Recent developments in artificial intelligence are changing how the world sees computing and challenging computing educators to rethink their approach to teaching. In the brand-new issue of Hello World, out today for free, we tackle some big questions about AI and computing education. We also get practical with resources for your classroom.
Teaching and AI
In their articles for issue 22, educators explore a range of topics related to teaching and AI, including what is AI literacy and how do we teach it; gender bias in AI and what we can do about it; how to speak to young children about AI; and why anthropomorphism hinders learners’ understanding of AI.
Our feature articles also include a research digest on AI ethics for children, and of course hands-on examples of AI lessons for your learners.
A snapshot of AI education
Hello World issue 22 is a comprehensive snapshot of the current landscape of AI education. Ben Garside, Learning Manager for our Experience AI programme and guest editor of this issue, says:
“When I was teaching in the classroom, I used to enjoy getting to grips with new technological advances and finding ways in which I could bring them into school and excite the students I taught. Occasionally, during the busiest of times, I’d also look longingly at other subjects and be jealous that their curriculum appeared to be more static than ours (probably a huge misconception on my behalf).”
It’s inspiring for me to see how the education community is reacting to the opportunities that AI can provide.
“It’s inspiring for me to see how the education community is reacting to the opportunities that AI can provide. Of course, there are elements of AI where we need to tread carefully and be very cautious in our approach, but what you’ll see in this magazine is educators who are thinking creatively in this space.”
Download Hello World issue 22 for free
AI is a topic we’ve addressed before in Hello World, and we’ll keep covering this rapidly evolving area in future. We hope this issue gives you plenty of ideas to take away and build upon.
Also in issue 22:
Vocational training for young people
Making the most of online educator training
News about BBC micro:bit
An insight into the WiPSCE 2023 conference for teachers and educators
And much, much more
You can download your free PDF issue now, or purchase a print copy from our store. UK-based subscribers for a free print edition can expect their copies to arrive in the mail this week.
Launched six years ago, Hello World magazine is the education magazine about computing and digital making. It’s made for educators by educators, and a community of teachers around the world reads and contributes to every issue. We’re now starting a monthly Hello World newsletter to bring you more great content for computing educators while you await each new magazine issue.
A monthly newsletter for Hello World readers
The Hello World community is an amazing group of people, and we love hearing your ideas about what could make Hello World even better at supporting your classroom practice. That’s why we host a fun and informative Hello World podcast to chat with educators around the globe about all things computing and digital making, and why we regularly share some of our favourite past magazine articles online to keep the conversation on important topics going.
Now we’re starting a monthly newsletter to offer you another way to get regular computing education ideas and insights you can use in your teaching. Every month, we’ll be curating a couple of interesting Hello World articles, plus news about the free education resources, research, community stories, and events from the Foundation. You can expect bite-size summaries of all items, plus links for you to explore more in your own time.
Sign up today
Keep up with all of the education news from the Raspberry Pi Foundation and Hello World by signing up for the Hello World newsletter today.
How do we best prepare young children for a world filled with digital technology? This is the question the writers in our newest issue of Hello World respond to with inspiration and ideas for computing education in primary school.
It is vital that young children gain good digital literacy skills and understanding of computing concepts, which they can then build on as they grow up. Digital technology is here to stay, and as Sethi De Clercq points out in his article, we need to prepare our youngest learners for circumstances and jobs that don’t yet exist.
Primary computing education: Inspiration and ideas
Issue 21 of Hello World covers a big range of topics in the theme of primary computing education, including:
Cross-curricular project ideas to keep young learners engaged
Perfecting typing skills in the primary school classroom
Using picture books to introduce programming concepts to children
Toolkits for new and experienced computing primary teachers, by Neil Rickus and Catherine Archer
Explorations of different approaches to improving diversity in computing and instilling a sense of belonging from the very start of a child’s educational journey, by Chris Lovell and Peter Marshman
The issue also has useful news and updates about our work: we share insights from our primary-specialist learning managers, tell you a bit about the research presented at our ongoing primary education seminar series, and include some relevant lesson plans from The Computing Curriculum.
As always, you’ll find many other articles to support and inspire you in your computing teaching in this new issue. Topics include programming with dyslexia, exploring filter bubbles with your learners to teach them about data science, and using metaphors, similes, and analogies to help your learners understand abstract concepts.
How do we teach our youngest learners digital and computing skills? Hello World‘s issue 21 will focus on this question and all things primary school computing education. We’re excited to share this new issue with you on Tuesday 30 May. Today we’re giving you a taste by sharing an article from it, written by our own Sway Grantham.
How are you preparing young children for a world filled with digital technology? Technology use of our youngest learners is a hotly debated topic. From governments to parents and from learning outcomes to screen-time rules, everyone has an opinion on the ‘right’ approach. Meanwhile, many young children encounter digital technology as a part of their world at home. For example in the UK, 87 percent of 3- to 4-year-olds and 93 percent of 5- to 7-year-olds went online at home in 2023. Schools should be no different.
As educators, we have a responsibility to prepare learners for life in a digital world. We want them to understand its uses, to be aware of its risks, and to have access to the wide range of experiences unavailable without it. And we especially need to consider the children who do not encounter technology at home. Education should be a great equaliser, so we need to ensure all our youngest learners have access to the skills they need to realise their full potential.
Exploring technology and the world
A major aspect of early-years or kindergarten education is about learners sharing their world with each other and discovering that everyone has different experiences and does things in their own way. Using digital technology is no different.
Allowing learners to share their experiences of using digital technology both accepts the central role of technology in our lives today and also introduces them to its broader uses in helping people to learn, talk to others, have fun, and do work. At home, many young learners may use technology to do just one of these things. Expanding their use of technology can encourage them to explore a wider range of skills and to see technology differently.
In their classroom environment, these explorations can first take place as part of the roleplay area of a classroom, where learners can use toys to show how they have seen people use technology. It may seem counterintuitive that play-based use of non-digital toys can contribute to reducing the digital divide, but if you don’t know what technology can do, how can you go about learning to use it? There is also a range of digital roleplay apps (such as the Toca Boca apps) that allow learners to recreate their experiences of real-world situations, such as visiting the hospital, a hair salon, or an office. Such apps are great tools for extending roleplay areas beyond the resources you already have.
Another aspect of a child’s learning that technology can facilitate is their understanding of the world beyond their local community. Technology allows learners to explore the wider world and follow their interests in ways that are otherwise largely inaccessible. For example:
Using virtual reality apps, such as Expeditions Pro, which lets learners explore Antarctica or even the bottom of the ocean
Using augmented reality apps, such as Octagon Studio’s 4D+ cards, which make sea creatures and other animals pop out of learners’ screens
Doing a joint project with a class of children in another country, where learners blog or share ‘email’ with each other
Each of these opportunities gives children a richer understanding of the world while they use technology in meaningful ways.
Technology as a learning tool
Beyond helping children to better understand our world, technology offers opportunities to be expressive and imaginative. For example, alongside your classroom art activities, how about using an app like Draw & Tell, which helps learners draw pictures and then record themselves explaining what they are drawing? Or what about using filters on photographs to create artistic portraits of themselves or their favourite toys? Digital technology should be part of the range of tools learners can access for creative play and expression, particularly where it offers opportunities that analogue tools don’t.
Using technology is also invaluable for learners who struggle with communication and language skills. When speaking is something you find challenging, it can often be intimidating to talk to others who speak much more confidently. But speaking to a tablet? A tablet only speaks as well as you do. Apps to record sounds and listen back to them are a helpful way for young children to learn about how clear their speech is and practise speech exercises. ChatterPix Kids is a great tool for this. It lets learners take a photo of an object, e.g. their favourite soft toy, and record themselves talking about it. When they play back the recording, the app makes it look like the toy is saying their words. This is a very engaging way for young learners to practise communicating.
Technology is part of young people’s world
No matter how we feel about the role of technology in the lives of young people, it is a part of their world. We need to ensure we are giving all learners opportunities to develop digital skills and understand the role of technology, including how people can use it for social good.
This is not just about preparing them for their computing education (although that’s definitely a bonus!) or about online safety (although this is vital — see my articles in Hello World issue 15 and issue 19 for more about the topic). It’s about their right to be active citizens in the digital world.
So I ask again: how are you preparing young children for a digital world?
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The first experiences children have with learning about computing and digital technologies are formative. That’s why primary computing education should be of interest to all educators, no matter what the age of your learners is. This issue covers for example:
Why are computing systems at the heart of our computing curriculum design? Senior Learning Manager Sway Grantham from the Foundation team explains in her article from the brand-new issue of Hello World, our free magazine for computing educators, out today.
Whether you plan lessons on a Computing topic, develop curriculum content, or even write curriculum policy, you have to make choices. What are you going to include and what is less of a priority? You have to consider time constraints and access to resources, prior learning and maybe even pupil interests. You probably also have to consider the wider curriculum context. Well, here is my first principle to help you: computing systems should be the foundation of your Computing curriculum.
A computing systems epiphany
As a primary teacher, when I first began writing Computing lesson plans for children aged 9 to 10, I started with programming. This was a very visual entry into Computing, and children were excited to create projects that were familiar to them, such as games and animations. However, as my understanding of Computing grew, I realised that something was missing.
