Why should kids learn how to code?

I get asked to respond to this question in public and private forums a *lot*. I often trot out the driver/passenger analogy, but this is not necessarily a good explanation for children. So here is another wheel-based explanation of why I, personally, believe it is an important skill to be taught in schools:

Buying a child a computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone without teaching them at least the basics of computational thinking and programming, is like buying them a bike and letting them cycle on the roads.

As responsible parents we ensure the children know the rules of the road, stuff like:

  • which direction the cars drive in
  • how to keep themselves safe
  • when to use pavements and when to try the road
  • to avoid motorways

and so on…

We probably start with teaching them how to operate the bike at home and in safe areas before allowing them the freedom of the road, but let’s face it for this analogy, most of these children know how to ride a bike from their first efforts with a tablet and apps when still toddlers. However, we need them to understand the environment, so that they can act accordingly, safely and happily ride their bikes – exploring and learning and most importantly having fun.

Some of these children will grow up to simply continue to be casual bikers, it is just something they can do and enjoy. Some will become professional cyclists, some will become serious weekend road warriors, some will learn to build bikes and make a living out of it. But they have all grown up completely understanding the environment within which they can ride their bikes, and how it all works.

If you take this analogy back to giving them their computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone, current accepted behaviour is to restrict them to only riding their bike in the sitting room, with Mum, Dad or teacher holding their back wheel – this way they will be safe. Or the other extreme, let them out the front door and send them straight off onto the roads with no guidance. To be fair, most parents assume that schools have already got this one, that these young people are being taught the basics of the environment therefore it is not ridiculous to let them out the front door.

But the reality is that currently they don’t. And it is only best efforts from volunteer groups, such as CodeClub, and a small number of IT teachers who have the skills and ability to teach the essential rules of operation in a digital world. In Young Rewired State we have spent the last five years finding and fostering the young people who have been teaching themselves how to code, introducing them to each other and to mentors who can help them further their skills – slowly we are building a supported network of people aged 18 and under, who are learning through peer-to-peer and are no longer isolated and having to work out the rules of the road by themselves.

The world that these children are growing up into is rapidly becoming a world largely dependent on digital, a digital renaissance is upon us if you like. To whizz back to the analogy, the roads and the cyclists are becoming ever more critical to the infrastructure and operation of our entire world. It is not just about job opportunities, it is about being digital citizens, fully informed and empowered to confidently make choices and decisions, almost without having to think. They need to just know.

Here is a little video we created at this year’s Festival of Code about why we do what we do:

Round the world with Young Rewired State {Everywhere}

Last year and earlier this year I blogged about wanting to run Young Rewired State around the world. This was in response to so many people from other countries getting in touch and saying how much they needed something similar to happen where they lived. To recap, for those who don’t know, this is what Young Rewired State is all about:

YRS is an independent global network of kids aged 18 and under who have taught themselves to program computers. We introduce these children to like-minded peers at events around the world where they use freely available open data to make websites, apps and algorithms to solve real world challenges

As you can see we have already included the fact that it is about a global community, and this is down to the success we have had in this year of experimentation beyond the shores of the UK.

We have been blown away by the joy and excitement experienced by the young people who have come to the events we have run, and the remarkable similarities between what these children create, learn and value from becoming a part of this community, and taking part in these events.

Here are a couple of videos from the events we ran in New York City and in Berlin earlier this year:

And if you cannot speak German, then switch on captions to watch this one:

You can read the round-up from both events here and here, and in November we are running an event with GitHub in San Francisco, details here

YRS{E} in 2014

We have learned a *lot* during the process of planning, partnering and running these events around the world, and have now come up with a scalable plan for 2014, again we will see if it works before rolling it out beyond 2014; but here is how we see it working…

There will be two options for running a YRS event where you live:

Option 1

If you are an organisation that is used to running hack-style events, then we would provide you with a pack detailing how to run a YRS event, create a registration page and microsite on our website for registering the young people and mentors and an MOU on how the event should be run, our values and our brand guidelines.

We will alert the worldwide young coding community when and where the event is taking place, and provide social media cover during the weekend.

This would not have a cost associated with it, but you would need to raise local sponsorship to cover event costs like venue, food, AV/wifi, publicity and prizes.

There will be options to get more from us, like weekly skype calls and community reach to young programmers, but these would incur a small charge in order to cover the central staff costs and time.

Option 2

We would work with partners in-country to assist with full delivery of the event, and would fly out a team for the week to actually run it. This would be a far more hands-on partnership for us with the regional teams and would suit those organisations who want to host a local Young Rewired State event, but are not used to running hack events.

