Tag Archives: Computing At School

Paper in ACM TOCE: “Restart: The Resurgence of Computer Science in UK Schools”

Further to the previous CAS papers, Neil Brown (University of Kent), Sue Sentance (formerly Anglia Ruskin University, now CAS), Simon Humphreys (CAS/BCS) and I have had a paper accepted into ACM Transactions on Computing Education: Restart: The Resurgence of Computer Science in UK Schools, part of a Special Issue on Computing Education in (K-12) Schools.

The paper will soon be available to download for free via the ACM Author-ize service (or you can download our pre-print); the abstract is as follows:

Computer science in UK schools is undergoing a remarkable transformation. While the changes are not consistent across each of the four devolved nations of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), there are developments in each that are moving the subject to become mandatory for all pupils from age 5 onwards. In this article, we detail how computer science declined in the UK, and the developments that led to its revitalisation: a mixture of industry and interest group lobbying, with a particular focus on the value of the subject to all school pupils, not just those who would study it at degree level. This rapid growth in the subject is not without issues, however: there remain significant forthcoming challenges with its delivery, especially surrounding the issue of training sufficient numbers of teachers. We describe a national network of teaching excellence which is being set up to combat this problem, and look at the other challenges that lie ahead.

 
(see Publications)

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Simon Peyton Jones on Teaching Creative Computer Science

An excellent TEDx talk by Simon Peyton Jones, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge and Chair of Computing At School, on why we should teach computer science at school.

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UK Forum for Computing Education

A new expert body on computing education was established today: the UK Forum for Computing Education (UKForCE), which will provide an independent and unified voice to advise UK government and other agencies on issues relating to computing education. UKForCE is led by the Royal Academy of Engineering and will provide advice on the curriculum, qualifications and assessment and the supply and training of computing teachers.

As per today’s press release, the expert body has been established in response to the 2012 Royal Society report “Shut down or restart: the way forward for computing in UK schools”, which had as a key recommendation the formation of a UK forum for the UK’s computing bodies. UKForCE brings together representatives from across the communities of education, computer science, digital media, IT, engineering and telecommunications. The body will be independent of government and awarding organisations and will work towards improving computing education across all education sectors of the UK.

UKForCE will consist of a smaller strategic group, along with a broader representative forum (invitations to be sent out shortly); the current members of the group are:

  • Chris Mairs FREng (Metaswitch Networks)
  • Andy Connell (Keele University)
  • Bob Harrison (Toshiba Information Systems, UK)
  • Simon Peyton Jones (Microsoft Research Cambridge)
  • Bill Mitchell (BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT)
  • Liz Bacon (University of Greenwich)
  • Theo Blackwell (Next Gen. Skills)
  • Mark Chambers (Naace)
  • Debbie Forster (Apps for Good)
  • Quintin Cutts (University of Glasgow)
  • Tom Crick (Cardiff Metropolitan University)
  • Sue Nieland (e-skills UK)
  • Rhys Morgan (Royal Academy of Engineering)

Chris Mairs, Chair of UKForCE and Chief Scientist at Metaswitch Networks, said:


The new computing curriculum, which comes into effect in September 2014, is a most welcome step change in computing education. There are many amazing initiatives springing up to build upon this bold move both inside and outside the classroom.

UKForCE will be the connective tissue between all these initiatives, central government and other relevant bodies. With a coherent voice and government commitment, our children will be the world’s most savvy digital citizens and a tremendous asset to the UK economy.

As well as providing a springboard for great software engineers and computing specialists, effective delivery of the new curriculum can literally improve the life chances of an entire generation. UKForCE will help make this happen.

The creation of UKForCE, to sit alongside similar organisations such as ACME, SCORE and E4E, is a significant opportunity to raise the profile of computing as a discipline, as well as support its delivery across all four nations of the UK. I look forward to working with the forum in 2014, in particular to continue to promote the reform of computing education in Wales (see the review of the ICT curriculum in Wales from October).