My learners could explain what an algorithm is, as well as explaining that a program is ‘a set of instructions that runs on a computer to tell it what to do’. Both of these met the curriculum needs, but I wasn’t convinced that they could link these two concepts together. Could they connect what they were doing on a floor robot to the computing systems around them? Did they understand what a computer was? Well… I asked them to see what they’d say!
According to my class, a computer was:
A piece of technology
A keyboard and a screen
A search engine
A machine used for work
A metal brain
A machine with a keyboard
An information device
This very simple question highlighted a wealth of alternate conceptions about programming and computing systems. The other commonality of my learners’ definitions was that they described the computer’s function, as if, in order to define what a computer is, we just need to know what it does. This view of a definition greatly limits learners’ ability to understand what potential computers have beyond personal use.
My learners had two discrete chunks of knowledge: how to program a floor robot, and that laptops were computers. However, without a bridge to connect them, this learning was disjointed. Learners needed to have a concrete, conceptual understanding of ‘what a computer is’ before they could start to comprehend the more abstract role of a program in that system.
Knowledge of computing systems empowers people to take control of technology and not just consume it.
Beyond the experiences of my young learners, we see examples of a lack of understanding about computing systems all the time in society. Many competent users of software are able to regularly complete the tasks that they need, but if one day something doesn’t work, they do not know how to find a solution. Equally, many people enjoy exploring digital making projects, yet if they want to personalise the project, they don’t know what they can or can’t change to do this. Knowledge of computing systems empowers people to take control of technology and not just consume it.
Planning computing content today
Both of these examples highlight the importance of introducing computing systems as both life skills and as support for developing other areas of computing. More recently, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has been creating 100 hours of curriculum content in partnership with non-profit organisation Amala Education. Through this content we aim to give refugee learners who may never have used technology enough understanding to build a website that encourages social change.
Whilst we know that the material needs to include some foundational knowledge of computing systems, we must first consider the core content that learners must understand to achieve the end goal, such as:
These areas of learning are a great place to start as, undeniably, learners aren’t going to be able to build a website without knowing the process of creating a website, the languages used to create web pages, or the project management skills to see a project from start to finish.
This could be the entirety of the content, but instead, I encourage you to think back to those children who could program but didn’t know on what devices programs could run. We need to connect the core content to that foundational content: how is building a website related to computing systems?
All learning is built on prior knowledge, even if that prior knowledge has been gained through life experience and not formal education. To build a website, we need to know how to type and use a mouse. We need to know what a website is, why people use websites, and what sort of media is found on them. Beyond that, we need to know how the files that we are creating are being shared with other people. We need to understand that a computer can communicate with another computer and what the process is to make that happen. None of this learning is the core content of building a website, but if you tried to build a website without understanding these things, it would be difficult to do.
All learning is built on prior knowledge, even if that prior knowledge has been gained through life experience and not formal education.
As the learners we support together with Amala Education might have no prior experience of using technology, we needed to ensure that enough foundational computing systems content was built into the learning sequence — things such as:
Recognising digital devices
Decomposing computing systems
Digital painting (mouse skills)
Combining text and images (desktop publishing)
Networks and the internet
By incorporating this content into the learning sequence, we ensure that learners do not just learn a process for creating a website. They understand the impact of the choices they make when building a website, they have the skills to implement their ideas, and they can connect their understanding to solve any unexpected challenges they find along the way. This more holistic approach should support learners’ knowledge transfer and offer them a much broader range of opportunities.
This more holistic approach should support learners’ knowledge transfer and offer them a much broader range of opportunities.
Whatever your curriculum requires, you will have the core content you need to teach. This could be the requirements of your standardised curriculum, it could be the specific project you’re trying to build, or it could be the aspirations that you have for your students. However, rather than stopping at that part of your learning sequence, take a step back and consider the prior knowledge you’re connecting to. I expect you will find that computing systems is what you need to ensure learners’ new knowledge has a solid foundation.
Read the new Hello World issue today
Computing systems and networks is one of those computer science topics in which misconceptions abound. Hello World issue 20 focuses on how you can support your learners to grasp even the tricky ideas within this topic, giving you practical ideas, activities, and insights from practicing educators. Download your free PDF copy now, and subscribe to never miss an issue.
Reflecting is important within any line of work, and computing education is no different. Reflective practice is always valuable, whether you support learners in a non-formal setting, such as a Code Club or CoderDojo, or in a more formal environment, such as a school or college. When you reflect, you might for example evaluate a session or lesson and make changes for next time, or consider whether to reorder activities and learning across a longer time period, or even think broadly about what you teach and how you teach it.
Computing is a broad and interdisciplinary subject, and different curricula and courses around the world focus on different aspects of it. For all of us, therefore, computing is framed by the curricula with which we are working and the terms which we’re using to talk about the subject. Over the past years at the Foundation, we have been developing a Computing taxonomy to help describe the different aspects of the subject. The Big Book of Computing Content is based on this taxonomy. The aim of this special edition of Hello World is to illustrate the breadth of Computing, and to model language that describes the different concepts, knowledge, and skills that comprise it.
We have organised this Big Book according to our taxonomy’s 11 content strands and also included progressive learning outcomes for each strand at different stages of learning. These outcomes are not prescriptive; instead they illustrate the wide applications of the subject by highlighting the kinds of knowledge and understanding that learners could develop in each area of Computing.
We hope that The Big Book of Computing Content encourages educators to reflect on all aspects of Computing and how they interconnect, as well as on the language we use to describe Computing. Whether the Big Book helps you to discover new aspects to Computing, to think about the subject differently, or simply to see the differences in how we as educators talk about our subject, the time you spend reflecting is important and valuable.
How you teach: The Big Book of Computing Pedagogy
One part of our work as educators is understanding the breadth of Computing and the specific ideas within it. The other part is reflecting on how we teach the subject: the specific methods, strategies, and practices we can use with our learners. The Big Book of Computing Pedagogy describes a range of teaching approaches framed around our 12 pedagogical principles for teaching Computing. Each research-informed principle either reflects how general-purpose pedagogy applies within Computing or explores pedagogies specific to Computing itself. This Big Book consists of research summaries as well as practical articles from educators which illustrate how you can apply the different pedagogies.
Rather than prescribing a set of principles that educators must follow, the aim of The Big Book of Computing Pedagogy is to help you develop your understanding of a range of pedagogical approaches which you can select, apply, and adapt to suit your context.
Reflect to develop your knowledge and agency
Ultimately we want to support all Computing and Computer Science educators to build their understanding of subject matter (that is, content) and pedagogy, or what is called pedagogical content knowledge (PCK, a term popularised by Lee Shulman). Combining your PCK with your grasp of the context of your learners, curricula, and setting will enable you to choose suitable practices for your content and context.
We hope that you find the two Big Books to be valuable reference tools to help you and your peers reflect on what it is you mean when you talk about Computing, and on how you teach the concepts, knowledge, and skills within it. Both books are available as free PDF downloads.
A special edition on the content we teach in the Computing classroom
While Hello World‘s first special edition, The Big Book of Computing Pedagogy, focused on how we can teach Computing, this new book is about what we mean by Computing. It aims to demonstrate the breadth of knowledge and skills contained within this constantly evolving subject.
Our Computing taxonomy comprises eleven strands and aims to categorise Computing conceptual knowledge and skills to both demonstrate the breadth of Computing as a discipline, and to provide a common language to describe the different areas of study and competencies.
The Big Book of Computing Content complements our first Hello World special edition and follows the same principle of introducing readers to up-to-date research, followed by our favourite stories from past Hello World issues by educators who put that content into practice. For each of the eleven strands in our taxonomy, we also present a table of learning outcomes, which provides examples of knowledge and skills that learners from ages 5 to 19 could develop at each stage of their formal computing education.
Your thoughts on The Big Book of Computing Content
Hello World’s first special edition was very popular around the world, with educators setting up Big Book of Computing Pedagogy reading groups, leaders using the book to support pre-service teachers, and even of an upcoming translation into Thai.
We’ve already started to hear similar stories about The Big Book of Computing Content from Hello World readers, including CSEdResearch dedicating their Computer Science Education Discussion Group to all things Big Book of Computing Content in its first week of publication.
We’d love to hear from more educators about how you are using this new special edition, and how it complements your reading of the first Big Book.
You can also subscribe now to get each new Hello World — whether regular issue or special edition — straight to your digital inbox, for free! And if you’re based in the UK and do paid or voluntary work in education, you can subscribe for free print issues.
PS Have you listened to our Hello World podcast yet? Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Supporting educators to provide high-quality computing education has always been integral to our mission. In 2018, we began creating more learning resources for formal education settings. The UK government had recently announced future investment in supporting computing educators. Schools in England were offering the national Computing curriculum established in 2014. (In the USA, a more common term for prescribed education content is ‘standards’.)
England’s Computing curriculum requires that all learners be taught the subject between ages 5 and 16, and it consists of only 25 statements outlining expectations for learners. To accompany this curriculum, we started developing a framework to help us describe the subject of Computing, and in particular the common threads running through it.
A 2012 report by the Royal Society presented the breadth of computing by dividing it into three areas: information technology, computer science, and digital literacy. Although this goes some way to describe computing as a discipline, in our view this model creates artificial divides between aspects of the subject according to whether they are seen as more or less technical. Our more holistic view of computing recognises that concepts and skills within the subject are far more interconnected.
