The difference between the 97er and Gen Y

I get asked enough times to actually publish about this.

97er is the generation of people born in 1997 or later Gen Y are the Millennials

97ers grew up with social media from as early as they can remember

Gen Y didn’t but they grew up with more digital skills than their parents – they just swerved the natural inclusion of social media

There is a marked difference

My 97er posts all link from here if you want to know more

The 97ers and social activism

I have worked with self-taught young programmers (aged 18 and under) in Young Rewired State since 2009; and in 1997 I gave birth to my own little digital native, and in 2002, another. My passion for learning, observing and being amongst networked communities in various forms, means that I have begun to see some interesting trends and patterns that are fascinating, and I am going to write a series of things about this. Here is the third (the first is here and links on to the second) and in this series I refer to the 97er. By this I mean child born in 1997 OR LATER: The true digital natives.

When I was a child, when I was cross about something I had to wait until I was a grown up to do something about it. This is no longer the case for 97ers.

As I said in my previous post on 97ers and Identity:

97ers are split personality teachers and consumers from as early as seven years old, if not earlier

They are also activists with access to immediate knowledge, discovery and research tools across living and historical communities that have never been available to those generations that came before them. They may have no understanding of democracy, governance or Government, no concept of activism or protest, but what they do have is the basic human ability to discriminate (not as in “discriminate against”, but apply their own judgment of right and wrong) and 24/7 access to what is happening in the world.

Of course these young people are no different to those that went before them in nature, and outraged gossip is as delightful to them as it has always been

gossip girl

… but now they see acid attacks in Pakistan, war-mongerers in the Congo, inequality across borders and seas. And they talk and share videos, news articles, Facebook pages, blog posts, hashtags and campaigns and they have a voice.

Online Advocacy Campaigns(I love this photo, creative commons from Flickr, but the dude who is presenting his slide refers to the story-telling. The story-telling that 97ers use to verify identity as well)

Imagine growing up knowing that your voice counts…

… and that every single person has the ability to activate their communities. Because every person in the digital space has a community, a social network and to 97ers this is completely normal, this is all they have ever known. If they don’t like something they will protest, loudly, in the online space, find campaigns to support their feelings and advocate them to their friends.

People say constantly that online activism makes no difference to what happens on the ground, liking a Facebook page does not stop an acid attack, nor give food to the starving. No it doesn’t, of course not, the other activities those charities and movements have access to at the moment do that. Online activism raises awareness of plights. But for the purpose of this blog post, what the online activism does is to reach the 97ers. They are aware, they will share and their understanding of social and personal responsibility is as much a part of their maturing and growth as traditional education.

The 97er armchair activist

So we can see that the 97ers have grown up with a natural expectation that they have a voice, that they can rally crowds, and almost without thinking they highlight things that trouble them and call on their friends to also be outraged. The outraged teen is tomorrow’s politician, entrepreneur, activist, connector. This has always been the case, but with the digital natives this means big change is coming.

They learn the power of their own voice through the constant value measures attached to followers, retweets and likes. They can measure in real time whether something they have said has chimed with their intended audience, and they adapt and learn how to ensure that the stuff they really care about gets seen by as many people as they can possibly reach.

Not only are they very skilled in reaching their audience, they do this for fun in their social time. And so they are growing up with social responsibility and an expectation of voice as a core part of their being. They have known nothing else.

Once these 97ers hit the post-education world and shatter into the people and positions they will become in business, politics and life (not that far away… 2020 is my guesstimate for the receding-sea-pre-tsunami of 97ers affecting everything we know) they will continue to do what people have always done: activate their networks. But for the 97er who really knows how to activate their networks, and has grown up doing so but now can move into positions of control over what happens as a result – then we will see big change.

A thought for pondering

We all know how we change our behaviour when we know someone is watching and judging what we do. For the 97ers they have grown up in an open world, their social space is open. Their behaviour is shaped by immediate applause or boos across social media. They validate beyond the family (in a different way, of course).

When the 97er is the war-mongerer, acid-attacker, abuser how will their behaviour adapt?