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Camden and Islington embrace Computing at Google

Today I spoke at Google to a large group of Computing/ICT teachers from Camden and Islington Councils, to prepare them for the new Computing curriculum from September 2014. It was great to see proactive engagement at the local authority level, wonderfully facilitated by Google, recognising the significant changes and need to support teachers in this transition.

googlepodium

I spoke about CAS, an overview of the changes to Key Stages 3 and 4 (leading through to the new(ish) computer science qualifications), as well as addressing some of the myths perpetuated about the balance and programming requirements. I was joined by a number of other excellent speakers, including Maggie Philbin, Belinda Parmar, Miles Berry, Genevieve Smith-Nunes, Carrie Anne Philbin and Alison Pearce from OCR, as well as support from a number of great organisations and initiatives, including Code Club, Make Things Do Stuff, Apps for Good, Decoded, Young Rewired State and Technology Will Save Us.

It looks like a promising computing future for young people in Camden and Islington schools; here’s a Storify of the event, as well as my presentation slides.

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A set of top Computer Science Education blogs

Further to my most-read blog post (from May 2012: A set of top Computer Science blogs, 80,000 hits and counting), here’s a follow-up: blogs on computer science education.

As before, instead of a list, it more closely resembles a set: the order is irrelevant and there are no duplicate elements; membership of this set of blogs satisfies all of the following conditions:

  1. they focus on computer science education (research, policy and practice);
  2. they are of consistently high quality;
  3. I regularly read them.
  • Computing Education Blog by Mark Guzdial (@guzdial)

    Mark is a professor in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology and a researcher in computing education. His blog is about how people come to understanding computing, and how to facilitate that understanding, cross-cutting research, policy, practice and wider societal issues. And while it is US-focused (as you would expect), it is an excellent venue for the discussion of key topics in computer science education.

  • Teach Computing by Alan O’Donohoe (@teknoteacher)

    Alan is a busy chap: as well as being principal teacher of Computing at Our Lady’s High School in Preston, he’s the founder of both Hack To The Future and Raspberry Jam, the global community of events for everyone to discover the wonders of the Raspberry Pi. His blog tracks his five-year computing journey: from improving classroom practice (listen to his Teach Computing podcasts), contributing back to the community as a CAS Master Teacher, to shaping the development of a new curriculum subject in England.

  • Miss Philbin’s Teaching and Learning Journal by Carrie Anne Philbin (@MissPhilbin)

    Carrie Anne is an award-winning secondary teacher at Robert Clack School in Essex and a passionate advocate for women in technology. She is the creator of Geek Gurl Diaries, a YouTube web series for teenagers who want to be makers and creators of technology (which recently won a Talk Talk Digital Hero Award) and vice-chair of the CAS initiative #include to address diversity issues in computing. Her blog also covers the gamut of classroom practice, the transition from ICT to computing, supporting the wider community, to shaping policy in England.

  • Academic Computing by Neil Brown (@twistedsq)

    Neil is a research associate in the Programming Languages and Systems Group at the University of Kent, working on the BlueJ and Greenfoot projects. He writes thought-provoking pieces on topics spanning computing (and more broadly, STEM) education, programming and socio-technical issues. He also has a second blog on learning and applying mathematics through computing: The Sinepost.

  • An Open Mind by Miles Berry (@mberry)

    Miles is a principal lecturer and the subject leader for Computing Education at the University of Roehampton. He sits on the boards of both CAS and Naace, with wide experience of curriculum development in the UK. His blog, a personal perspective on education, technology and culture, covers a range of interesting pieces on computer science and programming pedagogy, CPD and agile practice.

  • Computer Science Teacher by Alfred Thompson (@alfredtwo)

    Alfred is a high school computer science teacher in New Hampshire, having previously been the K-12 Computer Science Academic Relations Manager for Microsoft and a software developer for 18 years. He currently sits on the board of the Computer Science Teachers Association. His blog covers a wide range of topics, including computer science and programming pedagogy, curriculum development and US education policy.

  • Knowing and Doing: reflections of an academic and computer scientist by Eugene Wallingford (@wallingf)

    Eugene is an associate professor and head of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Northern Iowa. He has been blogging since 2004 on topics across computing, software development, higher education, learning and teaching, as well as managing and leading.

