7 reasons why the Year of Code is just Am Dram…

Right, this Lottie Dexter, Rohan Silva, Year of Code thing is being a massive pain in the arse. I swear to god I *knew* this would happen… Here’s where we are:

1. I knew nothing about this until last week when I sought out Rohan after one too many (press) people (I actually like) saying: WTF? Why are the Young Rewired Staters not on this list?
2. Was introduced to Lottie Dexter by Rohan, (who begged to be excused for not speaking to me before – pleas of busy-ness in getting this all set up (and his final million for his Index Ventures) but I know that other brands and people cited in this PR push had NO IDEA what was going on – but actually Rohan ignored every opp we had to chat throughout his time influencing Number Ten, I clearly get on his nerves but I honestly have no idea why: maybe it is the girl thing, probably just the JFDI thing (that is about to bite me in the bum!))
3. Frustrated attempts to have a conversation with Lottie ended in an actual chat last Sunday afternoon, then discovery that this was all being announced and launched on Tuesday and a belated invitation to join the advisory panel, (this involved no advising they were clear to point out).

My

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is not ego, this is just “sorry whut? and you are doing this when? oh Tuesday, *next Tuesday* – right 8-0… ” I was actually trying to do a real thing here and invest my life since 2009 in working out what we could really do to meet the needs of the self-taught programmers, fill more jobs, include more kids, assist with  learning and have a load of fun on the way with a worldwide community of young people
4. Embarrassed as clearly so *last year* – emphasised by being sidelined at launch, come for drinks but don’t stay for dinner, styled this out by getting twatted at Blacks with my sister
5. Become conspiracy theorist overnight: gov pledge to spend £500k on skilling up teachers to ‘teach coding’ is a bs sum and a bs strategy, with a young (beautiful) PR girl hurled out to slaughter by a couple of men: Saul and Rohan (amazingly silent throughout PR and soc med catastrophe) in Newsnight and R4 etc..

6. “Lottie is an enthusiastic 24 year old PR girl, “you will love her”, and she is going to learn to code this year yay!”  <- Rohan to me on Wednesday… “yay” I say, I love any young people, espesh girls getting involved in this, then I realised… hang on, my own daughter (16) is as divorced from relating to Lottie as I am and amazingly enough, the whole digital movement becomes public laughing stock
7. I get cross emails, dms, tweets, calls from people saying why did I not include them… not me, I just called Rohan out after I caught wind of this, under a week before it happened. I cannot do anything

Conclusion:

I want nothing to do with this.

In Young Rewired State we are doing stuff this year, and for the last six years I have tested and re-tested, modelled and re-modelled what works with the young people who are already coding, to encourage them to stay and explore the subject and their talent.

Also, to inform my own understanding of what is going on – obviously beyond the current theory that you can learn to code in an hour/day/week – although Decoded do a very good job in the advertising industry – WTF are they doing influencing government policy? I know Kathryn Parsons, she would be equally as surprised at being dragged out as govvy heroine of programming nazi-ism in schools.

IMHO this is damaging two very important movements:

  • girls and tech: a PR girl who has no idea
  • computational skills for young people

So I just do not want to know, and if the Year of Code becomes the *thing* that pivots this whole movement – I will celebrate its success obo the next gen, my daughters and yours (and sons too :))

And I do not support this government policy

I have made huge mistakes, learned many, many lessons. And yes you can call me out on things I riffed on three years ago, that I fundamentally do not believe in today. But I took you on that journey and never pretended I knew the answers!

I do not affect government policy, I do not even formally lobby government. I discover, get worked up about, share then explore things. Recently it has been this digital movement. I am not an academic. I am not a lobbyist. But I am an enthusiastic serial dater of this subject and I am learning a lot.

FWIW I do not believe every child has to learn coding as a mandatory subject from 7. But I think if you want to encourage girls into coding: Year 8 is too Late and you need to introduce them to the subject before they hit senior school. Teachers and schools should teach computational thinking as a mandatory subject. The flipped classroom should be embraced.