Principles for our taxonomy
When we set out to develop our framework, the goal was to provide a way to look at and describe the subject of Computing as a set of interconnected topics; the framework doesn’t define standards or curricula. There are, of course, many ways of organising the subject matter, implemented through exam specifications, textbooks, schemes of learning, and various progression guides. For our framework, we reviewed examples of each of these, from England and beyond, and decided on some organisational principles:
Our framework should describe the whole of Computing, incorporating computer science, information technology, and digital literacy
The framework should be applicable across primary and secondary education, meaning it should be useful for categorising the knowledge encountered by all learners, from five-year-olds to our oldest secondary school students
While inspired by England’s national curriculum, the framework should be independent of any particular exam specification and capable of adaptation to new curricula
The framework should represent Computing as a discipline that combines a broad mixture of concepts and skills
Developing the taxonomy
Following these principles, we identified ten content themes, or strands, that thread through a learner’s journey in Computing education. We call this framework representing the knowledge and skills that make up the subject our Computing taxonomy. As the Foundation is part of the consortium that established the National Centre for Computing Education in England, our taxonomy became a cornerstone of the work of the Centre, providing a common language to describe Computing in English schools.
Computing is, of course, a constantly evolving field and as such, our taxonomy evolves with it. Since 2018 we’ve iterated our taxonomy to incorporate new things we’ve learned, for example relating to the rapid developments of artificial intelligence (AI) technology in recent years. AI now is a significant area of study and represented as its own strand in our current taxonomy, bringing the number of strands up to eleven:
Effective use of tools
Safety and security
Design and development
Impact of technology
Algorithms and data structures
Data and information
Given the interconnected nature of Computing, we embrace a best-fit approach to content categorisation, choosing the most appropriate strand(s) for each idea. In developing our Computing taxonomy, we determined that four of the strands (the horizontal strands in the diagram) were best taught interwoven with the others, in context rather than as discrete topics. A good example of this is the strand ‘Safety and security’, which focuses on supporting learners to realise the benefits of digital technology without putting themselves and others at risk. While it would be possible to teach this strand as one discrete set of lessons, revisiting it throughout a learner’s journey provides regular reinforcement as well as grounding in the context of other strands.
Within the strands, we have also identified progressive learning outcomes for each stage of learning. These learning outcomes are illustrative of the kinds of knowledge and understanding that learners could develop in each area of Computing. They are not prescriptive and instead aim to illustrate the wide applications of the discipline.
Coming soon: The Big Book of Computing Content
On 24 October, we will publish The Big Book of Computing Content. Framed by our taxonomy, The Big Book of Computing Content presents our work so far in describing the diverse range of concepts and skills that comprise Computing. It also includes the illustrative learning outcomes we’ve identified.
The Big Book of Computing Content will be available in print and as a free PDF download; if you subscribe now, you’ll receive the PDF in your inbox on publication day.
Share your thoughts on our taxonomy
We hope our taxonomy and the new Big Book enable you to reflect on the breadth of Computing and resonate with your teaching. Please share your reflections, in the comments below or by tagging us on social media, if you’d like to help us develop the taxonomy further.
The summer months are an exciting time at the Foundation: you can feel the buzz of activity as we prepare for the start of a new school year in many parts of the world. Across our range of fantastic (and free) programmes, everyone works hard to create new and improved resources that help teachers and students worldwide.
We’ve asked some of our programme leads to tell you what’s new in their respective areas. We hope that you’ll come away with a good idea of the breadth and depth of teacher support that’s on offer. Is there something we aren’t doing yet that we should be? Tell us in the comments below.
Sway Grantham has been at the forefront of writing resources for our Teach Computing Curriculum over the last three years. The Curriculum is part of the wider National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) and provides hundreds of free classroom resources for teachers, from Key Stage 1 to 4. Each resource includes lesson plans, slides, activity sheets, homework, and assessments. Since we published the Curriculum in 2020, all lessons have been reviewed and updated at least once. Managing the process of continuously improving these resources is a key part of Sway’s work.
Hi Sway, what updates have you been making to the Teach Computing Curriculum to help teachers this year?
We make changes to the Teach Computing Curriculum all the time! However, specific things we are excited about ahead of the new school year are updates to how our content is presented on the website so that it’s really easy to see which unit you should be teaching in each half term. We’ve also renamed some of the units to make it clearer what they cover. And to help Key Stage 3 teachers launch Computing in secondary school with skills that are foundational for progress through the requirements of the Key Stage 3 curriculum, we’ve updated the first Year 7 unit, now called Clear messaging in digital media.
You recently asked for teachers’ feedback as part of an annual impact survey. What did you find out?
We are still in the process of looking through the feedback in detail, but I can share some high-level insights. 96% of teachers who responded to the survey gave a score between 7 and 10 for recommending that other teachers use the Teach Computing Curriculum. Over 80% reported that the Teach Computing Curriculum has improved their confidence, subject knowledge, and the quality of their teaching ‘a little’ or ‘a lot’. Finally, over 90% of respondents said the Curriculum is effective at supporting teachers, developing teachers’ subject knowledge, and saving teachers’ time.
We are grateful to the 907 people who took part in the survey! You have all helped us to ensure the Curriculum has a positive impact on teachers and learners throughout England and beyond.
James, why is it so important for teachers to underpin their classroom practice with best-practice pedagogical approaches?
In order to teach any area of the curriculum effectively, educators need to understand both the content they are teaching and the most effective ways to deliver that content. Computing is a broad discipline made up of lots of inter-connected knowledge. Different areas of the subject benefit from different approaches, and this may vary depending on the experience of the learners and the context within which they are learning. Understanding which approaches are best suited to different content helps educators support learners effectively.
Computing education research related to school-aged learners is still in its early stages compared to other subjects, and new approaches and pedagogies are being developed, tested, and evaluated. Staying aware of these developments is important for educators and that’s why it’s something the Foundation is dedicated to supporting.
What do you have in store for teachers this year?
This year we continue to share best practice and hear from educators applying new ideas in their classroom through Hello World magazine and podcast. Educators should also keep a look out for our second Hello World special edition exploring the breadth and depth of Computing. To get hold of a copy of this later this year, make sure you’re subscribed to Hello World.
Allen, what has gone into the making of these new GCSE resources?
I think one of the biggest and most important things that’s been evident to me while working on this project is the care and thought that our content creators have put into each and every piece they worked on. To the end user it will simply be material on a web page, but sitting behind each page are countless discussions involving the whole team around how to present certain facts, concepts, or processes. Sometimes these discussions have even caused us to reevaluate our own thinking around how we deliver computer science content. We have debated the smallest things such as glossary terms, questioning every word to make sure we are as clear and concise as possible. Hopefully the care, expertise, and dedication of the team shines through in what really is a fantastic source of information for teachers and learners.
What do you have in store for teachers and learners this year?
With 96% of teachers and 88% of students reporting that the content is of high quality and easily accessible, we still need to continue to support them to ultimately enable learners to achieve their potential. Looking ahead, there is still lots of work to do to make sure Isaac offers the best possible user experience. And we plan to add a lot more questions to really bolster the numbers of questions at varying levels of difficulty for learners. This will have the added benefit of being useful for any teachers wanting to up-skill too! A massive strength of the platform is its questions, and we are really keen to give as wide a range of them as possible.
Tamasin Greenough Graham leads the team at Code Club, our global network of free, in-school coding clubs for young people aged 9 to 13. In Code Clubs, participants learn to code while having fun getting creative with their new skills. Clubs can be run by anyone who wants to help young people explore digital technologies — you don’t need coding experience at all. The Code Club team offers everything you need, including coding projects with easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions, and lots of resources to help you support your club members. They are also on hand to answer your questions.
Tamasin, what kind of support can teachers expect when they decide to set up a Code Club?
Running a Code Club really is simple and a lot of fun! We have free training to suit everyone, including webinars that guide you through getting started, a self-study online course you can take to prepare for running your Code Club, and drop-in online Q&A sessions where you can chat about your questions to our friendly team or to other educators who run clubs.
Once you have registered your Code Club, you’ll get access to an online dashboard packed with useful resources: from guidance on preparing and delivering your first session, to certificates to celebrate your club members’ successes, and unplugged activities for learners to do away from the screen.
What experience do you need to run a Code Club?
You don’t need to have any coding experience to run a club, as we provide a giant range of fun coding projects and support materials that can be easily followed by educators and young people alike. You just need to support and encourage your young coders, and you can get in touch with the Code Club team if you need any help!
The project paths we offer provide a framework for young coders to develop their skills, whatever their starting point is. Each path starts with three Explore projects, where coders learn new coding concepts and skills. The next two Design projects in the path help them practise these skills through creating fun games, animations, or websites. The final Invent project of the path gives a design brief, and based on this learners have the space to use their new skills and their creativity to code something based on their own ideas.
Our project paths start with the basics of Scratch, and work through to creating websites in HTML and CSS, and to text-based coding in Python. For more advanced or adventurous coders, we also offer project paths to make physical projects with Raspberry Pi Pico, create 3D models in Blender, or even build 3D worlds in Unity.