  • Raspberry Pi Blog by the Raspberry Pi Foundation (@Raspberry_Pi)

    These guys need no introduction, especially after the two millionth Raspberry Pi was sold in October! With the huge success and penetration of the Raspberry Pi over the past two years, the platform now exists for the Foundation to fulfil its wider educational objectives. A diverse blog, ranging from technical posts, peripherals and resources, to superb examples of innovative uses of the Raspberry Pi.

  • CSTA Blog by the Computer Science Teachers Association (@csteachersa)

    The Computer Science Teachers Association is a membership organisation (free to join), supported by the ACM, that promotes and supports the teaching of computer science and other computing disciplines in the US, providing opportunities for K–12 teachers and students to better understand the computing disciplines and to more successfully prepare themselves to teach and learn. Its blog covers a wide range of topics across computer science education, programming, curriculum design and education policy,

  • CAS Online by Computing At School (@CompAtSch)

    Computing At School is a membership organisation (also free to join), supported by the BCS, that promotes and supports the teaching of computer science in UK schools. Formed in 2008, it now has over 7000 members from across schools, colleges, universities, industry and government and is the subject association for computer science. Along with numerous high-quality articles in the quarterly CAS newsletter, Switched On, CAS Online provides the UK computer science education community with a wide range of forums, events, policy discussions, consultations and a veritable wealth of resources to support learning and teaching.

This set is most definitely incomplete — please post your computer science education blog recommendations in the comments below. You can also read some of my posts on computer science education.

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CAS paper at SIGCSE’13: “Bringing Computer Science Back Into Schools: Lessons From The UK”

Further to the previous CAS papers, Neil Brown (University of Kent) presented a paper entitled: Bringing Computer Science Back Into Schools: Lessons From The UK at SIGCSE’13, the 44th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, in Denver in March.

The paper is available to download for free via the ACM Author-ize service below; you can also listen to Neil’s voice-over of the presentation slides. The abstract is as follows:


Computer science in UK schools is a subject in decline: the ratio of Computing to Maths A-Level students (i.e. ages 16–18) has fallen from 1:2 in 2003 to 1:20 in 2011 and in 2012. In 2011 and again in 2012, the ratio for female students was 1:100, with less than 300 female students taking Computing A-Level in the whole of the UK each year. Similar problems have been observed in the USA and other countries, despite the increased need for computer science skills caused by IT growth in industry and society. In the UK, the Computing At School (CAS) group was formed to try to improve the state of computer science in schools. Using a combination of grassroots teacher activities and policy lobbying at a national level, CAS has been able to rapidly gain traction in the fight for computer science in schools. We examine the reasons for this success, the challenges and dangers that lie ahead, and suggest how the experience of CAS in the UK can benefit other similar organisations, such as the CSTA in the USA.

 

ACM DL Author-ize service

Neil C. C. Brown, Michael Kölling, Tom Crick, Simon Peyton Jones, Simon Humphreys, Sue Sentance
SIGCSE ’13 Proceeding of the 44th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, 2013


(see Publications)

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HEA STEM Workshop: “Rethinking The First Year Computing Curriculum”

In the context of recent (and ongoing) curriculum and qualifications reform for computing education in UK schools, I am hosting a one-day Higher Education Academy workshop in Cardiff in May entitled: Rethinking The First Year Computing Curriculum.

This workshop is being held under the auspices of the HEA Computing discipline area, as part of the HEA STEM workshop series:

HEA STEM (Computing): Rethinking the First Year Computing Curriculum

24th May 2013, 10am-4pm
Department of Computing & Information Systems, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Western Avenue, Cardiff, CF5 2YB

There have been profound changes to computing education in UK schools over the past two years, with significantly more to follow; soon we will see applicants to higher education courses with 4+ years of rigorous computing education at school. How will this affect the first year university computing curriculum?