Only the 97er will be wily enough to second-guess and expose that, we (the pre-97ers) need to move into the role of supporter, mentor, offline guardians of everything they will see, face and do. But we will never be able to have this instilled as a part of our core as much as they will. So we must listen as much as we teach.

This is a generation without borders, and separate governance of countries and regions has no effect here, and this is important to remember.

Read previous posts on 97ers here:

The first post where I try to define them

97ers and Identity

For those used to assuming that this applies to GenY, or The Millennials, here is a clarification

How does the Year of Code wreck become a good thing?

You all know my feelings on the Year of Code. That’s done. But it is a thing, it does exist and I know that they are now talking to great groups like CAS and people like Conrad Wolfram and I am sure they will find something useful to do.

If they are not going to turn it off and on again and reboot the whole thing then it would be great if the following things could happen:

Be able to answer the following questions: Who are you and what are you going to be doing exactly?

If signposting everything that is going on, then signpost. If representing a government initiative, do that (and defend it somehow). If just a massive PR exercise on behalf of coding – get cracking and get some massive advertising and brand agencies on board.

From my experience the subject is too broad for this scatter-gun effect of confused messaging to generally everyone.

Be clear who you need to be talking to. To my mind the group you need to be focusing on is parents. Reassure, explain, find a way to marry the mixed messaging of *the internet is bad and full of paedophiles and danger* and *go forth and code*.

That would help.

Oh and decide whether the Year of Code is a Government thing. If not, take Osborne off the Home page.

*Late edit* Can I please just clarify, I have no issue with Lottie Dexter not being able to code, that is not an issue. I can’t code. Well, not the way people code nowadays – BBC Basic was what I was brought up on, by a Father who was obsessed with computers and educational software in the 80s!! I did not choose to take this as a career path, but I do understand it! The issue is that she has not done enough research, has not been properly briefed, does not have the stories, passion or experience (yet) to be the right person for this. The Sarah Palin of Code. But it is not the coding thing, that is not the issue. Nor am I suggesting that I am right for it! I have a full time job, this is not that. It is the actual harm this confusion is causing, and it really has to end.

That’s it, I am done.

Here is a photo of my kittenIMG_7860 And some lovely Young Rewired State videos.

Introducing Rewired Reality and YRS Everywhere – fa’ reeeel

Anyone who follows me in the social space will be very well aware that this week we (Rewired State) launched Rewired Reality**, our first venture into the commercial space, funded by the wonderful Nominet Trust. I have not spoken much about it here recently as it has taken quite a lot of work to get the idea and process right.

It is essentially an online hack day, for those tasks that would benefit from the hive mind of Rewired and Young Rewired State developers, but not a full-blown hack event. A challenge is submitted alongside a sum of money, we work with you to further define the challenge and to ensure the monetary reward matches the challenge and is not ‘cheap labour’*. Behind the Board there are a number of Rewired State and Young Rewired State developers hand-picked for now from successful hack events who will, if they choose to, create a prototype solution to the challenge. After 5-7 days there is a short period of peer review thereafter the Bounty Hunter, the client, is shown all proposed solutions and chooses a winner. The money is then shared between all devs taking part, with the winner taking a greater Bounty. (Collaboration is encouraged on and off the platform).

We think this is awesome for two reasons:

  • hack apathy is real, as is developer apathy, yet there is still a diminishing pool of talent who still really *do* want to assist with bringing dreams to life and solving complex technical problems – Rewired Reality brings a solution
  • Young Rewired Staters get an opportunity to solve real world problems, build their portfolio and experience – and clients get access to the brilliance of young minds

At the same time I have been dedicating myself this year to delivering against this dream. I am really pleased to report that conversations have begun in the following regions outside the UK:

  • New York
  • San Francisco
  • Aarhus
  • Berlin
  • Jo’burg
  • Amsterdam

With dates secured (yet to be revealed – wait until the new YRS site is launched :)) in NYC, Jo’burg and Aarhus. Working on the others at the moment. We are aiming to start with 50 young coding kids in each region, aged 18 or under, engaging them with local open government data and the open data developer communities – with a view to creating a worldwide, independent developer network, both mentored and mentoring, enabling these young people to grow up teaching and bringing peer-to-peer learning to life through solving real-world problems, using open data.