Why is it important to teach coding to primary-aged children?
Lots of primary-aged children use digital technology every day, whether that be a TV, a phone, playing video games, or a computer at school. But they don’t have to be just consumers of technology. Through learning to code, young people become able to create their own technology, and our projects are designed to help them see how these new skills allow them to express themselves and solve problems that matter to them.
What young people do with their new skills is up to them – that’s the exciting part! Computing skills open paths to a wide range of projects and work where digital skills are helpful. And while learning coding is fun and useful, it also helps learners develop a many other important skills to do with problem solving, teamwork, and creativity.
Martin O’Hanlon heads the team that produces our free online courses programme. If you’re looking for continued professional development in computer science, look no further than to our more than 35 courses. (For teachers in England, a large number of the courses count towards the NCCE’s Primary, Secondary, or GCSE certificates.) Curated in 13 curated learning pathways, all of our courses provide high-quality training that you can take at home, at a time that suits you.
Martin, what can learners expect from taking one of our online courses?
Our online computing courses are free and have something for everyone who is interested in computing. We offer pathways for learning to program in Python or Scratch, teaching computing in the classroom, getting started with physical computing, and many more.
We vary the materials and formats used in our courses, including videos, written articles, quizzes, and discussions to help learners get the most out of the experience. You will find a lot of practical activities and opportunities to practice what you learn. There are loads of opportunities to interact with and learn from others who are doing the course at the same time as you. And educators from the Raspberry Pi Foundation join the courses during facilitation periods to give their advice, support, and encouragement.
What is the idea behind the course pathways?
We have a large catalogue of online training courses, and the pathways give learners a starting point. They group the courses into useful collections, offering a recommended path for everyone, whether that’s people who are brand-new to computing or who have identified a gap in their existing computing skills or knowledge.
Our aim is that these pathways help people find the right course at the right point in their computing journey.
One more thing…
We’re also very excited to work on new research projects this school year, to help deepen the computing education community’s understanding of how to teach the subject in schools. Are you a primary teacher in England who is interested in making computing culturally relevant for your pupils?
Many technology items are disposed of each year, either because they are broken, are no longer needed, or have been upgraded. Researchers from Germany have identified this as an opportunity to develop a scheme of work for Computing, while at the same time highlighting the importance of sustainability in hardware and software use. They hypothesised that by repairing defective devices, students would come to understand better how these devices work, and therefore meet some of the goals of their curriculum.
The research team visited three schools in Germany to deliver Computing lessons based around the concept of a repair café, where defective items are repaired or restored rather than thrown away. This idea was translated into a series of lessons about using and repairing smartphones. Learners first of all explored the materials used in smartphones and reflected on their personal use of these devices. They then spent time moving around three repair workstations, examining broken smartphones and looking at how they could be repaired or repurposed. Finally, learners reflected on their own ecological footprint and what they had learnt about digital hardware and software.
An educational repair café
In the classroom, repair workstations were set up for three different categories of activity: fixing cable breaks, fixing display breaks, and tinkering to upcycle devices. Each workstation had a mentor to support learners in investigating faults themselves by using the question prompt, “Why isn’t this feature or device working?” At the display breaks and cable breaks workstations, a mentor was on hand to provide guidance with further questions about the hardware and software used to make the smartphone work. On the other hand, the tinkering workstation offered a more open-ended approach, asking learners to think about how a smartphone could be upcycled to be used for a different purpose, such as a bicycle computer. It was interesting to note that students visited each of the three workstations equally.
The feedback from the participants showed there had been a positive impact in prompting learners to think about the sustainability of their smartphone use. Working with items that were already broken also gave them confidence to explore how to repair the technology. This is a different type of experience from other Computing lessons, in which devices such as laptops or tablets are provided and are expected to be carefully looked after. The researchers also asked learners to complete a questionnaire two weeks after the lessons, and this showed that 10 of the 67 participants had gone on to repair another smartphone after taking part in the lessons.
Links to computing education
The project drew on a theory called duality reconstruction that has been developed by a researcher called Carsten Schulte. This theory argues that in computing education, it is equally important to teach learners about the function of a digital device as about the structure. For example, in the repair café lessons, learners discovered more about the role that smartphones play in society, as well as experimenting with broken smartphones to find out how they work. This brought a socio-technical perspective to the lessons that helped make the interaction between the technology and society more visible.
Using this approach in the Computing classroom may seem counter-intuitive when compared to the approach of splitting the curriculum into topics and teaching each topic sequentially. However, the findings from this project suggest that learners understand better how smartphones work when they also think about how they are manufactured and used. Including societal implications of computing can provide learners with useful contexts about how computing is used in real-world problem-solving, and can also help to increase learners’ motivation for studying the subject.
The final aspect of this research project looked at collaborative problem-solving. The lessons were structured to include time for group work and group discussion, to acknowledge and leverage the range of experiences among learners. At the workstations, learners formed small groups to carry out repairs. The paper doesn’t mention whether these groups were self-selecting or assigned, but the researchers did carry out observations of group behaviours in order to evaluate whether the collaboration was effective. In the findings, the ideal group size for the repair workstation activity was either two or three learners working together. The researchers noticed that in groups of four or more learners, at least one learner would become disinterested and disengaged. Some groups were also observed taking part in work that wasn’t related to the task, and although no further details are given about the nature of this, it is possible that the groups became distracted.
The findings from this project suggest that learners understand better how smartphones work when they also think about how they are manufactured and used.
Further investigation into effective pedagogies to set group size expectations and maintain task focus would be helpful to make sure the lessons met their learning objectives. This research was conducted as a case study in a small number of schools, and the results indicate that this approach may be more widely helpful. Details about the study can be found in the researchers’ paper (in German).
Repair café start-up tips
If you’re thinking about setting up a repair café in your school to promote sustainable computing, either as a formal or informal learning activity, here are ideas on where to begin:
Connect with a network of repair cafés in your region; a great place to start is repaircafe.org
Ask for volunteers from your local community to act as mentors
Use video tutorials to learn about common faults and how to fix them
Value upcycling as much as repair — both lead to more sustainable uses of digital devices
Look for opportunities to solve problems in groups and promote teamwork
Discover more in Hello World
This article is from our free computing education magazine Hello World. Every issue is written by educators for educators and packed with resources, ideas, and insights to inspire your learners and your own classroom practice.
For more about computing education in the context of sustainability, climate change, and environmental impact, download issue 19 of Hello World, which focuses on these topics.
You can subscribe to Hello World for free to never miss a digital issue, and if you’re an educator in the UK, a print subscription will get you free print copies in the post.
In Hello World issue 18, available as a free PDF download, teacher Michael Jones shares how to use Teachable Machine with learners aged 13–14 in your classroom to investigate issues of accuracy and ethics in machine learning models.
Machine learning: Accuracy and ethics
The landscape for working with machine learning/AI/deep learning has grown considerably over the last couple of years. Students are now able to develop their understanding from the hard-coded end via resources such as Machine Learning for Kids, get their hands dirty using relatively inexpensive hardware such as the Nvidia Jetson Nano, and build a classification machine using the Google-driven Teachable Machine resources. I have used all three of the above with my students, and this article focuses on Teachable Machine.
For this module, I’m more concerned with the fuzzy end of AI, including how credible AI decisions are, and the elephant-in-the-room aspect of bias and potential for harm.
For the worried, there is absolutely no coding involved in this resource; the ‘machine’ behind the portal does the hard work for you. For my Year 9 classes (students aged 13 to 14) undertaking a short, three-week module, this was ideal. The coding is important, but was not my focus. For this module, I’m more concerned with the fuzzy end of AI, including how credible AI decisions are, and the elephant-in-the-room aspect of bias and potential for harm.
Getting started with Teachable Machine activities
There are three possible routes to use in Teachable Machine, and my focus is the ‘Image Project’, and within this, the ‘Standard image model’. From there, you are presented with a basic training scenario template — see Hello World issue 16 (pages 84–86) for a step-by-step set-up and training guide. For this part of the project, my students trained the machine to recognise different breeds of dog, with border collie, labrador, saluki, and so on as classes. Any AI system devoted to recognition requires a substantial set of training data. Fortunately, there are a number of freely available data sets online (for example, download a folder of dog photos separated by breed by accessing helloworld.cc/dogdata). Be warned, these can be large, consisting of thousands of images. If you have more time, you may want to set students off to collect data to upload using a camera (just be aware that this can present safeguarding considerations). This is a key learning point with your students and an opportunity to discuss the time it takes to gather such data, and variations in the data (for example, images of dogs from the front, side, or top).
Once you have downloaded your folders, upload the images to your Teachable Machine project. It is unlikely that you will be able to upload a whole subfolder at once — my students have found that the optimum number of images seems to be twelve. Remember to build this time for downloading and uploading into your lesson plan. This is a good opportunity to discuss the need for balance in the training data. Ask questions such as, “How likely would the model be to identify a saluki if the training set contained 10 salukis and 30 of the other dogs?” This is a left-field way of dropping the idea of bias into the exploration of AI — more on that later!