This workshop will offer a forum to discuss this and related themes:

  • What are the potential issues with the new focus on computing in schools?
  • What changes do we envisage to the content and level of the first year computing curriculum?
  • How will the new GCSEs in Computer Science affect the pipeline of students coming through to university?
  • How can we change the perception of A-Level Computing, especially in light of proposed A-Level reform?
  • Getting kids coding: can we expect a better understanding or aptitude in programming?
  • How can universities encourage and support the teaching of computer science in UK schools (e.g. CAS/BCS Network of Computer Science Teaching Excellence)?
  • Are we doing enough outreach and public engagement activities for computer science, compared to other STEM disciplines?

Registration for this workshop is online (N.B. the cost is £50 for attendees from HEA subscribing institutions).

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We’ve sold Computer Science, now we have to sell what it means to be a Computer Scientist…

Last week was an exceptional week for computer science education in the UK: Google donating 15,000 Raspberry Pis to UK schoolchildren, Microsoft calling for computer science to be taught from primary school, the Department for Education including computer science in the EBacc as the “fourth science” and UCAS 2013 entry statistics showing the highest increase in total applications for Computer Sciences (up 12.3%). This follows on from the launch of the CAS Network of Computer Science Teaching Excellence in September, the publication in November of the draft ICT Programme of Study for England and the announcement in January of a review of the ICT curriculum in Wales, reporting back in June.

So it appears we’ve sold the rigorous academic discipline of computer science; but not to simply increase the supply of programmers for the IT industry or to get more people to study computer science at university — the rationale has always been based upon computer science being of wider educational value to everyone, in the same way as we value physics and mathematics. But after a discussion with Pete Yeomans (@ethinking) at the CAS fringe event at Bett 2013 last week, it appears that we are now facing a more subtle and refined challenge:

This is the real (marketing?) challenge: to truly change the wider perception of the discipline, we now have to sell what it really means to be a computer scientist, how to think like a computer scientist and the universal potential of this mindset.

And everyone needs to understand and value this.

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Welsh Government announces ICT Steering Group

Further to the Review of ICT announced in November, a written statement was released today by Leighton Andrews AM, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills:


On 19 November, I chaired a seminar to consider the future of computer science and ICT in schools in Wales. The seminar was attended by representatives from a range of key stakeholders including schools, the National Digital Learning Council, Further Education, Higher Education, awarding organisations, industry and the media.

Following a lively and engaging discussion, there were a number of key themes that emerged that I am keen to consider further, they include:

  • ‘ICT’ in schools needs to be re-branded, re-engineered and made relevant to now and to the future;
  • Digital literacy is the start and not the end point — learners need to be taught to create as well as to consume;
  • Computer science should be introduced at primary school and developed over the course of the curriculum so that learners can progress into a career pathway in the sector.
  • Skills, such as creative problem-solving, should be reflected in the curriculum; and,
  • Revised qualifications need to be developed in partnership with schools, Higher Education and industry.

I have established a Steering Group to take forward consideration of the future of computer science and ICT in schools. The group will consider the key findings of the seminar, develop proposals in relation to their implementation, and provide a report on the way forward.

The membership of the Steering Group is comprised of representatives from a cross-section of key stakeholders and includes:

  • Co-Chair: Stuart Arthur (Box UK)
  • Co-Chair: Dr Tom Crick (Cardiff Metropolitan University)
  • Co-Chair: Janet Hayward (Cadoxton Primary School, Vale of Glamorgan)
  • Professor Khalid Al-Begain (University of Glamorgan)
  • Chris Britten (Ashgrove Special School, Vale of Glamorgan)
  • Lucy Bunce (Y Pant Comprehensive School, Rhondda Cynon Taff)
  • Gareth Edmondson (Ysgol Gyfun Gŵyr, Swansea)
  • Mark Feeney (e-skills UK)
  • Charlie Godfrey (Fujitsu)
  • Magi Gould (Bangor University)
  • Mark John (Vision Thing Communications)
  • Ben Lidgey (Monitise)
  • Hannah Mathias (St David’s College, Cardiff)
  • Professor Faron Moller (Swansea University)
  • Gareth Morlais (BBC Wales)
  • Simon Pridham (Casllwchwr Primary School, Swansea)
  • Maldwyn Pryse (Estyn)
  • Glyn Rogers (Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw, Pontypool)

The group will report to me by July 2013 and provide recommendations on the way forward.