Our raison d’être in Rewired State is still to find and foster every child driven to teach themselves how to code, and by looking beyond the UK we are actually starting to realise this dream.

I am constantly amazed at the fact that in every country or region I speak to, the response is hugely enthusiastic, coupled with concern that these young children do not exist in their community. I am convinced that they do, and I am convinced that for the ones we find through these events, we will enrich their lives by bringing them a community of other people like themselves.

The ultimate dream is that these young people will grow up mentoring and being mentored, with children across the world working together to solve real challenges regardless of borders or oceans. They will no longer be isolated and coding alone.

So there you are! YRS Hyperlocal is happening very very slowly, funding is taking its time to happen, but we are getting there and will have news within weeks of a successful part-funding venture that affects YRSers in London and the Midlands. More to come…

* we work hard to ensure that people with a reduced budget can also take advantage of the board, by reducing the scope of the challenge to meet the reward, so we are not being elitist

** Rewired Reality is not yet pretty we are doing the design work and a nice video explanation in the coming weeks, the platform has taken up the energy :)

Here is an unedited version of me talking about Rewired Reality

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

 

Get in… Funded by “The People”

So today we are celebrating. Today we reached/exceeded our PeopleFund.it target of £20,000 http://www.peoplefund.it/young-rewired-state/.

I had promised myself that I would save up the blog post I wanted so much to write about crowd-sourced funding until after we had actually achieved it. So within minutes of the target being reached – here I am.

Firstly, thank you so much to everyone who either donated or promoted our call for funds. Part of the reason I was so excited when I happened to catch a tweet about the launch of http://www.peoplefund.it (PFI) was that we had found a way to involve the people who have been such a huge part of Young Rewired State (YRS) over the years and have really wanted to contribute, even if it was only a fiver, and I hated having to just go for corporate sponsorship – which is its own special nightmare.

It’s the crowd, man

I know that Kickstarter exists and is excellent, but have always been confused as to whether UK organisations could apply – and still am – so PFI appeared at exactly the right time: just as we were cranking up the calls for participation for YRS2012 we had a way of including the community that champions what we do.

It is so important to me and to what we are doing with Young Rewired State, that this is something that can be truly community-based, and community-funded*, and I really do feel that the people who have chosen to pledge money to YRS are as much a part of this as we are. I will work hard to ensure this happens as we race towards August, and to celebrate this at the festival of code itself.

But the pledgers were not only individuals, some were start-ups, some start-ups founded by YRS alumni, others were small businesses who really know how important this peer-to-peer interaction and learning is, and have benefitted directly or indirectly from it.

I will come back to this point in a mo…

It was hard work

Believe you me, this was not a case of submit the information, set a target and sit back and let PFI/twitter do the work. Sure we had an early high with those who were already bursting to be involved in some way pledging their cash, then a lull during which time Stephen Fry tweeted about it, as did Martha Lane-Fox and other luminaries – this rarely translated into money donations, but it did certainly raise the profile and we won in a different way by more kids signing up to come along – which is just as brilliant. I asked PFI to send a timeline of donations, it’s here if you are interested! (Thanks Jake!)

It took a *lot* of hard work and time. I became horribly mercenary, everyone who wanted me to do something or talk somewhere would be hit by a request from me to donate! My poor, poor social networks were reminded pretty much daily that they could contribute, through a variety of thinly veiled pointers to the donation site. My family did not escape, in fact my poor Mum – who had worked out how to pledge through GoCardless, then cancelled the pledge when she later looked at her online banking and did not recognise the direct debit – is still insisting on sending a cheque. Rewired State events were hijacked by pleas for donations to YRS and friends with rich friends mercilessly ‘reminded’.

But £20,000 is a LOT of money. Maybe not in bubble world, but in the real world, it is a huge sum. And ten weeks is not a long time to raise it. No matter how good the cause or idea, it needs to be relevant and there has to be value for money.

So this is a massive and resounding success, and I am just so pleased that it worked out.

Peer to peer funding

So as much as peer-to-peer learning is key right now, so it seems is peer-to-peer funding. But there is a missing element to this.