Accuracy issues in machine learning models
If you have got this far, the heavy lifting is complete and Google’s training engine will now do the work for you. Once you have set your model on its training, leave the system to complete its work — it takes seconds, even on large sets of data. Once it’s done, you should be ready to test you model. If all has gone well and a webcam is attached to your computer, the Output window will give a prediction of what is being viewed. Again, the article in Hello World issue 16 takes you through the exact steps of this process. Make sure you have several images ready to test. See Figure 1a for the response to an image of a saluki presented to the model. As you might expect, it is showing as a 100 percent prediction.
It will spark an interesting discussion if you now try the same operation with an image with items other than the one you’re testing in it. For example see Figure 1b, in which two people are in the image along with the Samoyed dog. The model is undecided, as the people are affecting the outcome. This raises the question of accuracy. Which features are being used to identify the dogs as border collie and saluki? Why are the humans in the image throwing the model off the scent?
Getting closer to home, training a model on human faces provides an opportunity to explore AI accuracy through the question of what might differentiate a female from a male face. You can find a model at helloworld.cc/maleorfemale that contains 5418 images almost evenly spread across male and female faces (see Figure 2). Note that this model will take a little longer to train.
Once trained, try the model out. Props really help — a top hat, wig, and beard give the model a testing time (pun intended). In this test (see Figure 3), I presented myself to the model face-on and, unsurprisingly, I came out as 100 percent male. However, adding a judge’s wig forces the model into a rethink, and a beard produces a variety of results, but leaves the model unsure. It might be reasonable to assume that our model uses hair length as a strong feature. Adding a top hat to the ensemble brings the model back to a 100 percent prediction that the image is of a male.
Machine learning uses a best-fit principle. The outputs, in this case whether I am male or female, have a greater certainty of male (65 percent) versus a lesser certainty of female (35 percent) if I wear a beard (Figure 3, second image from the right). Remove the beard and the likelihood of me being female increases by 2 percent (Figure 3, second image from the left).
Bias in machine learning models
Within a fairly small set of parameters, most human faces are similar. However, when you start digging, the research points to there being bias in AI (whether this is conscious or unconscious is a debate for another day!). You can exemplify this by firstly creating classes with labels such as ‘young smart’, ‘old smart’, ‘young not smart’, and ‘old not smart’. Select images that you think would fit the classes, and train them in Teachable Machine. You can then test the model by asking your students to find images they think fit each category. Run them against the model and ask students to debate whether the AI is acting fairly, and if not, why they think that is. Who is training these models? What images are they receiving? Similarly, you could create classes of images of known past criminals and heroes. Train the model before putting yourself in front of it. How far up the percentage scale are you towards being a criminal? It soon becomes frighteningly worrying that unless you are white and seemingly middle class, AI may prove problematic to you, from decisions on financial products such as mortgages through to mistaken arrest and identification.
It soon becomes frighteningly worrying that unless you are white and seemingly middle class, AI may prove problematic to you, from decisions on financial products such as mortgages through to mistaken arrest and identification.
Encourage your students to discuss how they could influence this issue of race, class, and gender bias — for example, what rules would they use for identifying suitable images for a data set? There are some interesting articles on this issue that you can share with your students at helloworld.cc/aibias1 and helloworld.cc/aibias2.
Where next with your learners?
In the classroom, you could then follow the route of building models that identify letters for words, for example. One of my students built a model that could identify a range of spoons and forks. You may notice that Teachable Machine can also be run on Arduino boards, which adds an extra dimension. Why not get your students to create their own AI assistant that responds to commands? The possibilities are there to be explored. If you’re using webcams to collect photos yourself, why not create a system that will identify students? If you are lucky enough to have a set of identical twins in your class, that adds just a little more flavour! Teachable Machine offers a hands-on way to demonstrate the issues of AI accuracy and bias, and gives students a healthy opportunity for debate.
Michael Jones is director of Computer Science at Northfleet Technology College in the UK. He is a Specialist Leader of Education and a CS Champion for the National Centre for Computing Education.
More resources for AI and data science education
At the Foundation, AI education is one of our focus areas. Here is how we are supporting you and your learners in this area already:
Hello World issue 12 focuses on AI and machine learning education, with many practical resources, insightful interviews, and inspiring features from computer science educators. Download your free copy of issue 12 now.
Computing education researchers are working to answer the many open questions about what good AI and data science education looks like for young people. To learn more, you can watch the recordings from our research seminar series focused on this. We ourselves are working on research projects in this area and will share the results freely with the computing education community.
You can find a list of free educational resources about these topics that we’ve collated based on our research seminars, seminar participants’ recommendations, and our own work.
From experience, being connected to a community of fellow computing educators is really important, especially given that some members of the community may be the only computing educator in their school, district, or country. These professional connections enable educators to share and learn from each other, develop their practice, and importantly reduce any feelings of isolation.
It was great to see the return of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) Annual Conference to an in-person event this year, and I was really excited to be able to attend.
Our small Raspberry Pi Foundation team headed to Chicago for four and a half days of meetups, professional development, and conversations with educators from all across the US and around the world. Over the week our team ran workshops, delivered a keynote talk, gave away copies of Hello World magazine, and signed up many new subscribers. You too can subscribe to Hello World magazine for free at helloworld.cc/subscribe.
We spoke to so many educators about all parts of the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s work, with a particular focus on the Hello World magazine and podcast, and of course The Big Book of Computing Pedagogy. In collaboration with CSTA, we were really proud to be able to provide all attendees with their own physical copy of this very special edition.
It was genuinely exciting to see how pleased attendees were to receive their copy of TheBig Book of Computing Pedagogy. So many came to talk to us about how they’d used the digital copy already and their plans for using the book for training and development initiatives in their schools and districts. We gave away every last spare copy we had to teachers who wanted to share the book with their colleagues who couldn’t attend.
Don’t worry if you couldn’t make it to the conference, The Big Book of Computing Pedagogy is available as a free PDF, which due to its Creative Commons licence you are welcome to print for yourself.
Another goal for us at CSTA was to support and encourage new authors to the magazine in order to ensure that Hello World continues to be the magazine for computing educators, by computing educators. Anyone can propose an article idea for Hello World by completing this form. We’re confident that every computing educator out there has at least one story to tell, lessons or learnings to share, or perhaps a cautionary tale of something that failed.
We’ll review any and all ideas and will support you to craft your idea into a finished article. This is exactly what we began to do at the conference with our workshop for writers led by Gemma Coleman, our fantastic Hello World Editor. We’re really excited to see these ideas flourish into full-blown articles over the coming weeks and months.
Our week culminated in a keynote talk delivered by Sue, Jane, and James, exploring how we developed our 12 pedagogy principles that underpin The Big Book of Computing Pedagogy, as well as much of the content we create at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. These principles are designed to describe a set of approaches that educators can add to their toolkit, giving them a shared language and the agency to select when and how they employ each approach. This was something we explored with teachers in our final breakout session where teachers applied these principles to describe a lesson or activity of their own.
We found the experience extremely valuable and relished the opportunity to talk about teaching and learning with educators and share our work. We are incredibly grateful to the entire CSTA team for organising a fantastic conference and inviting us to participate.
Discover more with Hello World — for free
Subscribe now to get each new Hello World straight to your digital inbox, for free! And if you’re based in the UK and do paid or unpaid work in education, you can subscribe for free print issues.
Issue 19 of our free magazine Hello World, written by and for the computing education community, focuses on the interaction between sustainability and computing, from how we can interact with technology responsibly, to its potential to mitigate climate change.
To give you a taste of this brand-new issue, here is primary school teacher Peter Gaynord’s article about his experience of using an environmental case study to develop a cross-curricular physical computing unit that gives his learners a real-life context.
Real-life problem solving
The prospect of developing your own unit of work from scratch can feel very daunting. With the number of free resources available, it begs the question, why do it? Firstly, it gives you the opportunity to deliver computing that is interwoven with the rest of your curriculum. It also naturally lends itself to a constructionist approach to learning through meaningful engagement with real-world problem-solving. In this article, I am going to share my experience of developing a ten-lesson unit of physical computing for students aged nine to ten that is linked to the more general topic of the environment.
To engage children in the process of problem-solving, it is important that the problem is presented as a real and meaningful one. To introduce the topic of the environment, we showed pupils a video of the Panama Canal, including information about the staggering amount of CO2 that is saved by ships taking this route instead of the alternative, longer routes that use more fuel. However, we explained that because of the special geographical features, a moving bridge needed to be constructed over the canal. The students’ challenge was first to design a solution to the problem, and then to make a working model.
The model would use physical computing as part of the solution to the problem. The children would program a single-geared motor using a Crumble microcontroller to slowly lift and lower the bridge by the desired amount. We decided to issue a warning to drivers that the road bridge was about to close using a Sparkle, a programmable LED. Ultimately, the raising and lowering of the bridge would happen automatically when a ship approached. For this purpose, we would use an ultrasonic sensor to detect the presence of the ship.
Building the required skills
To develop the skills required to use the Crumble microcontroller, we led some discrete computing lessons based largely on the Teach Computing Curriculum’s ‘Programming A — Selection in physical computing’ unit. In these lessons, the children developed the skill of sensing and responding differently to conditions using the selection programming construct. They learnt this key concept alongside controlling and connecting the motor, the Sparkle, and the ultrasonic sensor.