I also think £500k is a balls amount of money, matched with a 24 year old PR girl sent out to “mauling by media”  XFactor style, is this government’s way of kicking this subject into the long grass for good.

Clever move… (if a bit ****tardy) of the government

PS If I have sent you to this post:

1. It was not my idea and had nothing to do with me

2. I may be an adviser in name, but my name was published on their site at launch as Emma McQueeny Founder: Revision App, <- incognito… now I am apparently Emma MulqueenEy, founder YRS <- less incognito but enough to make it all a bit whatever…

Late edit: I have since written about what *can* be done by the Year of Code, should they so desire

My head teacher won’t let me teach computing

I thought I should follow on from the last post “My ICT teacher can’t mark my homework“.

As I have mentioned a few times, I belong to the utterly excellent group called Computing at School, it is made up of over 700 ICT teachers and people who want to help improve computing in schools. Over the few years I have known of it I have seen many online conversations, most general calls for help and weeping on colleagues’ shoulders about typical teaching frustrations. (I imagine these are common, am not a teacher!).

But recently there has been a noticeable uprising of the JFDI kind, with people making and sharing lesson plans and resources, a definite rise in collaborative energy to kick this ICT and computing discussion into touch. And get on with doing it.

As these horses appeared to bolt from the gate, jockeyed by enthusiasm and a good glug of sheer bloody-mindedness,  I have watched as slowly many of them have fallen, beaten back time and time again either by heads who won’t consider even a computing club, or as today a senior management team who over-rode the supportive Head, with the reason given being (and I am quoting from the post):

  •  Computing is too difficult for the small number that would want to do it (the ‘small number’ being half the GCSE ICT lot).
  • ICT is more useful for a larger number of students.

I am not speaking out of turn here in saying that this is a very common theme and a common argument and it drives me insane and most of the teachers in the group were wearily starting to accept defeat. I have also, to my utter despair, seen members of Young Rewired State fall at the same hurdle, where they have gone into schools and suggested running computing clubs or events, only to be patronised and dismissed.

There are so many counter-arguments to it aren’t there? But you know that in fact, these are not the real reasons, if they were Physics would not be taught, nor music, nor high-jumps, back-flips or burpeez – who cares right?

So is it that the teachers can’t do it?

I don’t think so, there is plenty of enthusiasm to learn and more and more collaborations with local industry people who will lend a hand. Besides learning programming should be something explored and learned together – teacher and pupil, that’s what makes it exciting. It is also not hard, despite John Humphry’s best efforts on Radio 4 yesterday morning to make learning programming sound like learning how to navigate to the moon (and change the wheels on the rocket launcher).

Is it that the text books are too costly?

One person in the CAS group is writing a free one, as I am sure are many of you in Coding for Kids and the general community if you think that is what it will take. There is so much free and open source technology out there – it’s not expensive.

Is it that pupils are taking ICT as a soft subject they will easily pass, adding programming will skew the figures?

Given the ICT ‘A’ Level in this instance required no previous GCSE qualifications to get in, and the curriculum is easy to walk students through writing what they need to say in order to get a high grade. So pupils and the senior team *like* ICT as it keeps the average grade high for the school – (but the pupils in question here are so fired up by the programming this teacher has been teaching so far, and he is worried that removing it from the lessons totally will cause merry hell. It’s fun you see…)

I don’t know but I suspect the latter is more likely to be the case, it makes more sense – I think we might be starting to peel back the layers and it feels like we are beginning to see the actual problems.

You see, this is good, because once we have identified the real problem facing schools, it is far easier to help address them and ask for the right changes to be made to support the many teachers and volunteers who want to help.

So I leave you with the question. If schools were *allowed* to take a hit on their GCSE and A Level grades in ICT whilst programming is taught alongside the necessary ICT skills – what that work? If schools were rewarded for introducing programming as a part of the STEM subjects (computer science) separately to the grades achieved during transition, would that help?

The CAS google group is open and you can go read the thread for yourself, it’s title is: Well that’s crap

Teach our kids to code e-petition

So after declaring that this would not become a personal mission for me in my post: year 8 is too late it has become a personal mission.