When Young Rewired State first started in 2009, we were sponsored £23,000, mainly from government if I remember correctly. Once the weekend was over, we had £5,000 left and so we looked for somewhere to donate that money. We gave it to Jonty Wareing and Hackspace, they had not found premises and needed a small lump to help them.

It was a perfect transaction, we had it spare, they needed it and they were providing something that would help the YRSers of the future.

This year the Real Time Club got in touch with us, after being pointed in our direction by the fabulous Simon Peyton-Jones and the Computing at Schools network (yes I blasted them too!), they had a similar situation with some excess money at the end of their year that they wanted to put towards a good cause. I went to meet them and explained about YRS, they talked to me about it and agreed to donate some money. Not only this, but one of the people I was introduced to there took me to the school for which they are a governor: Anson Primary, a remarkable school, doing wonderful things and now a YRS centre. Win!

It would be nice to think that as this crowd-sourced funding jag becomes more popular, so the circle continues. It would be nice if as the community funds projects, so the projects, once they become successful or if they end up with excess, helps the funding community. What a way to encourage individual enterpreneurism? What if a reward for pledging money to a community project or any project for that matter, came with a promise to assist anyone who was thinking of starting something themselves.

Just as YRS is a real example of P2P learning, so we can learn from the actions of the alumni, who all come back, year on year, to help support and assist the newbies coming through. It would be good to see this fostered in P2P funding and next year when I do this again (oh yes I sill, sorry gang) I will find a way to do just that.

Finally a HUGE thank you to the people at People Fund It, they have been hugely helpful and supportive and of course, those YRS alumni and mentors I have stumbled across working at GoCardless!

*Post Script

The PFI £20k is not the total sum we are having to raise for YRS, we are having to raise further funds through traditional sponsorship. This is to cover the costs of the event itself on the Friday and Saturday. The money raised using community funding is for the kids, hardship funds for travel, believe you me this will be hammered this year!, and anything else they might need during the week – it is a very specific amount and a very specific purpose that feels right to be funded by the community. Other costs such as toilets, marquees and AV can be funded by the corporate sponsorship we raise. If you want to know the total amount we need to raise for YRS this year, it is £50,000 (including the PFI £20k) – and if we don’t use it all, we will be donating it back to other social projects, naturally.

Open Education and freedom to teach computing

I think anyone vaguely awake in the education and digital space cannot have failed to notice that 2012 is the year of Computer Science, of coding and kids. 2011 was a cacophony of noise about why this was so terribly important, and 2012 is reaping the rewards.

Government is making commitments for fundamental change and industry is running out of developers fast – and kids have no jobs.

In September of last year I wrote a blog post about how Open Education could work; indeed people have been writing about this for years but it was only really at this point that you could see anything actually happening.

Teachers and freedom

Can giving teachers freedom to teach a subject in any manner they see fit possibly work? This is a fundamental change from the micro-managed curriculum we currently enjoy, with the focus on exam pass-rates and associated funding streams.

I am not wholly sure that it would work easily and immediately with other STEM subjects, Science, Engineering and Maths – it can definitely work with Technology. But boy is it going to take some doing.

Speaking from experience

My eldest daughter is 14 and goes to a school that has just attained academy status, specialising in brilliance in Science – this does not include computer science. Me being me I have been a royal pain in the backside, whilst trying to be helpful, speaking to the deputy head about all I was doing in the coding for kids space and how my experience and contacts could help the school up its game with teaching coding and computer science.

Six months ago they ignored me.

Three months ago they called me in for a meeting.

Two months ago they asked for help.

One month ago we made a plan:

  • inter-form hacking competitions
  • programming computer club working with free online resources, local geek industry and gaming bods
  • an annual assembly
  • participation in Young Rewired State for the coders who had already taught themselves how to programme

This is the stuff dreams are made of. Relevant cross-curricular learning, with a skill that not only de-nerds coding, but simultaneously teaches each child something about programming the digital world they live in, regaining control, knowledge and new Summer jobs. What’s not to love?

