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

IMG_8022

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

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 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

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).

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

https://i1.wp.com/www.digitalproductionme.com/pictures/gallery/Stock%20images/Binary_code_on_blue%20for%20web.jpg

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.

https://i1.wp.com/rlv.zcache.com/pause_for_thought_black_text_card-p137452235662050689tdn0_152.jpg

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/.