The petition is appallingly written. In my defence it was a brutal, and random, word count; I had to keep removing chunks of copy and keep trying to submit it, until suddenly it worked (no the word count that it eventually allowed through bore no relation to the word count originally stated… bug?). Anyhow, this terrible prose means that many have tried to explain it through writing their own explanatory blog posts and I thought I had better have a bash at explaining the background better myself.

What do I mean by code?

The word coding is a slang term for computer programming, used because programming basically means writing source code. Source code can be written in any number of languages (such as Ruby, Python and a gazillion others) and is the method used to instruct a computer to execute a series of actions. These actions are understood by the computer in what is known as binary code, that lovely series of ones and zeros loved by Hollywood futuristic films

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Lovely

When I wrote the post about teaching kids to code in Year 5, that this would address the nerdy image and encourage more female coders, I was focusing more on the immediate and tertiary “brand” issue that geekery has in this country. It is not yet awesomely cool to be able to build digital tools that shape the way the rest of us operate in our worlds, both social and work-based. Not in the UK anyway. And I could see this having a profound effect on our worldwide digital economy and reputation in the very near future – this drives me insane and I just could not understand why people were not a bit miffed by this.

Then I read a book called Program or be Programmed by Douglas Rushkoff please buy it and read it, even if you just read the Preface and Introduction, it is one of the most important books of our age. Here is a bit:

The real question is, do we direct technology, or do we let ourselves be directed by it and those who have mastered it? “Choose the former,” writes Rushkoff, “and you gain access to the control panel of civilization. Choose the latter, and it could be the last real choice you get to make.”

When I read this book – my slight irritation at the fact that programming was not taught as a part of the curriculum, nor indeed seen as important by parents – it became a far greater philosophical concern, and one that I thought I had to really throw myself into doing something about.

I want my children to have choice, to be able to operate the world they grow up into, not just be driven by it. It’s not just being able to code, in any case, it is understanding computational thinking, really being aware of the value of the frontal lobe over the relative intelligence of the computer programme – are we really going to allow our kids to blindly stumble into a future so utterly dependent on digital tools and products, without giving them the chance to be the demi-Gods who sit behind these things, telling them what to to, and thereby us what to think?

Ben Hammersley used to say to me, the Foreign Policy of this country is not what the Foreign Secretary says it is, it’s what Google says it is. You could argue this fact, but it is broadly true, and now you could perhaps replace ‘google’ with ‘twitter’. Ben has transcribed a speech he gave to the IAAC – please go and read it, it is similarly essential reading.

Rushkoff says in his book that the difference between being able to code and not being able to code, is like being the driver or the passenger (not, as some people think, the difference between the driver and the mechanic). Think about that for a minute, and take a look about you, it’s true.

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Now I am very definitely not alone here. Many people are making lots of noise about this: writing stuff, lobbying Ministers, pestering the Department of Education, meeting, planning, tweeting – you name it, it’s done. The movement is definitely gathering energy and people are beginning to come together around this topic. All I have done, apart from Young Rewired State of course, is start the e-petition bit of this process; as it is the only way we have a real hope of this being debated in Parliament, even if it is in a year’s time and even if it is not guaranteed to be debated, even with 100,000 signatures.

But what it *does* do, is give everyone who is out there a public place to point, with a decent number of signatories: 1,180 it its first 7 days and growing. (We do need to up its rate of growth if we are to reach 100,000 in a year, but this is why understanding the need for it is so important.)

Please note:

I am NOT saying that teaching programming in schools should replace ICT. ICT teaches you how to operate the digital tools now so paramount to our lives, of course we still need what we can fondly now refer to as traditional ICT. However, it is only half the story – we need to start teaching the other half, and fast.

Please sign the e-petition, and share it, tweet it, blog it, send it to your mate who is in the media and get them to talk about it.

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/15081

Tim Rogers, a Young Rewired Stater and one of the founders of the fabulous Silicon Britain blog, has written his own piece on this, and it is worth hearing the voice of a young digital star http://www.siliconbritain.com/2011/09/computer-science-in-the-uk-is-year-8-too-late/.