Well…

The reality

It takes a lot of work and time to co-ordinate and set up a computer club with local enterprise and free online tools. Done individually, school by school, this will fail at the first missed meeting.

Senior schools operate on a time-poor, information-rich merry-go-round of priorities and logistics. There is an awful lot of information that needs to be imparted in very few hours over very few years – you can only imagine the eye-bleeding decisions that have to be taken.

As a result, senior schools are not the most malleable of organisations to effect immediate and affective change, regardless of good intent and recognition of a problem. New stuff has to become a part of the old stuff – traditional corporate change mechanics: communication, education, management, reward, story-telling and so on.

I tell you – even with one school, regardless of the work I do with Young Rewired State, Coding for Kids and Government – this could be a full time (voluntary) job.

So, I still hold out hope that in 2012 this school will be able to live its dream of being one of the first to market – but there is no kidding about the fact that this is a behemoth of a task.

How can this scale? We’re stuffed

I can hear the Computing at School teachers sharpening their pencils to send me a strongly worded letter about how they are succeeding in their own schools without parental interference, thank you very much – I know. But you face the same problems I saw, I think, judging from the posts on CAS.

So, let me be clear, I have read up on this subject, I work with young programmers, I am a parent to two children, one (aged 9, girl) obsessed with programming the other (14, girl) not so much – so it is with this that I plant my flag firmly in the camp of Year 8 is too late.

Senior school is not the place to focus attention right now. Yes, there will be things that can be done, that teachers can do – but the seeds of need must be planted in junior education.

Equip our young, time-rich juniors with the basics of computer science, take time to make it fun and exciting across the curriculum. The children will then enter senior school with an enthusiasm and expectation that is simply not there right now. And senior school teachers will, for a while, have to play to the masses who see no relevance at all between their BBMing, Facebooking and Tumblr blogs and what they could potentially be learning at school.

Trying to solve this problem with a top-down, managerial (half-hearted) cry to throw open the digital doors in Year 8 and force change in education and interest is going to be a long and bloody process. If this is the way we choose to go, then accept that it will take time, money (lots of money) and it will affect the whole of the education system, not just ICT reform.

Can we focus on the long term by paying attention to junior schools and exciting those teachers and children? And can we work with the kids currently negotiating their way through senior education who have already applied the principles of Open Education by teaching themselves? Young Rewired State focuses relentlessly on these kids and I can tell you the need to support them gets greater every year.

In light of this please can I encourage anyone reading this to still take the time to sign the e-petition and to consider supporting Young Rewired State.

Before I get slated by the Computer Science purists, coding is only one bit of computer science, but it is the only bit I know anything about.

My ICT teacher can’t mark my homework

Three years ago in August 2009 we ran the first ever Young Rewired State – a hack weekend aimed at the young developer community. I was determined to try to engage them with the exciting (sic) world of open government data, and firing on all four cylinders went out to go tell those kids all about it.

But they were not there…

It made no sense to me that there was a thriving adult developer community, many of them of my own peer group, but no-one under the age of  18? Where were the kids? Was there a corner of the Internet I had yet to discover?

Over a period of months it became blindingly clear that there were no groups, there were tiny pockets and many isolated individuals – all teaching themselves how to code, driven by personal passion and nothing else.

We scraped together 50 of these kids from across the UK and it was one of the most incredible events we have ever run. Ask me about it and I will bore you to death with inspirational stories ;)

Since then, running Young Rewired State has become the most important thing I do.

One story that I have heard time and time again, is that these genius kids are failing in ICT at school, because their teachers cannot mark their work. I mentioned this in the Guardian Tech Weekly Podcast and I am often asked to back up my claims!