This would carry a fixed cost of £20,000 for the work the dedicated central team will do, and include all costs including flights, accommodation, food etc. In addition to this fee, you would still need to raise local sponsorship to cover event costs like venue, food, AV/wifi, publicity and prizes.

America and Europe

As we have successfully run these events this year in America and Europe, we are also looking at raising central funding in the form of Grants, partnerships and central sponsorship that may well enable us to cover some of the costs ourselves; and so the above two options would become cheaper or even free, over time and in certain regions.

The Festival of Code

At each event we have run, the young people all expressed a desire, no an absolute need, to take part in the annual Festival of Code, run every year in the first full week of August. We are currently looking at the logistics of doing this, so watch this space – we will have worked it out by the time we are in San Francisco, and I will of course blog about it!

I shall leave the last words with Nadine (a YRSer from New York) and Ashley (a mentor from Code for America)

Want to run Young Rewired State where you are?

Contact hello@youngrewiredstate.org and speak to either myself, Kait or Ruth about what happens next…

Young Rewired State in New York

In July this year (2013) we brought Young Rewired State to Queens in NYC, to the Museum of the Moving Image. Have a look at what was built and the Eventifier synopsis of the event over on the Young Rewired State website.

But I wanted to just write a blog post about the more human elements of the hack.

The idea of taking Young Rewired State abroad came from being asked so many times to do so – I wrote a couple of blog posts about how we hoped to do this and now we have done it.

Did it work? YES!!

Did we find 50 coding kids in New York? YES!! More than 50 in fact but it still took a good 10 weeks to find them one by one, it was not easy

Did they understand Open Data and manage to build stuff with it? YES!!

What was more remarkable was that this event was *exactly like the first YRS event we ran in 2009*. Even the stuff they made. Even the kids lying about their age to get in! I love that… meet Ian McJohn age 12 (or 14 depends… watch right to the end) and one hell of a brilliant coder, articulate and destined for big things I say:

We were very blessed in New York with the very best mentors from Code for America and beyond to partners from Mozilla Hive and the local open data coding communities. We even had the lovely Robbie Clutton, one time colleague from the Guardian and YRS mentor from years gone by, now being fabulous in NYC. In this video, Ashley Williams talks about her own experience growing up as a developer and how important it is that things for communities like ours to exist for young coders. Ashley is ace and is coming to be a superstar judge at next week’s Festival of Code (we are very lucky), here she is:

One element of the YRSNYC event was that the UK kids were able to remotely mentor through the hashtag on twitter and the IRC room we had set up. Twitter was definitely not the US kids medium of choice, they all looked slightly horrified/disdainful that we suggested using it! But some were reluctantly persuaded… Facebook is definitely their preferred social channel, but ultimately the simplicity and dev-friendliness of IRC wins out every time. We will continue this joining up of the communities as we roll out YRS Everywhere across Europe and America.

The hacks that the kids produced are listed here and as you can see are hugely varied and inspired, and next year we are coming back to NYC to bring this community back together again in several areas across the city, once again connecting the local kids with their local city data and each other. Anyway, here is Zachary, one of the members of the Best in Show winning team (who will also be coming to YRS Festival of Code 2013 as a part of his prize):

And finally, how can I not mention the girls – we had a 50/50 split throughout the weekend, which was absolutely amazing, and we had not even tried – so thank goodness for that. I shall leave the last word to Nadine (I dare you not to smile with her)

Onwards now to the Festival of Code next week and then YRS Berlin in September…

We were only able to make YRSNYC happen due to sponsorship from SAP, Twilio and the New York City Trust, and partnership from the Museum of the Moving Image and Mozilla Hive. What we do is not for profit but does cost something. If you would like to sponsor our YRS Everywhere Mission please get in touch with me for details of impact and reach.

A very great week for young programmers in the UK

Two important and wonderful things happened this week:

1. Google donated 15,000 Raspberry Pis to schools across the UK

2. Today it was announced that Computer Science will be included in the new English Baccalaureate (EBacc)

Much of this achievement is down to relentless campaigning and education by groups such as Computing at Schools, Next Gen Skills and a large number of dedicated individuals: too many to mention here. We should be proud of these things happening, but let’s not wipe our hands of this problem just yet.

We need to focus our attention on the junior school children, Year 8 is Too Late in my opinion and even with the impetus of the EBacc computer science course we need to introduce ‘computeracy’ in junior schools across the land: let the 7 year olds have fun, break stuff, play and enjoy exploring the potential of computers and the digital renaissance. Bring back the What if? questions, What would happen if I…?