For students to succeed, we also had to teach them skills from other subjects, and consider at what stage it would be most useful to introduce them. For example, before asking children to document their designs, we first needed to teach the design technology (DT) objectives for communicating ideas through sketches. Most other DT objectives that covered the practical skills to make a model were interwoven as the project progressed. At the end of the project, we guided the children through how to evaluate their design ideas and reflect on the process of model making. Before pupils designed their solutions, we also had to introduce some science for them to apply to their designs. We covered increasing forces using levers, pulleys, and gears, as well as the greenhouse effect and how burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming.
It is very important not to specify a solution for students at the beginning, otherwise the whole project becomes craft instead of problem-solving. However, it is important to spend some time thinking about any practical aspects of the model building that may need extra scaffolding. Experience suggested that it was important to limit the scale of the children’s models. We did this by showing them a completed central bridge span and later, guiding the building of this component so that all bridges had the same scale. It also turned out to be very important that the children were limited in their model building to using one single-geared motor. This would ensure that all children engaged with actively thinking about how to utilise the lever and pulley system to increase force, instead of relying on using more motors to lift the bridge.
Connecting face to face with educators around the world is a key part of our mission at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and it’s something that we’ve sorely missed doing over the last two years. We’re therefore thrilled to be joining over 1000 computing educators in the USA at the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) Annual Conference in Chicago in July.
Developing and sharing effective computing pedagogy is our theme for CSTA 2022. We’ll be talking to you about our 12 pedagogy principles, laid out in The Big Book of Computing Pedagogy, available to download for free.
An exciting piece of news is that everyone attending CSTA 2022 will find a free print copy of the Big Book in their conference goodie bag!
We’re really looking forward to sharing and discussing the book and all our work with US educators, and to seeing some familiar faces. We’re also hoping to interview lots of old and new friends about your approaches to teaching computing and computer science for future Hello World podcast episodes.
Your sessions with us
Our team will also be running a number of sessions where you can join us to learn, discuss, and prepare lesson plans.
Semantic Waves and Wavy Lessons: Connecting Theory to Practical Activities and Back Again
If you enjoy explaining concepts using unplugged activities, analogy, or storytelling, then this practical pre-conference session is for you. In the session, we’ll introduce the idea of semantic waves, a learning theory that supports learners in building knowledge of new concepts through careful consideration of vocabulary and contexts. Across the world, this approach has been successfully used to teach topics ranging from ballet to chemistry — and now computing.
You’ll learn how this theory can be applied to deliver powerful explanations that connect abstract ideas and concrete experiences. By taking part in the session, you’ll gain a solid understanding of semantic wave theory, see it in practice in some freely available lesson plans, and apply it to your own planning.
Write for a Global Computing Community with Hello World Magazine
Friday 15 July, 1–2pm: Workshop with Gemma Coleman
Do you enjoy sharing your teaching ideas, successes, and challenges with others? Do you want to connect with a global community of over 30,000 computing educators? Have you always wanted to be a published author? Then come along to this workshop session.
Every single computing or CS teacher out there has at least one lesson to share, idea to voice, or story to tell. In the session, you’ll discuss what makes a good article with Gemma Coleman, Hello World’s Editor, and you’ll learn top tips for how to communicate your ideas in writing. Gemma will also guide you through writing a plan for your very own article. Even if you’re not sure whether you want to write an article, doing this is a powerful way to reflect on your teaching practice.
Developing a Toolkit for Teaching Computer Science in School
Saturday 16 July, 4–5pm: Keynote talk by Sue Sentance
To teach any subject requires good teaching skills, knowledge about the subject being taught, and specific knowledge that a teacher gains about how to teach a particular topic, to their particular students, in a particular context. Teaching computer science is no different, and it’s a challenge for teachers to develop a go-to set of pedagogical strategies for such a new subject, especially for elements of the subject matter that they are just getting to grips with themselves.
In this keynote talk, our Chief Learning Officer Sue Sentance will focus on some of the 12 pedagogy principles that we developed to support the teaching of computer science. We created this set of principles together with other teachers and researchers to help us and everyone in computing and computer science education reflect on how we teach our learners. Sue will share how we arrived at the principles, and she’ll use classroom examples to illustrate how you can apply them in practice.
Exploring the Hello World Big Book of Computing Pedagogy
Sunday 17 July, 9–10am: Workshop with Sue Sentance
The set of 12 pedagogy principles we’ve developed for teaching computing are presented in our Hello World Big Book of Computing Pedagogy. The book includes summaries, teachers’ perspectives, and lesson plans for each of the 12 principles.
All CSTA attendees will get their own print copy of the Big Book, and in this practical session, we will use the book to explore together how you can use the 12 principles in the planning and delivery of your lessons. The session will be very hands-on, so bring along something you know you want or need to teach.
See you at CSTA in July
CSTA is now just a month away, and we can’t wait to meet old friends, make new connections, and learn from each other! Come find us at booth 521 or at our sessions to meet the team, discover Hello World magazine and the Hello World podcast, and find out more about our educational work. We hope to see you soon.
In this article adapted from Hello World issue 18, teacher Babak Ebrahim explains how his school uses a cybersecurity club to increase interest in Computing among girls. Babak is a Computer Science and Mathematics teacher at Bishop Challoner Catholic College Secondary in Birmingham, UK. He is a CAS Community Leader, and works as a CS Champion for the National Centre for Computing Education in England.
This led me to alter our approach and target younger female students with an extracurricular club. As part of our lower-secondary curriculum, all pupils study encryption and cryptography, and we were keen to extend this interest beyond lesson time. I discovered the CyberFirst Girls Competition, aimed at Year 8 girls in England (aged 12–13) with the goal of influencing girls when choosing their GCSE subjects (qualifications pupils take aged 14–16). Each school can enter as many teams as they like, with a maximum of four girls in each team. I advertised the event by showing a video of the previous year’s attendees and the winning team. To our delight, 19 girls, in five teams, entered the competition.
Club activities at school
To make sure that this wasn’t a one-off event, we started an after-school cybersecurity club for girls. All Computing teachers encouraged their female students to attend. We had a number of female teachers who were teaching Maths and Computing as their second subjects, and I found it more effective when these teachers encouraged the girls to join. They would also help with running the club. We found it to be most popular with Year 7 students (aged 11–12), with 15 girls regularly attending. We often do cryptography tasks in the club, including activities from established competitions. For example, I recently challenged the club to complete tasks from the most recent Alan Turing Cryptography Competition. A huge benefit of completing these tasks in the club, rather than in the classroom, was that students could work more informally and were not under pressure to succeed. I found this year’s tasks quite challenging for younger students, and I was worried that this could put them off returning to the club. To avoid this, I first taught the students the skills that they would need for one of the challenges, followed by small tasks that I made myself over two or three sessions.
For example, one task required students to use the Playfair cipher to break a long piece of code. In order to prepare students for decoding this text, I showed them how the cipher works, then created empty grids (5 x 5 tables) and modelled the technique with simple examples. The girls then worked in teams of two to encrypt a short quote. I gave each group a different quotation, and they weren’t allowed to let other groups know what it was. Once they applied the cipher, they handed the encrypted message to another group, whose job was to decrypt it. At this stage, some would identify that the other group had made mistakes using the techniques, and they would go through the text together to identify them. Once students were confident and competent in using this cipher, I presented them with the competition task, and they then applied the same process. Of course, some students would still make mistakes, but they would realise this and be able to work through them, rather than being overwhelmed by them. Another worthwhile activity in the club has been for older pupils, who are in their second year of attending, to mentor and support girls in the years below them, especially in preparation for participating in competitions.
Other club activities have included a trip to Bletchley Park. As a part of the package, students took part in a codebreaking workshop in which they used the Enigma machine to crack encrypted messages. This inspirational trip was a great experience for the girls, as they discovered the pivotal roles women had in breaking codes during the Second World War. If you’re not based in the UK, Bletchley Park also runs a virtual tour and workshops. You could also organise a day trip to a local university where students could attend different workshops run by female lecturers or university students; this could involve a mixture of maths, science, and computer science activities.
We are thrilled to learn that one of our teams won this year’s CyberFirst Girls Competition! More importantly, the knowledge gained by all the students who attend the club is most heartening, along with the enthusiasm that is clearly evident each week, and the fun that is had. Whether this will have any impact on the number of girls who take GCSE Computer Science remains to be seen, but it certainly gives the girls the opportunity to discover their potential, learn the importance of cybersecurity, and consider pursuing a career in a male-dominated profession. There are many factors that influence a child’s mind as to what they would like to study or do, and every little extra effort that we put into their learning journey will shape who they will become in the future.
Find out more about teaching cybersecurity
Cybersecurity is the theme of issue 18 of Hello World, available as a free PDF download. IT includes articles, resources, and opinion pieces from educators who share their experience of teaching cybersecurity to learners
At our research seminar series, we welcomed Peter Kemp and Billy Wong last year, who shared results from their study of the demographics of students who choose GCSE Computer Science in England. Watch the seminar recording.
Hello World magazine, our free magazine written by computing educators for computing educators, has been running for 5 years now. In the newest issue, Alan O’Donohoe shares his top tips for educators to make the most out of Hello World.
Alan has over 20 years’ experience teaching and leading technology, ICT, and computing in schools in England. He runs exa.foundation, delivering professional development to engage digital makers, supporting computing teaching, and promoting the appropriate use of technology.
