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

Learn to code at any age

This is a cross-post of something I wrote for The Guardian, but just thought would be handy to have on the blog over here. It is also a small update from an old post: How to teach kids, or anyone, how to code – that’s the history bit done! Now the science…

The beauty of programming is that it does not matter how old you are (within reason – under 7 is possibly a bit optimistic) you can learn using exactly the same, mostly free resources to be found on the Internet. You can learn basic programming easily within a year and then you can choose to hone and refine whichever aspects of coding most excite you. Done! It’s not hard.

For the purposes of this post I have referred to resources aimed primarily at younger people – but they are all useful for the beginner.

Two of the most common questions are:

1. What language (programming language) should I learn/teach?
2. What resources are there out there to learn how to code?

The answer to question 1 is easy: any/all. The younger programmers are typically polyglottal coders, applying different languages to different challenges, with fewer specialising in one language.

The answer to 2 is also easy: there are many and I will list some here. (Do keep an eye out, there are more resources put online every day and it is always worth watching out for more/better/easier ones.)

Please note, I am deliberately *not* going to recommend one language over another, nor opine the benefits/pitfalls of each – find out which one suits you and start there. Another tip is once you have found a language you are keen to learn, then do search YouTube for further free support and tutorials, there are far too many to name-check here, but it is brimming with people willing to share knowledge in an easy to digest fashion.

To really get you in the mood

Whenever I talk about teaching kids to code, or online resources, I always encourage people to watch Randy Pausch’s last lecture and read the introduction to Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or be Programmed. Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture can be watched here

(If you don’t have an hour or so free right now, then come back to it, but watch the ten ish minutes from this point in the video)

Free online resources

By far the most intuitive and simple website released lately is http://codecademy.com It teaches javascript through a series of very short and simple lessons. My 9 year old daughter started coding using this and it just got her into understanding how written code works.

Kids Ruby http://kidsruby.com is also simple, free and fun.

Scratch http://scratch.mit.edu/ is taught in an increasing number of schools now. Created by MIT it is a programming language that helps computational thinking as well as collaborative working as you build, create and share.

For those of you who love to really get into the meat of a subject, then http://learnpythonthehardway.org/ is a great book/free download. It would not be suitable for the very young coder, but do not be put off by the title – it is surprisingly compelling.

Code Project has a great page on Android programming (for mobiles) http://www.codeproject.com/KB/android/AndroidGuide.aspx there are many tutorials for Android but I found this to be the best place to start.

Blitz Academy has a whole list of resources for those thinking about getting a job as a games developer (in fact the reading and link list is interesting for anybody even vaguely interested in anything)

The Bytes Brothers books [http://www.gamebooks.org/show_series.php?id=1171] are a “…sort of a cross between Encyclopedia Brown and Micro Adventure, each volume in this series contains several short mysteries. The user must read carefully and run very simple BASIC computer programs in order to guess the solutions.”

I can’t really leave you without the links to Alice, having started with the Randy Pausch lecture; it is a programming environment not a language:

Alice

Alice is a 3d programming environment, designed to “create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Alice is a teaching tool for introductory computing. It uses 3D graphics and a drag-and-drop interface to facilitate a more engaging, less frustrating first programming experience.”

So there is Alice 2.0 and Alice 2.2 as well as Story Telling Alice. The latter was the one mentioned by Randy as being developed by Caitlin Kelleher and is “… designed to motivate a broad spectrum of middle school students (particularly girls) to learn to program computers through creating short 3D animated movies.” You can download Story Telling Alice here, but it is not hugely tested, is only available for windows based machines, has no support – but I certainly play about with it with Amy (9).

‘Proper’ Alice has full support and documentation and teaching materials and so on.

And that’s it, but there is a constant stream of useful stuff being built and recorded every day, so this post will date quickly! But once you have learned how to code, join us over at Young Rewired State!

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

Bear with me, I have a point.

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, today delivered a complete coup de grâce for ICT education by accepting wholeheartedly that ICT education, and indeed the cross-curricular syllabus, was fundamentally broken. He accepted that traditional methods for mending a broken bureaucratic, micro-managed education system would not address the immediacy of the problem, and so he threw it open to the floor.

He made Open Education possible (potentially mandatory) in one speech, and he heralded the Government’s move into…” it’s over to you, gang, do your thing”.

To be fair I am obliterating much of his speech here, but the bit we are most interested in is the fact that Government has seen the problem, examined it and accepted that the answers probably lie out there – somewhere on the Internet.