I know that there is a while yet before the decision is taken as to which schools will get the donated RPis, but it would be really wonderful if they were only given to junior schools, bringing an excuse to the classroom to discover the potential and joy of computers, in the same way the BBC Micro gave all us oldies hours of code-y fun in the 80s. I suspect that this would see a far greater take-up of the EBacc as those children move into senior school.

All that aside, what a brilliant week for young people in the UK?

A version of this opinion piece is in the Education section of The Telegraph

Young Rewired State – an update

For any of you who are unaware of Young Rewired State, here is a video from this year’s Festival of Code

To date we have made it our focus to find and foster every child in the UK driven to teach themselves how to code; to support them through community and peer-to-peer learning, and introduce them to open data, primarily open government data. If you would like to read up more on what we do and why, here is a White Paper written by Dominic Falcao, a student at York University.

So we have come far in the last four years and as we enter our fifth year we really are going hyperlocal and global – as I mentioned in a previous post.

Since that post I have had some very great discussions with developer communities in several regions outside the UK, including Berlin, Amsterdam, New York, Kenya and San Francisco – and the narrative has become more clear, why this is so important and how this very well could be the beginning of a game-changing, independent, worldwide community.

Let me explain…

The idea is to start as we did in 2009 in the UK with one weekend in a number of International regions. Find 50 local children, aged 18 or under, driven to teach themselves how to code, and introduce them to open government data in a traditional hack-style event. During these weekends these young programmers will be mentored by their local coding community, as they are in the UK, but as well, they are remotely supported by the worldwide members and mentors for YRS, through twitter hashtags and IRC channels.

If history can repeat itself over the following five years, each of these first 50 will continue to be mentored and add to their number, growing to 500 in five years, maybe more – and then becoming hyperlocal.

The dream is for a child in Berlin to find it completely usual to be supporting a child in New York, for example, with a local civic problem, or just in their learning. For them to grow up expecting and understanding open data and open borders. And almost more importantly to be forever a part of a worldwide community of like-minded people – never again coding alone.

The beauty of this network is that it is so local, we are working with established developer networks and organisations in all of the countries, and as these children become 19 they *typically* fold back into Young Rewired State as mentors. This is important as it creates a support network for teachers and educators worldwide that is so needed.

We work also in partnership with those organisations teaching young people to code, giving them somewhere to continue the learning through collaborative, peer-to-peer education that can scale according to talent and desire.

YRS Scotland

This weekend sees the very first of these hyperlocal events in the UK, with a group of young programmers in Scotland starting their YRS journey. You can follow the action and add your mentor support by following the hashtag: YRSSCO2012 on twitter.

I really do believe these children can actually change the world, and I am grateful to the huge community who have supported us in the UK and overseas to get to now.

We are run as a not-for-profit social enterprise. Here is how you can get involved

Young Rewired State Year 5: Everywhere and Hyperlocal

So the time has come when we are all itching for more Young Rewired State, and interestingly it seems that year 4-5 of this thing is when it all starts to get local. As you know, we like to try stuff to see if it works and so here is a very brief outline of the plans as we stand today, (PLANS, not definites… we are still testing ideas):

YRS in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales
Historically we have struggled to get centres and kids in these areas, mainly because we need to do more to raise awareness of YRS rather than there not being any kids who could take part. So we are planning on running three separate hack weekends on open local government data for 50 kids in each place, emulating what we did in England in 2009 at Google – the beginning of YRS.

The first is being run in Scotland: http://rewiredstate.org/hacks/yrs-scotland-2012 and we are working out Wales right now and Northern Ireland will likely be a collaboration with Maggie Philbin and Teentech.

  • if you would like to assist with the organisation of any of these three weekends, please let me know


YRS UK local

We now have 42 centres across the UK, some slightly bamboozled, but those who are in their 2nd or 3rd year of being a centre are well-established and seeing a need to foster the local coding youth community beyond the annual event, both through the centre and with Ben (Nunney)’s community management offerings to all of the YRSers.

We are also looking at how these kids can work together on local community projects, or not – just things that interest them – and would like to see the centres be involved in this.

Please bear with us as we take our time to get this right. We have managed to nut years 1-4, we just need to work out year 5 and then we can rinse and repeat, for everyone.

YRS Worldwide

The idea has always been to find and foster every kid who is driven to teach themselves how to code, and this does not limit us to the UK. For a few years now we have received messages from people overseas keen to run their own YRS events. So in 2013 we are launching YRS Everywhere. We are going to run weekends (again for 50 kids using local open government data) in the following places:

  • Estonia
  • Berlin
  • New York
  • Amsterdam
  • Kenya
  • plus one other wild card (we have a few options here you see)

We will replicate the method of scale we used in the UK, moving from weekend to week, to multiple centres and finally hyper-local, year on year – all the time connecting these young coders to each other, in a very light way, maintaining the worldwide mentoring model used to date. We have no idea how this will work out, but we have begun chats with local developer networks who will act as foster networks for the youngsters, and open government data people in country, and the response has been wildly enthusiastic.