Alan’s top tips
Years before there was a national curriculum for computing, Hello World magazines, or England’s National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE), I had ambitious plans to overhaul our school’s ICT curriculum with the introduction of computer science. Since the subject team I led consisted mostly of non-specialist teachers, it was clear I needed to be the one steering the change. To do this successfully, I realised I’d need to look for examples and case studies outside of our school, to explore exactly what strategies, resources and programming languages other teachers were using. However, I drew a blank. I couldn’t find any local schools teaching computer science. It was both daunting and disheartening not knowing anyone else I could refer to for advice and experience.
Thankfully, ten years later, the situation has significantly improved. Even with increased research and resources, though, there can still be the sense of feeling alone. With scarce prospects to meet other computing teachers, there’s fewer people to be inspired by, to bounce ideas off, to celebrate achievement, or share the challenges of teaching computing with. Some teachers habitually engage with online discussion forums and social media platforms to plug this gap, but these have their own drawbacks.
It’s great news then that there’s another resource that teachers can turn to. You all know by now that Hello World magazine offers another helping hand for computing teachers searching for richer experiences for their students and opportunities to hone their professional practice. In this Insider’s Guide, I offer practical suggestions for how you can use Hello World to its full potential.
Put an article into practice
Teachers have often told me that strategies like PRIMM and pair programming have had a positive impact on their teaching, after first reading about them in Hello World. Over the five years of its publication, there’s likely to have been an article or research piece that particularly struck a chord with you — so why not try putting the learnings from that article into practice?
You may choose to go this route on your own, but you could persuade colleagues to join you. Not only is there safety in numbers, but the shared rewards and motivation that come from teamwork. Start by choosing an article. This could be an approach that made an impression on you, or something related to a particular theme or topic that you and your colleagues have been seeking to address. You could then test out some of the author’s suggestions in the article; if they represent something very different from your usual approach, then why not try them first with a teaching group that is more open to trying new things? For reflection and analysis, consider conducting some pupil voice interviews with your classes to see what their opinions are of the activity, or spend some time reflecting on the activity with your colleagues. Finally, you could make contact with the author to compare your experiences, seek further support, or ask questions.
Strike up a conversation
Authors generally welcome correspondence from readers, even those that don’t agree with their opinions! While it’s difficult to predict exactly what the outcome may be, it could lead to a productive professional correspondence. Here are some suggestions:
Establish the best way to contact the author. Some have contact details or clues about where to find them in their articles. If not, you might try connecting with them on LinkedIn, or social media. Don’t be disappointed if they don’t respond promptly; I’ve often received replies many months after sending.
Open your message with an introduction to yourself moving onto some positive praise, describing your appreciation for the article and points that resonated deeply with you.
If you have already tried some of the author’s suggestions, you could share your experiences and pupil outcomes, where appropriate, with them.
Try to maintain a constructive tone. Even if you disagree with the piece, the author will be more receptive to a supportive tone than criticism. If the article topic is a ‘work in progress’, the author may welcome your suggestions.
Enquire as to whether the author has changed their practice since writing the article or if their thinking has developed.
You might take the opportunity to direct questions at the author asking for further examples, clarity or advice.
If the author has given you an idea for an article, project, or research on a similar theme, they’re likely to be interested in hearing more. Describe your proposal in a single sentence summary and see if they’d be interested in reading an early draft or collaborating with you.
Start a reading group
Take inspiration from book clubs, but rather than discuss works of fiction, instead invite members of your professional groups or curriculum teams to discuss content from issues of Hello World. This could become a regular feature of your meetings where attendees can be invited to contribute their own opinions. To achieve this, firstly identify a group that you’re a part of where this is most likely to be received well. This may be with your colleagues, or fellow computing teachers you’ve met at conferences or training days. To begin, you might prescribe one specific single article or broaden it to include a whole issue. It makes sense to select an article likely to be popular with your group, or one that addresses a current or future area of concern.
To familiarise attendees with the content, share a link to the issue for them to read in advance of the meeting. If you’re reviewing a whole issue, suggest pages likely to be most relevant. If you’re reviewing a single article, make it clear whether you are referring to the page numbers as printed or those in the PDF. You could make it easier by removing all other pages from the PDF and sending it as an attachment. Remember that you can download back issues of Hello World as PDFs, which you can then edit or print.
Encourage your attendees to share the aspects of the article that appealed to them, or areas they could not agree with the author or struggled to see working in their particular setting. Invite any points of issue for further discussion and explanation — somebody in the group might volunteer to strike up a conversation with the author by passing on the feedback from the group. Alternatively, you could invite the author of the piece to join your meeting via video conference to address questions and promote discussion of the themes. This could lead to developing a productive friendship or professional association with the author.
Propose an article
“I wish!” is a typical response I hear when I suggest to a teacher that they should seriously consider writing an article for Hello World. I often get the responses, “I don’t have enough time”, “Nobody would read anything I write”, or, “I don’t do anything worth writing about”. The most common concern I hear, though, is, “But I’m not a writer!”. So you’re not the only one thinking that!
“We strongly encourage first-time writers. My job is to edit your work and worry about grammar and punctuation — so don’t worry if this isn’t your strength! Remember that as an educator, you’re writing all the time. Lesson plans, end-of-term reports, assessment feedback…you’re more of a writer than you think! If you’re not sure where to start, you could write a lesson plan, or contribute to our ‘Me and my Classroom’ feature.”
— Gemma Coleman, Editor of Hello World
Help and support is available from the editorial team. I for one have found this to be extremely beneficial, especially as I really don’t rate my own writing skills! Don’t forget, you’re writing about your own practice, something that you’ve done in your career — so you’ll be an expert on you. Each article starts with a proposal, the editor replies with some suggestions, then a draft follows and some more refinements. I ask friends and colleagues to review parts of what I’ve written to help me and I even ask non-teaching members of my family for their opinions.
Writing an article for Hello World can really help boost your own professional development and career prospects. Writing about your own practice requires humility, analytical thinking and self reflection. To ensure you have time to write an article, make it fit in with something of interest to you. This could be an objective from your own performance management or appraisal. This reduces the need for additional work and adds a level of credibility.
If that isn’t enough to persuade you, for contributors based outside of the UK (who usually aren’t eligible for free print copies), Hello World will send you a complimentary print copy of the magazine that you feature in to say thank you. Picture the next Hello World issue arriving featuring an article written by you. How does this make you feel? Be honest — your heart flutters as you tear off the wrapper to go straight to your article. You’ll be impressed to see how much smarter it looks in print than the draft you did in Microsoft Word. You’ll then want to show others, because you’ll be proud of your work. It generates a tremendous sense of pride and achievement in seeing your own work published in a professional capacity.
Hello World offers busy teachers a fantastic, free and accessible resource of shared knowledge, experience and inspiring ideas. When we feel most exhausted and lacking inspiration, we should treasure those mindful moments where we can sit down with a cup of tea and make the most of this wonderful publication created especially for us.
Celebrate 5 years of Hello World with us
We marked Hello World’s fifth anniversary with a recent Twitter Spaces event with Alan and Catherine Elliot as our guests. You can catch up with the event recording on the Hello World podcast. And the newest Hello World issue, with a focus on cybersecurity, is available as a free PDF download — dive it today.
How have you been using Hello World in your practice in the past five years? What do you hope to see in the magazine in the next five? Let us know on Twitter by tagging @HelloWorld_Edu.
We set out last year to gather more stories, ideas, and inspiration from and for the computing education community in between Hello World magazine issues: we launched the Hello World podcast. On the podcast, we dive deeper into articles from Hello World, and we speak with people from all over the world who work as teachers, educators, and other computing education professionals.
Season 3 of the Hello World podcast starts on Monday
The Hello World podcast helps connect the global community of computing educators and Hello World readers, and lets them share their experiences. After two seasons and a short pause during the autumn, we are finally back with a brand-new Hello World podcast season. Regular listeners will also notice a new theme music!
Each episode, we explore computing, coding, and digital making education by delving into an exciting topic together with our guests: experts, practitioners, and other members of the Hello World community.
In season 3, we’re exploring:
The role of makerspaces, both within schools and the wider community
The relevance of imagination and storytelling to computing
Computing in the context of science and ecology
How learners can promote and support computing as digital leaders
And much more…
Meet our guests for episode 1 of the new season
In our first episode, which will be available from 7 February, your hosts Carrie Anne and James ask the question “What role do makerspaces play in the classroom?”. We talk to two fantastic guests, each with a wealth of experience in designing and developing makerspaces:
Nick Provenzano, who is a Teacher and Makerspace Director at University Liggett School in Michigan. He is also an author, makerspace builder, international keynote speaker and Raspberry Pi Certified Educator.
Chris Hillidge, who established FabLab Warrington in 2016 and manages the STEM strategy for students aged 4 to 19 across The Challenge Academy Trust. Chris is a Specialist Leader of Education, consultant, and Raspberry Pi Certified Educator.
Dive in with our three most popular episodes so far
If you’ve not tried out the Hello World podcast yet, why not get started by diving into one of our most popular episodes?
