The aim of Hack To The Future events are to inspire the digital creators of tomorrow, while the Raspberry Jam movement has helped unite a huge community around the Raspberry Pi computer and the potential the device has to engage learners of all ages into computing.

In no way would any of this have been remotely possible without the support of Mrs Teknoteacher, my children, friends, colleagues and the school that I work in. However, many times I have run close to the limit of what I can achieve as I ‘borrow’ more and more from those around me. For my day job, I am a teacher in an outstanding secondary school and in my role as principal teacher of Computing/ICT, I lead a team of Computing/ICT teachers as well. My school has been immensely supportive of my activities outside of school, but there are times when it is near impossible to balance the two. Tough decision making means having to say “No” to a lot of good ideas and I’ve had to turn down invitations to speak on Women’s Hour and take part in a Python conference in Silicon Valley among others. For example just physically being in London for the 1 hour Nesta Digital Makers meeting this week was a challenge in itself, aside from the 7 hours of travel necessary and difficulties funding it – there were also the 5 classes that I had to find another teacher to cover.

My plan, if successful with the Nesta Digital Makers grant, is to use the majority of the grant to fund the secondment of another teacher to work in our school for a year with a number of aims. Rather than remove me from school, my plan is to double the amount of productivity effectively allowing me to be in two places at the same time. My headteacher joked, “Alan’s plan is to make him redundant”, which is in effect what I am planning to do. I believe that for me to be truly successful with my plans, the expansion of Hack To The Future and Raspberry Jam has to be able to succeed without me. At the moment, I seem to be the one causing the bottlenecks but I don’t want that to be the case, I want to grow the operation, not restrict it. This seconded teacher would share my exisiting timetable, (for them 8 hours a week teaching), take on the responsibilities of Assistant Principal Teacher of Computing/ICT, share the planning and organisation of Hack To The Future & Raspberry Jam events as well as hugely succesful training at Our Learning. It seems like an awful lot for one person, but it amounts to about half of what I do now.

With this seconded teacher in place, the plan is to expand  the 10 regional Raspberry Jams around the country in places where we have already held events, Manchester, Liverpool, Cambridge, London, Bristol, Newcastle, Durham, Carlisle, York, Telford, Machynlleth, Cardiff with capacity for 300 participants at these events. There are plans to develop the structure, organisation and experience of these events, but training would need to be provided for the regional leaders to ensure the quality and sustainability of these. There are many other organisations running regional activities around the UK, but what makes ours different is not just the involvement of families, academics, and industry but the engagement of experienced teachers, which I hope to train as centre leaders. This in turn has led to activities from the Hacks and Jams being imported into the classroom and the home for the benefit of all.

At the current rate of growth, the plans would generate a projected income of £84, 000 in 12 months. This would mean at the end of the 12 month period, we would be in a position to return to Nesta with their original £50,000 grant and ask them to consider investing it in us a second time to expand to the next level of growth. While I have now reached a point where the Hacks & Jams can fund themselves, this is not yet secure enough an income to guarantee another teacher a salary for a full year. The Nesta grant would enable me to return to school with the funding for another teacher and demonstrate to my school that there is some financial security attached to my plans. Except…

Except, that is… I believe I completely failed to make my plans clear to the panel at Nesta on Wednesday. One thing I have discovered recently is that a lot of people don’t get me or my ventures. They don’t understand what I am doing, why I am doing it and how I managed to do what I have done. And I suppose it’s also true that… I don’t get that other people don’t get me, (if you get me)- well perhaps I’m starting to now, a little too late. It was only after the 10 minute pitch when the panel asked me questions that I realised that I hadn’t communicated my plans clearly. Perhaps because I’ve spent 37 years immersed in education, having never left school, that I don’t think in terms of return of investment, profit margins, scaleability and I should do.

All of the groups shortlisted by Nesta find out this week if they have been successful with their application. I can’t really begrudge the other groups succeeding, since (to the best of my knowledge) these are all organisations that I fully supported and work with through partnerships. I only hope that I can work with the winners to help them achieve their ambitions, I think there is enough space for Code Club, Coder Dojo, Computing At School, Young Rewired Space, <Goto> foundation, Hack To The Future and Raspberry Jam all to thrive together and support one another.