  • If any of you have contacts in any of these countries, please do hook me up with them, I would like to tie everything together as much as I can

Money – how are we paying for this?

Firstly it is important to clarify that my intention is not to build an organisation and flog it for millions. The idea is that this thing will be built and will grow and grow and grow, goodness knows where it will take us all but I would still like to be doing this when I am 90, and I would like to still be doing this with you all. I find that more exciting than being rich for a few years then sad and lonely…

We run YRS on a sponsor model, covering costs by trading what we actually have (access to young programming minds to test kit or raise brand awareness to a new generation) but not selling databases or IP. Obviously I have given up work now and we have a small team who run YRS and Rewired State (Rewired State being a profit-making social enterprise), we are paid through money made on RS hack days and through pieces of consultancy. YRS will continue to run on a NfP model, as we grow so we will need to raise more money to cover our ambition, but we are not shackled to a VC because we are not building a business to sell – we are creating a network that will continue to grow and hopefully gainfully employ more and more people and be rewarding and energising – because we have no flipping idea what is actually going to happen, and have the freedom to do this.

And so we work very closely with our chosen sponsors every year to both get the cash we need to run this thing and to get them the results they need in order to donate actual money to us. It is a fine line but we work hard to get it right (nearly there!).

We intend to find a single main partner for Young Rewired State: Everywhere, as SAP were for us in the 2012 Festival of Code. We will find a model that combines local, in-country sponsorship, combined with our main partner sponsor.

In addition to this we will continue to run ‘for profit’ Rewired State hack days to support central costs.

The only way we can scale to find every single kid driven to teach themselves how to code, is to avoid obvious limitations. There is not going to be any single group that rises to the top as an outright winner from YRS, everyone will benefit, but every person involved can choose how they shape their involvement in YRS – it totally will be what you make of it.

I know I am in it for life and I am going to dedicate myself to making it great and worldwide. Young developers will take the network and make friends for life, build businesses, create the next bazillion dollar thing. Mentors will become worldwide mentors helping young people from all backgrounds, maybe even working with them to create something world-changing. Centres will find their own local coding youth and will hold the ability to shape that relationship and hone those skills for the greater good, or for their own. The Rewired State team work together to boldly go wherever, to try stuff, test and be brave, with a small cushion (a very small cushion) of financial stability. It is what we all make of it.

But I do not believe in death by committee. I never have but flirted with it in the early days of this social enterprise and it failed. I plan to lead this thing and forge ahead with as much support as I can muster and see how far we get. A time will come when what we are doing becomes irrelevant, at that point I will get a new job.

  • if any of you know of any potential sponsors or partners for any of this, please let me know

 

The girl thing

I could respond to each and every one of you on twitter after today’s article in the Observer. And yes I know it is not just a girl thing, I was just writing in that instance about girls and coding, next week I would be happy to write about boys and coding. Several tweet responses were along the lines of: the girls I know just don’t give a sh*t, and some dubious responses about how this is/was/always will be the boy domain – but that is beside the point. All of it. And actually everyone has to stop banging on about the gender divide, the crisis is bigger than that.

The world is evolving, it is becoming more digital. Industry, every industry, is affected by this – and the economy is failing. The only jobs that have four job vacancies (av) to every skilled worker, are developer/programming jobs. The 2011 IDC Microsoft Economic Impact study found over 110,000 IT vacancies in the UK, and expects the IT workforce to grow by a further 113,000 by 2015.

Not only that but the market is changing with (amongst other things) Research and Development funds being slashed – hence the sudden boom in hack days – yet everyone needs to know the next big thing: low production cost, high return.

The world lies at the feet of those who know how to program it. Stop the rhetoric and the hectoring  just get on with it, it’s really not hard.

And before you lay in to me for hectoring, I have been trying to do something about this for years now and if you would like to support the latest effort, that would also be ace.

Young Rewired State 2012 – an update

You may well ask why I am doing this on my personal blog: simply because the news is too tasty to wait for the soon-to-be-relaunched YRS and RS websites.