The recommendations will inform the wider review of assessment and the National Curriculum in Wales, which I announced on 1 October. Any necessary changes will be considered as part of any revisions to the National Curriculum in Wales.

This is a hugely positive step by the Welsh Government, especially in light on the wider review of assessment and the National Curriculum in Wales (as well as the recently published 14-19 Review of Qualifications); it also complements the activities of the National Digital Learning Council. I am very much looking forward to co-chairing this review and developing a modern, rigorous and challenging ICT curriculum for Wales.

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Paper at WiPSCE’12: “Grand Challenges for the UK: Upskilling Teachers to Teach Computer Science Within the Secondary Curriculum”

Further to the CAS paper presented at Koli Calling 2011 in Finland in November 2011, Sue Sentance (Anglia Ruskin University) presented a paper entitled: Grand Challenges for the UK: Upskilling Teachers to Teach Computer Science Within the Secondary Curriculum at WiPSCE’12, the 7th International Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education, in Hamburg in November.

The paper is available to download for free via the ACM Author-ize service below; the abstract is as follows:


Recent changes in UK education policy with respect to ICT and Computer Science (CS) have meant that more teachers need the skills and knowledge to teach CS in schools. This paper reports on work in progress in the UK researching models of continuing professional development (CPD) for such teachers. We work with many teachers who either do not have an appropriate academic background to teach Computer Science, or who do and have not utilised it in the classroom due to the curriculum in place for the last fifteen years. In this paper we outline how educational policy changes are affecting teachers in the area of ICT and Computer Science; we describe a range of models of CPD and discuss the role that local and national initiatives can play in developing a hybrid model of transformational CPD, briefly reporting on our initial findings to date.

ACM DL Author-ize service

Sue Sentance, Mark Dorling, Adam McNicol, Tom Crick
WiPSCE ’12 Proceedings of the 7th Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education, 2012


(see Publications)

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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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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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Codecademy Cymru

codecademy logo

Fancy joining Mike Bloomberg (Mayor of New York), New York University and millions of people across the world (including the people of Colombia) in learning how to code? While learning how to program should be the start, not the end, 2012 seems like a pretty good year to do this.

Codecademy, one of the largest online interactive platforms for learning how to code, think the same way as Computing At School: everyone should be exposed to programming and computer science — especially kids. Codecademy can help you learn how to program, create your own courses and support programming in schools. And this is where Codecademy is partnering with CAS Wales: Codecademy Cymru — to create a bespoke and adaptable environment to support the teaching of Computer Science and ICT in schools across Wales — the first official Codecademy collaboration in Western Europe!

Codecademy is really excited to partner with teachers in Wales to make the learning and teaching of coding easier than it has ever been before. It is fantastic that the Computing At School teachers have embraced Codecademy, and we look forward to seeing the results from the students!

Zach Sims, CEO and co-founder of Codecademy

We are looking for teachers across Wales who would like to join the Codecademy Cymru trial phase to see how it can best be used to support your students. For example, the Web Fundamentals and Javascript Fundamentals courses could be used to support Key Stages 2-3, leading into the Python course for supporting the new GCSEs in Computer Science. However, there is flexibility to find how we can best support your school and your students (as well as helping Codecademy to develop the necessary support functionality and processes) — we need your help!

Interested? Please complete the Codecademy Cymru expression of interest form.

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Programming is the start not the end: let’s develop computational thinking and problem solving skills

(N.B. This is the original unedited version of an article published online today in The Telegraph)

I wholeheartedly support the high-profile initiatives to get more children programming, especially as part of the rethinking of the ICT curriculum in UK schools. The publication of the Royal Society’s report Shut down or restart? in January highlighted the unsatisfactory state of ICT education in the UK, recommending that every child should have the opportunity to study the rigorous academic discipline of computer science. With the disapplication of the existing ICT Programmes of Study and the development of a new programme of study as part of the National Curriculum Review in England, we are at an exciting crossroads, with a real opportunity to make computing and technology a key focus of our education system. But if there’s one lesson we should take away from the problems of the past 15 years it is that we must not focus on transient and superficial technology skills. Computer science is not programming (and vice versa) and we should be wary of teaching programming just for the sake of teaching programming, without thinking about why we want to get kids to program.