One of the Young Rewired Staters who attended that first event (and every event Rewired State has run since regardless of the challenge – until he was snaffled by San Francisco: aged 16) explained this for the Coding for Kids google group, and I asked him if I could share his story here. Here goes:

When I was in year 10 (or 11, I can’t remember) we were given the brief to “design and create a multimedia product” for an assessment towards GCSE ICT.
Most people opted to use powerpoint to create a sudo-multimedia product. I, however, decided to build a true multimedia product in Objective-C (a small game written for iPhone & iPod Touch which included a couple of videos, some story text, audio, it was an awesome little thing, it really was :)
The Powerpoints passed with flying colors, my project failed.
I asked the head of IT why he failed me, he told me he simply couldn’t mark it. He had installed the app on his iPhone, as had the rest of the IT staff (Including the technicians who really loved it!), played it, but couldn’t mark it because a)He didn’t understand how it worked and b)It was leagues above anything else he’d ever seen from the class.
I argued the case and managed to scrape a pass by teaching him the basics of Objective-C from scratch and by commenting every single line of code I wrote to explain exactly what it did and how it did it (all 3,400 lines, including standard libraries I used) which ended up being a huge time sink. Time, I was constantly aware, I could be relaxing or working on a project of my own.
I understand that my case is a little different from the one involving Ruby, you can’t expect every IT teacher to be versed in iPhone development, but there is no excuse for not having at least a basic understanding of Ruby/Python and absolutely no excuse for failing work because its difficult to mark.
This NEEDS to be fixed, so many fantastic young devs are becoming disillusioned with education because of little things like this. The thought process, for me at least, follows:
“Wait a second, my IT teacher can’t mark this, so it fails? I don’t really want to be part of a system that works like this”.
This is in stark contrast to events like YRS, where kids are encouraged to push the boundaries and explore how to do things differently to stunning effect. It was one of the major deciding factors for me to leave education and move to the US.
The frightening thing is, after bringing it up at an event, almost every other young dev had a similar story.

I cannot tell you how sad I am that we have not been able to keep this YRSer in the UK, and this is one of the very many stories that drives me.

What can you do to help? Start by understanding this problem, then join groups like Coding for Kids and CAS of course – sign the petition.

There are a great many people trying to help solve this problem, and 2012 is certainly going to see a huge push towards solving this, but for now, just take some time to understand why this is such an important fight we have to win – for this generation and the next.

And as a PS, please read the introduction to Douglas Rushkoff‘s book: Program or be programmed – it is very good! (I so should be on commission from this guy).

Open Education: It’s not impossible, it’s already here

Imagine a world whereby our borders are open, where data is open, where organisations are open… where education is open.

Those of you who read my blog are pretty au fait by now with the open principles of data and organisations, and we live in a world of pretty open borders – so now, just bear with me through the open education thing.

There is an almighty (thank goodness) brauhaha at the moment about teaching programming in schools, indeed upping the interweaving of digital teaching throughout all subjects (beyond googling the best essay ever on any given subject). But there is the huge gap in enthusiasm amongst the young generations – relatively easy to solve – and the ability of teachers to teach all a young person needs to know in this future digital world, one that many have not grown up in, let alone been taught how to teach, this is harder.

But is this a deal breaker?

http://mulqueeny.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/t_talk-to-the-hand-graphic.jpg?w=150

Many (many many many) people say to me: but I taught myself how to code and I am fine, I have a career and I do well, if it was taught to me maybe I would not have found it so interesting.

Fair point, but you are all over 25. The under 25s do not agree – well not 100% anyway.

So I think that we can accept, just by reading all there is online right now about this subject, that there is a need, a very real need; and it is not just for the younger generations whom we may be letting down by not doing anything about this. Can we take that for granted for the sake of this post?

However, there is a big problem that we need to be addressing at the same time as we fight for recognisance of the need to teach 21st century computing – and that is that the teachers we have now, indeed the teachers we are training now, are not equipped to teach this.

I am a part of a network called Computing at School, and have recently been included in their google group. This group is full of teachers who are supporting each other, sharing resources, introducing people from outside the education community who are programmers, are building software and hardware (open source), or who are parents with rudimentary knowledge or extraordinary knowledge – robotics anyone? or those just wanting to help somehow.

In this google group I am a party to many conversations between teachers crying out for help and information, and helping each other. They share links, wack up a wiki when a subject gets too big for just an email list, bring in industry experts – and all in their spare time. Those teaching Computer Science degrees helping the primary/secondary school teachers and vice versa. It is all an open forum, anyone can ask anything, and they do. I cannot tell you how humbling it is to read some of the conversations, enthusiastic and daily, sparked in this group – and it completely negates the publicly perceived view that this task is impossible because the IT teachers are crap. It is simply not true.