Young Rewired State 2012 is gearing up a notch. We still have b*gger all sponsorship because raising sponsorship is hard and takes time/money to do, neither of which we have as we need to keep the lights on in Rewired State by running our fabulous hack days. However we do have a huge community of people willing to help, so once more we are doing this on a wing and a prayer but we know it is going to be awesome – more than that we are super excited

Here’s the story:

We were sitting around my dining room table (our current office) trying to solve the problem of running YRS2012 slap bang in the middle of the Olympics, with a Friday show and tell in London. When Adam McGreggor our multi-talented genius said “Hang on a minute, why don’t we run it at the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park?” From there it developed into an excited frenzy of telephone calls, emails and tweets to the rather wonderful museum and Chris Monk and a decision to run the end of the big YRS2012 event as a big festival style sleepover in tents in the grounds of the museum, with access to the museum itself (yes, BBC Micros) and the show and tell to be on the Saturday afternoon.

This is genius. Not only because it is not in London, but also because we are always a bit sad that the YRSers from the various centres from across the UK do not get a chance to mingle much on the Friday when they all come together, as it is such a massive rush to do the show and tell and catch various trains. This way they can all work together, be mentored together and practise their presentations. Also, more of you can come and see what was built as it will not be a work day!

You can’t get much better than the museum. It is staffed by a litany of incredible volunteers and many of the young people will not get a chance to see the history of what they are doing now and it is the centenary year of the birth of Alan Turing. And it will be all festival-y and Summer and so on and so forth.

So we are very happy.

Naturally, the cost just went up by a few thousand! We will have to have a far bigger hardship fund pot for those young people who cannot afford the fare to Bletchley and we will need to cover all manner of things like toilets and tents for those who do not have any, and marquees and whatnot – but we are never shy of a challenge.

I will be asking for sponsorship soon and will find ways to crowdsource some funds – but if you know of any organisations who might want to be a part of this festival of young geek talent then please do get in touch with me emma@rewiredstate.org. We don’t do these things for profit, and we do have a great band of volunteers – but there are necessary costs and we do need to cover them. So please do help

Before I bounce off, a huge thank you to the National Museum of Computing who have been so gracious, excited and helpful. I would like to point out that the Museum is a separate entity to Bletchley Park itself, even though it is in the grounds of Bletchley, and as such does not benefit from large benefactor donations – so we are even more thankful to them. What a Summer we are going to have.

I cannot wait…

Update on Funding! The wonderful STEPHEN FRY (no less) has tweeted about us and encouraged people to support us through http://www.peoplefund.it/young-rewired-state which has resulted in a great start in community fund-raising – do help us by pledging a tenner :) and here is a copy of his tweet…

Stephen Fry@stephenfry 

The UK’s young coders are at it again #YRS2012 looks even more intriguing this year, help support it over here peoplefund.it/young-rewired-…

Tell Gove what you think (the easy way)

When I was working in government, in the Cabinet Office and the Home Office, much discussion went on about how to make government consultations more available to everyone. Commentable format, that would be accepted, read and considered. In the digital world we were in, it was recognised that the consultation process needed to be changed to that everyone could have a democratic voice.

Well, the work continues on how to make that open, but we have a situation here that we just need to forget about fixing that  for the minute (make it my problem for how we formalise the responses in order to make sure your voices are heard officially,there will be a way) and take the JFDI route.

No, not the…

This one…

Michael Gove has opened his consultation on ICT in education, the one he referred to in his speech last week. His speech was very long and full of lots of information, some have accused it of not saying very much – but what he definitely said was that this consultation was coming, and that he ackowledged the problem. Which is a great start.

This is a very important consultation and opens a whole new door to open education and should not be ignored. But the consultation is in the formal format and requires you to answer specific questions, and not see what anyone else has said.

So, Craig Snowden @CraigSnowedIn, a 17 year old developer from Scotland who answered a twitter call to open the consultation, popped it into Google docs.

In Google docs you can read and comment, and see others’ comments, and properly understand what this might be saying.

Now, this is not the formal process, but there is no reason why the comments cannot be fed into the formal process and I will volunteer to do that. So if you fancy meandering over, having a read and saying what you think should be said, then go here. It is unbranded, it is not pretty, the formatting remains from the original. But it is a document, and you can comment as you wish, inline. (Just highlight the part you want to comment on, go to the ‘insert’ tab, scroll down to comment and Bob’s your Uncle).

The original and official consultation is here should you wish to formally respond directly.

Note: Closing Date: Wednesday 11 April 2012

If you have no idea what this is all about, here are a few blog posts that might help:

Year 8 is too late

Teach our kids to code e-petition

Paragraph Seven

Open Education – it’s not impossible, it is already here

The Guardian tech weekly podcast on tech skills and education

Lazy, layabout teens

My ICT teacher can’t mark my homework

My head teacher won’t let me teach computing

Open education and the freedom to teach computing

Open Government Data *wince* it’ll take a while… Open Education? Next September? No probs

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