publicclassfoopenis2

When Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, tweeted in January that he was going to learn how to program, there were strong opinions expressed implying that programming is not for everyone. This is untrue. One of the reasons that programming is increasingly perceived to be a 21st century literacy in our technology-dependent society is because it is ultimately empowering, developing the ability to manipulate and control your digital world. But the key message is that learning how to program is not the endpoint, but part of the journey of equipping children with the necessary digital skills to solve problems. Our high-level aim should be to develop technology-independent skills and techniques, such as data literacy and computational thinking.

Computational thinking is a way of solving problems, designing systems and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science. Computational thinking includes a range of mental tools that reflect the breadth of the field of computer science. Computational thinking means creating and making use of different levels of abstraction, to understand and solve problems more effectively; it means thinking algorithmically and with the ability to apply mathematical concepts to develop more efficient, fair, and secure solutions; it means understanding the consequences of scale, not only for reasons of efficiency but also for economic and social reasons. And this is why it is important to teach computer science in schools: we need to embed principles and theory to develop a deeper conceptual understanding of how technology works and how it can be leveraged to solve problems. There is a quote commonly misattributed to Edsger Dijkstra: “Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.” — this is where computational thinking fits in, abstracting away the technology.

Hence, there is an important balance to strike between focusing on developing practical programming skills (i.e. being able to write code for a specific task) and embedding a deeper understanding of languages and constructs: principles of programming. We know technology changes quickly, so we need to make sure that when “Technology X” appears, we have transferable knowledge and a deeper conceptual understanding of how it works and how it can be used.

But there are significant challenges ahead in changing the status quo and enthusing and engaging children in schools. Programming is a creative endeavour and offers a tangible way for children to express themselves by hacking, making and sharing. We now have the hooks to use in schools e.g. Raspberry Pi, Arduino, .NET Gadgeteer, LEGO Mindstorms, etc, offering opportunities for embedding computing across the curriculum. But we also have to recognise the importance of developing this deeper conceptual understanding, the problem solving and analytical skills, as well as knowledge of the underpinning theoretical foundations of computing.

So let’s change the focus from just writing code to developing the crucial thinking skills and the ability to solve problems. To quote Jeannette M. Wing, Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University: “Computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every child’s analytical ability.

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£3m investment in Computer Science and Digital Literacy in Wales

Computer science touches upon all three of my education priorities: literacy, numeracy and bridging the gap. It equips learners with the problem-solving skills so important in life and work.

The value of computational thinking, problem-solving skills and information literacy is huge, across all subjects in the curriculum. I therefore believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn concepts and principles from computer science.

Indeed, computing is a high priority area for growth in Wales. The future supply and demand for science, technology and mathematics graduates is essential if Wales is to compete in the global economy.

It is therefore vitally important that every child in Wales has the opportunity to study computer science between the ages of 11-16.

Leighton Andrews AM

This is how Leighton Andrews AM, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills, opened his keynote speech at the 2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps Conference at Swansea University on Friday 22nd June. It was a clear declaration by the Welsh Government of the importance and wide utility of computer science education. Building on last year’s successful inaugural conference, the 2nd CAS Wales/Technocamps Conference had the bold tagline of “Delivering Computer Science for Wales“.

The Minister’s speech touched upon a number of key issues, highlighting computer science as a key underpinning STEM discipline, recognising the value of learning how to program, as well as the wider educational impact of computational thinking, problem-solving skills and information literacy across all subjects in the curriculum. He also agreed with the findings of the Royal Society’s report Shut down or restart?, recognising the three distinct strands of computer science, information technology and digital literacy. As part of a broad and balanced curriculum, the Minister reiterated that there should be flexibility in the programmes of study to let teachers deliver a tailored curriculum that best meets the needs of their learners:

I have asked my officials to look at the current ICT Programme of Study at Key Stages 2 and 3 and explore opportunities where computer science may be incorporated within the curriculum.