Yes, many of them did not train in IT, but they trained as teachers, and as teachers they take the education of the UK’s next generation extremely seriously. (I am sure you can all haul out a rubbish teacher to point to, but let’s play to the masses and not the exceptions). These are people who love what they do and want to do their best, they know that they need help to get this right, but I do not see any reticence there.

What I do see, is the occasional call for help – to assist with making the case for changing the stuff they are teaching, often a cry of:

The head gets it, but will ask the *usual* questions. Anyone help me?

Now I am not a teacher, so have no idea what these questions are, but taking a wild stab I would assume that they are on a par with the senior management teams in organisations who can only approve things if they fit with industry approved measurements of success – and struggle when there is no such thing (yet).

Yet schools are already being forced to move into measurements not yet measured. Schools are no longer valued just on the say so of Ofsted (oh I know it is still a big thing, but for how much longer, open data?)

Open education?

Well, it’s not impossible it is already here. Computing at Schools is an excellent example of open education. The head of ICT might not know how to teach Python to a bunch of 9 year olds and make it fun – but Mrs Miggins down the road does.

So please, when you hear the counter-argument to teaching kids to code being that teachers can’t do it, that’s not true, they can – it will be a good decade until they are officially trained to do so, but even then all they really need to know is how to teach, then they can choose what they teach, and it is an ongoing learning path, I am sure (unless it’s Latin or Ancient Greek).

Until then, let’s nurture open education. If you can code and know that you might be able to help a teacher, or write some open source software for use in schools – please do it.

I would encourage everyone to start with Computing at School (CAS) as it is already here and already plugging right into the heart of the teaching network. CAS is a grass-roots organisation and that is the only place we can start. Top-down simply will not work – anyone think we will still be learning Scratch in 2020?

Let’s accept that government has a lot to do and that it will take time to make the necessary policy changes, and let’s make sure that our voices are heard as people living in a democracy, use the petition system, the voting system and the fact that we are actually allowed to speak to our politicians, and they will listen (again please let’s play to the masses not the exceptions here).

But at the same time, let’s just do what we can to make it all work a little bit better in the mean time. Besides, we can experiment (a bit) and if we experiment with the best minds we can lay our hands on (in an open education way) then the risk is greatly reduced.

And I think the next generations will forgive us for trying, they may not forgive us for giving up. I hope they wouldn’t anyway.

Please take time to sign the e-petition – http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/15081

And here is a link to Computing at Schools – http://www.computingatschool.org.uk/

#codingforkids evening barcamp

If any of you have heard me tell the story of how Rewired State came about, you may be surprised that I am throwing myself into a barcamp. (For those who haven’t, it goes along the lines of – after 3 years of talking about the digital future of government in a series of barcamps, I got thoroughly bored and wanted action not words, so kicked off National Hack the Government day with the genius minds of James Darling and Richard Pope – since then I have been a bit scathing about chatty stuff – I am often wrong).

So, we are running a barcamp style informal evening on the topic of teaching coding in schools. We are doing this because actually the debate and issues that surround the subject of teaching programming in schools is so complicated, it is also noisy. So what we are hoping to do is bring some of those voices together in a room for a couple of hours, to hammer out some of the next steps.

We aim to have everyone commit to one action each at that barcamp, for them to then blog about their progress over the next few months and then run a hack day 3 months after that, to prototype any required digital tools. Thereafter we would like to hold regular alternate barcamps and hack days, relentlessly drilling through the issues and gathering the necessary experts around this topic.

It is way too big a subject for it to be owned or solved by any one organisation or thought leader – it requires an expert and committed community, self-driven and focused on specialist areas. Katy Beale from Caper and myself from Young Rewired State are just acting as catalysts here – we want it to take flight.

If this sounds like something you would like to take part in, then the event is being held on October 12th from 6-9pm at the Guardian, sign up to the Eventbrite form over here and we will keep you posted on stuff.

This is very much a community thing, it is not an Emma and Katy thing, we just wanted to get it started.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 135 other followers