Let me be clear, this is a good thing – Open Education is the future – BUT YOU CAN’T JUST SPRING IT ON US!!

We need to be able to relax about certain basic human needs: education, health, environment (getting the money in to pay for this through tax, our direct debit to government) and we have to assume that the elected governors will take care of that for us, with the right people helping and advising, steering and delivering – without brain-bleeding charges to the public purse. (Martha Lane-Fox took time and focused advice on how government delivered its open online presence, resulting in the Government Digital Service – which took years to curate, even after her report was published and it is still in its infancy.)

We know about Big Society and we know that the world and its borders are opening up and it is becoming fundamentally digital. We know this and are all pitching in as and when we can, but we definitely still look to government to horizon-scan and come up with a scalable, secure plan for the future – that goes beyond:

Have you *seen* this website? Codecademy.com is awesome

Yes… it is, but…

Let’s pretend

Let’s pretend the education system was the tax system.

Our tax system is fundamentally flawed, we all know this. It’s:

  • Not fit for purpose
  • Deeply complicated
  • Is still run by people working without access to the Internet
  • Requires experts to explain information that could be easily garnered from the web (free – if you have the time)
  • The OFFICIAL BOOKS measure in inches, if you intend to master it yourself

Have you *seen* this website? http://www.justanswer.com/ is awesome <- link chosen to back up point, not after in-depth analysis

The fact is that out of all the 28,000 teachers who qualified in 2010, 3 – THREE – were computer science majors. Three chose to go into teaching, the rest chose to reward their hard-earned degree in the City, or on their own start-ups.

Why?

Money

Money is the elephant in the room here that no one wants to address. It takes money to solve this problem and we do not have money, as a Nation, nor most of us as individuals – not disposable income at any rate, and believe me – it will take many people with disposable income to help solve this across the UK. Hands up, anyone?

What if this was tax?

What if we were saying:

Yes, OK, the tax system is not fit for purpose and fundamentally flawed. But we are not going to spend years over-hauling the tax system and doing what we as government usually do! We say – Yes! You are right… you are vocal and on point in your suggestions so yes, go forth – and fix it… it’s still mandatory, natch, but you can do what you will with all the resources available to you on the Internet. Lots of industry leaders in accounting are going to be making up some new measurements, but it’s OK – we know it’s broken and you have the answer, so go on then 😀 we will be doing stuff over here…

I am being facetious

Of course I know this would never be the case. Of course I understand that the tax system is way too tricky for me to make such an analogy.

In my opinion if we do not treat education in the same way we respect tax, or even open data – then what exactly is democratic revolution all about?

How can we accept and wholly applaud a Government measure to turn education over to the ‘people’ when it is so utterly broken? This problem has been highlighted ad nauseum (more to come on Friday with the RSA report saying pretty much the same thing as everyone looking at this in any depth).

The issue has been accepted as a given – yes, it’s a terrible state of affairs, thank you Mr Gove for accepting this. However, you cannot step away from the fact that the solution lies in a big collaborative effort between industry and educators, between large and small businesses, corporates and social enterprise – all working in happy harmony with schools, full of children, children whom we protect (rightly) with stringent rules – particularly when we are talking real-life interaction with children, not just digital (but even digitally :/… ) this stuff does not vanish in a well-intentioned speech.

Are we sensible in being so care-free with our youth? Is education really the space where we feel most comfortable throwing open the doors and embracing Open principles without further thought? Let’s face it, Open Government data has been a minefield of risk aversity and open-eyed horror  – but Open Education can be rolled out on a whim, because micro-managing didn’t work?

I worry that in the excitement over freedom granted today to educators for something so utterly fundamental as Computer Science in the UK, so the doors open to frozen blind panic from schools and teachers, turning to potentially unethical opportunists wanting to make a buck and chaos and failure as the result. We cannot afford this.

I worry about publishing this post as I campaign for Open practice, loudly. I have campaigned hard for government to debate the subject on teaching our kids to code – please sign the petition, it has a long way to go… but if a subject is swept away in a general wiff-waff of ‘go forth and educate yourselves’ that we miss a proper, tax-payer funded (probably quite pricey) look at every issue raised – not just the problem. I also fight for Open Data. I welcome collaborative process.

Anyone who has googled Chaos theory will have a basic understanding of the fact that change is exacted through chaos. But also, that chaos is carefully crafted. And studied.

Much though it pains me hugely to say it – we have to keep pushing for a debate. We need this to be taken seriously. Education is not low-hanging fruit.

Today was great, but it was not enough. And I am so sorry to be saying this.

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.