And more importantly, in response to the headline recommendations of the Digital Classroom Teaching Task and Finish Group to improve digital learning in Wales:


I am pleased to announce today an additional £3m of funding over the next three years to support a range of measures to improve computer science, digital literacy and ICT in schools and colleges across Wales.

While it remains to be seen quite how this money will breaks down, this is a clear Ministerial commitment to promoting and supporting the teaching of computer science in Wales (further to my letter to all state-maintained secondary schools and colleges in Wales in April). There is also a clear imperative for investing in CPD to upskill ICT teachers across Wales to teach computer science:


I believe that provision for continuing professional development for teachers is critical here. The Welsh Government will work closely with delivery partners such as Computing At School and Technocamps to ensure that this CPD programme is well-coordinated and has a significant impact on learner outcomes in digital literacy, ICT and computer science.

The Minister also applauded the work of CAS Wales and Technocamps:

I would encourage headteachers to ensure that their school is engaged with Technocamps. I am also keen to promote the Computing At School initiative by encouraging ICT teachers across Wales to take advantage of this excellent free service.

2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps conference group

(from L-R) Stuart Toomey (Project Manager, Technocamps), Professor Ian Cluckie (Pro-Vice Chancellor, Swansea University), Leighton Andrews AM (Minister for Education and Skills, Welsh Government), Dr Tom Crick (Chair, CAS Wales), Maggie Philbin (CEO, TeenTech), Professor Faron Moller (Director, Technocamps) and Professor Simon Peyton Jones (Chair, CAS)

A huge thanks to all of the keynote speakers and workshop leaders who made the 2012 conference a success, especially Technocamps and Swansea University. Check out the Storify of the conference and the Bring & Brag event, as well as images from the day.

This is a significant milestone in government support for computer science education in Wales (UK?), but it all depends on how we progress from here. Will 2012 be the year of computer science in Wales?

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BCS Education Bursary projects announced

Today, the BCS Academy of Computing announced the successful applicants of the BCS Education Bursaries, which aim to promote computer science as an academic discipline, in celebration of Alan Turing’s centenary year.

Over 200 schools, colleges and universities applied for the £30,000 fund and I had the pleasure of being on the judging panel, an exceptionally difficult process with so many high quality applications. After several hours of debate, we were able to fund 31 projects across the UK that we believe will enthuse and engage the next generation of technologists about computer science. A brief description of the successful projects can be found here.

I’d like to say a massive congratulations to the successful projects; I’m looking forward to seeing what impact they have over the next year!

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Strategic Information Pack: teaching Computer Science in schools in Wales

In April, I sent a Strategic Information Pack (zipped) to all state-maintained secondary schools and colleges in Wales (following on from a similar exercise in England) in order to explain the opportunities they would have from September 2012 to develop Computer Science as a rigorous academic component within a reformed ICT curriculum. The supporting materials in the information pack provided comprehensive information that would help head teachers, principals and school governors make the right decisions:

Alongside the information pack was the announcement of the Network of Computer Science Teaching Excellence, to create a network of schools and universities across Wales to advance teaching excellence in Computer Science. Schools that are members of the network would:

  • be offered enhanced and heavily subsidised CPD for a teacher in their school;
  • be part of a regional teaching hub (see CAS Hubs in Wales) for sharing good practice and offering grassroots organised CPD;
  • have regular contact with university Computer Science departments across Wales to support and inspire teaching material;
  • be expected to teach Computer Science at Key Stage 3 or 4 as a catalyst for a renewed Computing curriculum as recommended by the Royal Society, which is benchmarked against the CAS curriculum;
  • have opportunities for showcasing their teaching practices and experiences at national conferences;
  • be proactively consulted for their views and opinions for future campaigns related to education policy.

The centres of excellence in Wales would become part of a wider UK network for establishing best practice and spearheading innovative teaching in Computer Science, with ongoing support from CAS, the universities in the network and BCS; it has already generated a huge amount of interest, with over 500 schools across the UK applying.

