Monthly Archives: November 2012

This is not yet a scientific age

Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe? This value of science remains unsung by singers, you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it.

This is not yet a scientific age.

What Do You Care What Other People Think? (1988)
Richard Feynman

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The Times: “Program or Be Programmed”

A lot of computer science in The Times today: a full-page article on page 3 entitled Play the game, but write the software too (£), a four-page pullout on learning how to code, as well as the following leader (£) on page 2:

Program or be Programmed

The best time to start learning the language of computer code is now

void draw() {
    background(255);
    stroke(0,0,0);
    line(0,0,60,hour());
    line(0,0,120,minute());
    stroke(255,0,0);
    line(0,0,180,second());
}

The world divides into a majority of people for whom the preceding four lines are meaningless and a minority for whom it is clear at once that, given the right breaks between them, these lines will create on your computer screen a simple clock.

For the majority, the world of software is a built world that, like a city, helps us to organise and to consume. But it has been built by others. For the minority, software is merely a curtain that can be pulled aside to reveal a wild world of confusion, trial and error, but also of potentially unlimited creative and commercial potential. It is time for Britain’s schoolchildren to be granted access to this world.

For a brief period in the 1980s, British schools and universities punched far above their weight in the production of graduates who spoke the language of computers. This was partly a legacy of Britain’s pioneering role in the fundamentals of computer science and partly thanks to the BBC Micro, which appeared in most schools in the country but required a basic understanding of code for even its most basic functions.

The Micro generation went on to dominate the creative side of the computer gaming industry, but mainly in other countries. Since then Britain’s top three universities for computer science — Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College, London — have kept their rankings in a global top 20 predictably dominated by the United States. But for a wasted generation, computer science in schools has languished at the expense of something else entirely.

As Michael Gove lamented in a speech in January, the national curriculum’s vision of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) had atrophied to little more than a primer in the use of Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. What pupils got, if they could stay awake, were simple skills that conferred little competitive advantage and in most cases could anyway be self-taught. What they needed was a rigorous but rewarding grounding in code as a foreign language.

At the Education Secretary’s invitation, industry has produced a blueprint for a new computer science curriculum. It would start early. By the end of primary school, pupils would be able to build an app for a mobile phone. By 16 they would be able to write a program to solve a Sudoku puzzle. By 18, if they took computer science at A-Level, they would be able to write the code to guide a van along the shortest route between two points on a digitised map.

Under this scheme, coding would start at 7. Its advocates say this would produce, eventually, the number of computer-literate graduates that British employers need; equip all pupils with the ability to compartmentalise and sequence their thinking as coding requires; and reflect the new reality that no rounded education is complete without an introduction to programming.

It is a compelling case. Some schools may respond that they cannot possibly have enough qualified teachers ready for a curriculum by 2014, when the successor to ICT is due. That is no reason to push back the deadline. It is a reason to speed up the necessary training. That clock on your computer screen is ticking.

While it has been widely reported that industry have taken the lead on developing the new ICT Programme of Study in England, this is not quite correct. It has been coordinated by the BCS and the Royal Academy of Engineering on behalf of the Department for Education, with input from key stakeholders across education, academia, government and industry. They may have been indirectly referring to Computer Science: A Curriculum for Schools, the CAS curriculum which has been endorsed by industry and the examination boards.

N.B. The Times also cleverly demonstrated that programming is non-trivial, by inserting a couple of typos in the code fragment at the start of the article…

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Useful methods in Android 4.2: isUserAGoat()

android.os.UserManager, a new class added in Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) which manages users and user details on a multi-user system, has exposed a very useful public method:

isuseragoat()

(source and an explanation)

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Science, the knowledge of consequences

Science is the knowledge of consequences, and dependence of one fact upon another.

Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

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Review of ICT in Wales

A written statement released today by Leighton Andrews AM, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills:

The ICT sector in Wales is a driving force in both economic development and wider social change and it encourages productivity and competiveness across the economy. The sector in Wales is global and dynamic and includes a wide range of companies from blue-chip corporates through to innovative small and medium-sized enterprises across IT services, software, telecommunications and electronics.

In this context, I am determined to ensure that learners progressing through our education system have the skills required to work in and contribute to the sector.

There has been a significant decline in the number of learners taking the GCSE ICT course in Wales and I am aware that some employers have expressed concern over what is being taught in schools, that young people are being ‘switched off’ careers in the sector, and that they lack the necessary skills. There is a risk that the current curriculum is failing to provide young people with relevant skills.

On 1 October 2012, I announced a review of assessment and the National Curriculum in Wales. The review aims to streamline and simplify assessment arrangements and consider the National Curriculum core and other foundation subjects at each stage, to ensure that our expectations of content and skills developments are suitably robust.

As part of this wider review, the time is right to consider the future of computer science and ICT in schools in Wales. I will begin this process by chairing a seminar on 19 November, which will bring together some of the key players in Wales to discuss the future of ICT in schools.

I have invited representatives from the National Digital Learning Council, Further Education, Higher Education, and industry to contribute to what I hope will be a lively and informative debate on the best way forward and how to ensure that Wales is well placed to play a leading role in the global economy of the future.

I have been invited to this meeting on the 19th, so I hope to have more information in a couple of weeks.

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CAS Wales and the six Welsh Hubs

CAS logo

Significant progress has been made by Computing At School (CAS) in supporting computer science education in the Wales over the past two years: a strategic partnership with the Technocamps project in 2010, a successful inaugural CAS Wales/Technocamps conference in July 2011, a strategic information pack sent to all state-maintained secondary schools in Wales in April 2012, the announcement by the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills of a £3m investment in computer science and digital literacy at the 2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps conference in June, the launch of CAS Online, the new community website and the first official Codeacademy partnership in Western Europe: Codecademy Cymru.

As Chair of CAS Wales (@CASWales), it seems like an opportune time to introduce the six CAS Wales Hubs and the Hub Leaders:

At the start of this year, I asked whether 2012 would be the year of computer science; I think there is a lot more to come in 2013! Please join CAS (it’s free), get in contact with your local Hub and keep an eye on the upcoming CAS events…and if you think there is enough activity and support to start a new CAS Wales Hub near you, then please get in contact.

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