There are some great demonstrable achievements I can take away from this particular experience. I continue to be surprised how much effort people are prepared to give to suport my ventures. For example, supporting me in my pitch I had not one, but two ‘executive’ members of Computing At School; Simon Humphreys and Mark Dorling; Raspberry Jam devotee Dawn Hewitson (Edge Hill University, Ormskirk) also travelled the length of the country to support me and Hugh Knowles of Forum For The Future, an organisation I hope to be collaborating so that future Hacks and Jams create sustainable outcomes for change. It’s reassuring to know that at least some people get me, inspite of my endeavours. I also had a rare opportunity to meet panel members I had only heard of and discover more of their work, including Mark Surman of Mozilla, Helen Turvey of the Shuttleworth Foundation, and Ben Southworth of Tech City. My two great discoveries from my trip to London, that come highly recommended are The Shuttleworth Foundation and Forum For The Future.

My next challenge to expand the Hacks & Jams will be to secure crowd-funding in my endeavour to create many more ‘teknoteachers’ so that they can go on to grow and develop these activities which have drawn so much attention and interest. If you have experience of crowd-funding ventures and want to offer your support, please get in touch with me.

This is the film that I used to support my application for the Digital Makers grant. It was commissioned by the BBC and features one of our Hack To The Future events. Watching it may help people to get me and what I am trying to do. Enjoy it while you can, as it will be removed shortly.

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Dawn Hewitson says:

    Don’t usually comment on work related issues on a Sunday, but I feel passionate about the work Alan does. Having given up many hours of my own time, and as primarily a mother and an educationalist, children deserve the opportunities Alan and his initiatives provide. As teachers you learn more about the pupils in your charge via experiential learning.

    I am fortunate to have a foot in several camps; industry, teacher training, and school improvement from a subject related perspective, and pupils in school as a trained teacher.

    From an economic perspective, we need children in this country to have the experiences these events provide. There is a wide consencus of opinion supporting this view.

    I have seen at first hand the recruitment crisis of computing/technology industries Schools do not have the capacity currently to support industry, although for years there have been various initiatives to support this. The Diploma was one such initiative, allowing industry to have an input in the classroom. Vocational training is another, with a degree success.

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  2. Dawn Hewitson says:

    In a school day there are limited opportunities for children to explore the opportunities computer science can provide, additionally there is limited funding for state funded schools to enable pupil engagement with industry professionals. These communities created by Alan provide safe environments for children, teachers, and more importantly families to learn together and learn together.

    They are to coin a phrase a melting pot, where strong communities have been forged. On a personal level, my life this year has been enriched by associations and I would also say friendships provided by these communities. My own passion for learning and refreshing my own subject knowledge has been rekindled at these events. I have attended both professionally and on a personal level, bringing my family along with me.

    On many levels, we do need lots of Alan’s and the shortsightedness of accounting processes should not be a barrier to proliferating this fantastic movement. I will continue to support the work of Raspberry Jam, and I am going to venture into the world of Hack Days, but it is funded out of my own pocket, and not everyone is as fortunate as me to have the means to do this. What a tremendous missed opportunity it will be if this bid hasn’t been fruitful. Never has there been such a huge return for such a small amount of investment.

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  3. Bob Harrison says:

    As one of the NESTA judges for the Digital Makers grants I can assure you Alan that getting short listed was an amazing achievement. The number and quality of the bids were exceptional and I know Nesta wish they could fund all of them.

    I was not on the Wednesday panel but I can tell you the selection process was one of the most rigorous and professional I have been involved in in over 40yrs in Education.
    Whatever the outcome I urge you to carry on with your passion and eventually the resources will follow.

    I do think the attempts to introduce a new Computing curriculum in such a huge change to the current curriculum needs to be properly resourced and cannot rely on the passion and voluntaryism of pioneers like you.

    Keep going Alan and best of luck…see you in Manchester next weekend at GMEX.

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    1. teknoteacher says:

      Bob, thank you for your kind words. I hope you did not detect even the remotest hint of disapproval from me of the Nesta funding process. So far, Nesta have provided me a great deal of opportunities to prove the value of my endeavours and I am extremely grateful for these. Any frustration or disappointment expressed is directed towards my own ineptitude to communicate my vision clearly.

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  4. Dave Ames says:

    Fingers crossed for you Alan. Hopefully the board “got you” on further reflection. Surely it will take 2 people to cover half of your workload.

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  5. Andrew says:

    My experience is that when people “don’t get you” it’s usually because you’re too radically ahead of their thinking…usually they’ll ‘get you’ a few months or years later.

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