It is not too late to join the Network of Excellence: we need leading schools from across the Wales to drive forward this initiative. Please contact me for further information.

(N.B. I would like to say a massive thanks to the Technocamps project for their financial and logistical support in getting the Strategic Information Pack sent out to school and colleges in the run up to our joint conference this week)

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Computational Thinking and Thinking About Computing

In the run up to the 2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps Conference, I wanted to draw attention to a concept that is increasingly praised for its wide utility across education, but rarely adequately explained: computational thinking. The phrase computational thinking was brought to the forefront of the computer science community as a result of a 2006 CACM article by Jeannette M. Wing. Wing is Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, where she leads the Microsoft Research-sponsored Centre for Computational Thinking.

Computational thinking is the thought processes involved in formulating problems and their solutions so that the solutions are represented in a form that can be effectively carried out by an information-processing agent.

Computational thinking is a way of solving problems, designing systems and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science. Computational thinking includes a range of mental tools that reflect the breadth of the field of computer science. Computational thinking means creating and making use of different levels of abstraction, to understand and solve problems more effectively; it means thinking algorithmically and with the ability to apply mathematical concepts such as induction to develop more efficient, fair, and secure solutions; it means understanding the consequences of scale, not only for reasons of efficiency but also for economic and social reasons. And this is one of the reasons why we are espousing the teaching of computer science in UK schools to every child; there is a quote that is commonly misattributed to Dijkstra: “Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.” — this is where computational thinking fits in. Many people equate computer science with computer programming, with some parents seeing only a narrow range of job opportunities for their children who study computer science. Computational thinking is a grand vision to guide computer science educators, researchers and practitioners as we act to change society’s perception of the field. There are two key message from Wing’s 2006 article:

  • Intellectually challenging and engaging scientific problems remain to be understood and solved. The problem domain and solution domain are limited only by our own curiosity and creativity;
  • One can study computer science and do anything. One can study English or mathematics and go on to a multitude of different careers. Ditto computer science. One can study computer science and go on to a career in medicine, law, business, politics, any type of science or engineering and even the arts.

We should look to inspire the public’s interest in the intellectual adventure of the field. We’ll thus spread the joy, awe and power of computer science, aiming to make computational thinking (truly a 21st century skill) commonplace.

Computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every child’s analytical ability.

 

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2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps Conference


As Chair of Computing At School (CAS) in Wales, I am pleased to announce the 2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps Conference, to be held at Swansea University on Friday 22nd June. The tagline for this year’s conference is: “Delivering Computer Science for Wales“.

Building on last year’s successful inaugural conference, CAS Wales are continuing to work in partnership with the Technocamps project to drive forward the computer science education agenda and provide an opportunity for teachers, practitioners, academics, local government and industry representatives across Wales to come together to discuss the latest policy issues and share best practice.

I am pleased to confirm the keynote speakers for the conference:

There will also be a full workshop schedule featuring: Programming with Greenfoot (Dr Neil Brown, University of Kent), Kodu (Stuart Ball, Microsoft Partners in Learning), cs4fn (Professor Peter McOwan, QMUL), Wearable Arduinos (Sophie McDonald), Aber Robots (Technocamps, Aberystwyth University), OCR GCSE Computing forum (David Pearce, Brynteg Comprehensive School), Interactive Fiction (Kristian Still, Hamble Community Sports College), Algorithmic Problem Solving (Dr João Ferreira, Teeside University) and Computational Modelling (Professor Faron Moller, Technocamps/Swansea University).

Registration for this free event is online; there is also a TeachMeet-style “Bring & Brag” event the evening before the conference for teachers and practitioners to network and connect with the wider CAS and Technocamps community and showcase some of the innovative and engaging ways in which they are teaching computer science at school. You can also follow the event on Twitter: @CASWales and @Technocamps on the hashtag #caswales12.

With the recent attention on computer science education in the UK, this conference is a prime opportunity for the Welsh Government to recognise its importance and invest in its delivery in Wales. In doing so, it would take a massive leap ahead of the rest of the UK.

I look forward to welcoming you to Swansea University at the end of June.

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