The global IT industry generates as much CO2 as the aviation industry. In Hello World issue 17, we learn about the hidden impact of our IT use and the changes we can make from Beverly Clarke, national community manager for Computing at School and author of Computer Science Teacher: Insight Into the Computing Classroom.
With the onset of the pandemic, the world seemed to shut down. Flights were grounded, fewer people were commuting, and companies and individuals increased their use of technology for work and communication. On the surface, this seemed like a positive time for the environment. However, I soon found myself wondering about the impact that this increased use of technology would have on our planet, in particular the increases in energy consumption and e-waste. This is a major social, moral, and ethical issue that is hiding in plain sight — green IT is big news.
This is a major social, moral, and ethical issue that is hiding in plain sight — green IT is big news.
Energy and data centres
Thinking that online is always better for the planet is not always as straightforward as it seems. If we choose to meet via conference call rather than travelling to a meeting, there are hidden environmental impacts to consider. If there are 50 people on a call from across the globe, all of the data generated is being routed around the world through data centres, and a lot of energy is being used. If all of those people are also using video, that is even more energy than audio only.
Not only is the amount of energy being used a concern, but we must also ask ourselves how these data centres are being powered. Is the energy they are using coming from a renewable source? If not, we may be replacing one environmental problem with another.
What about other areas of our lives, such as taking photos or filming videos? These two activities have probably increased as we have been separated from family and friends. They use energy, especially when the image or video is then shared with others around the world and consequently routed through data centres. A large amount of energy is being used, and more is used the further the image travels.
Not only is the amount of energy being used a concern, but we must also ask ourselves how these data centres are being powered.
Similarly, consider social media and the number of posts individuals and companies make on a daily basis. All of these are travelling through data centres and using energy, yet for the most part this is not visible to the user.
E-waste is another green IT issue, and one that will only get worse as we rely on electronic devices more. As well as the potential eyesore of mountains of e-waste, there is also the impact upon the planet of mining the precious metals used in these electronics, such as gold, copper, aluminium, and steel.
The processes used to mine these metals lead to pollution, and we should also consider that some of the precious metals used in our devices could run out, as there is not an endless supply in the Earth’s surface.
It is also problematic that a lot of e-waste is sent to developing countries with limited recycling plants […].
It is also problematic that a lot of e-waste is sent to developing countries with limited recycling plants, and so much of the e-waste ends up in landfill. This can lead to toxic substances being leaked into the Earth’s surface.
First steps towards action
With my reflective hat on, I started to think about discussions we as teachers could have with pupils around this topic, and came up with the following:
Help learners to talk about the cloud and where it is located. We can remind them that the cloud is a physical entity. Show them images of data centres to help make this real, and allow them to appreciate where the data we generate every day goes.
Ask learners how many photos and videos they have on their devices, and where they think those items are stored. This can be extended to a year group or whole-school exercise so they can really appreciate the sheer amount of data being used and sent across the cloud, and how data centres fit with that energy consumption. I did this activity and found that I had 7163 photos and 304 videos on my phone — that’s using a lot of energy!
Ask learners to research any local data centres and find out how many data centres there are in the world. You could then develop this into a discussion, including language related to data centres such as sensors, storage devices, cabling, and infrastructure. This helps learners to connect the theory to real-world examples.
Ask learners to reflect upon how many devices they use that are connected to the Internet of Things.
Consider for ourselves and ask parents, family, and friends how our online usage has changed since before the pandemic.
Consider what happens to electronic devices when they are thrown away and become e-waste. Where does it all go? What is the effect of e-waste on communities and countries?
Look at company websites and see what their commitment is to green IT, and consider whether we should support companies whose commitment to the planet is poor
Use WiFi instead of 3G/4G/5G, as it uses less energy
These lists are not exhaustive, but provide a good starting point for discussions with learners. We should all play our small part in ensuring that we #RestoreOurEarth — this year’s Earth Day theme — and having an awareness and understanding of the impact of our use of electronic devices is part of the way forward.
Some resources on green IT — do you have others?
BCS (British Computer Society, The Charted Institute of IT) has a Green IT specialist group, a community of IT professionals and enthusiasts who are passionate about green IT
In Hello World issue 12, our free magazine for computing educators, George Boukeas, DevOps Engineer for the Astro Pi Challenge here at the Foundation, introduces big moments in the history of artificial intelligence (AI) to share with your learners:
The story of artificial intelligence (AI) is a story about humans trying to understand what makes them human. Some of the episodes in this story are fascinating. These could help your learners catch a glimpse of what this field is about and, with luck, compel them to investigate further.
The imitation game
In 1950, Alan Turing published a philosophical essay titled Computing Machinery and Intelligence, which started with the words: “I propose to consider the question: Can machines think?” Yet Turing did not attempt to define what it means to think. Instead, he suggested a game as a proxy for answering the question: the imitation game. In modern terms, you can imagine a human interrogator chatting online with another human and a machine. If the interrogator does not successfully determine which of the other two is the human and which is the machine, then the question has been answered: this is a machine that can think.
This imitation game is now a fiercely debated benchmark of artificial intelligence called the Turing test. Notice the shift in focus that Turing suggests: thinking is to be identified in terms of external behaviour, not in terms of any internal processes. Humans are still the yardstick for intelligence, but there is no requirement that a machine should think the way humans do, as long as it behaves in a way that suggests some sort of thinking to humans.
In his essay, Turing also discusses learning machines. Instead of building highly complex programs that would prescribe every aspect of a machine’s behaviour, we could build simpler programs that would prescribe mechanisms for learning, and then train the machine to learn the desired behaviour. Turing’s text provides an excellent metaphor that could be used in class to describe the essence of machine learning: “Instead of trying to produce a programme to simulate the adult mind, why not rather try to produce one which simulates the child’s? If this were then subjected to an appropriate course of education one would obtain the adult brain. We have thus divided our problem into two parts: the child-programme and the education process.”
It is remarkable how Turing even describes approaches that have since been evolved into established machine learning methods: evolution (genetic algorithms), punishments and rewards (reinforcement learning), randomness (Monte Carlo tree search). He even forecasts the main issue with some forms of machine learning: opacity. “An important feature of a learning machine is that its teacher will often be very largely ignorant of quite what is going on inside, although he may still be able to some extent to predict his pupil’s behaviour.”
The evolution of a definition
The term ‘artificial intelligence’ was coined in 1956, at an event called the Dartmouth workshop. It was a gathering of the field’s founders, researchers who would later have a huge impact, including John McCarthy, Claude Shannon, Marvin Minsky, Herbert Simon, Allen Newell, Arthur Samuel, Ray Solomonoff, and W.S. McCulloch.
The simple and ambitious definition for artificial intelligence, included in the proposal for the workshop, is illuminating: ‘making a machine behave in ways that would be called intelligent if a human were so behaving’. These pioneers were making the assumption that ‘every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it’. This assumption turned out to be patently false and led to unrealistic expectations and forecasts. Fifty years later, McCarthy himself stated that ‘it was harder than we thought’.
Modern definitions of intelligence are of distinctly different flavour than the original one: ‘Intelligence is the quality that enables an entity to function appropriately and with foresight in its environment’ (Nilsson). Some even speak of rationality, rather than intelligence: ‘doing the right thing, given what it knows’ (Russell and Norvig).
Read the whole of this brief history of AI in Hello World #12
Early advances researchers made from the 1950s onwards while developing games algorithms, e.g. for chess.
The 1997 moment when Deep Blue, a purpose-built IBM computer, beating chess world champion Garry Kasparov using a search approach.
The 2011 moment when Watson, another IBM computer system, beating two human Jeopardy! champions using multiple techniques to answer questions posed in natural language.
The principles behind artificial neural networks, which have been around for decades and are now underlying many AI/machine learning breakthroughs because of the growth in computing power and availability of vast datasets for training.
The 2017 moment when AlphaGo, an artificial neural network–based computer program by Alphabet’s DeepMind, beating Ke Jie, the world’s top-ranked Go player at the time.
More on machine learning and AI education in Hello World #12
In your free PDF of Hello World issue 12, you’ll also find:
An interview with University of Cambridge statistician David Spiegelhalter, whose work shaped some of the foundations of AI, and who shares his thoughts on data science in schools and the limits of AI
An introduction to Popbots, an innovative project by MIT to open AI to the youngest learners
An article by Ken Kahn, researcher in the Department of Education at the University of Oxford, on using the block-based Snap! language to introduce your learners to natural language processing
Unplugged and online machine learning activities for learners age 7 to 16 in the regular ‘Lesson plans’ section
Find more resources for AI and data science education
In Hello World issue 16, the focus is on all things data science and data literacy for your learners. As always, you can download a free copy of the issue. And on our Hello World podcast, we chat with practicing computing educators about how they bring AI, AI ethics, machine learning, and data science to the young people they teach.
In Hello World issue 17, Raspberry Pi Certified EducatorCat Lamin talks about how building connections and sharing the burden can help make us better educators, even in times of great stress:
“I felt like I needed to play my part”
In March 2020, the world suddenly changed. For educators, we jumped from face-to-face teaching to a stark new landscape, with no idea of how the future would look. As generous teachers pushed out free resources, I felt like I needed to play my part. Suddenly, an idea struck me. In September 2017, I had decided to be brave and submit a talk to PyConUK to discuss my mental health. Afterwards, several people in the audience shared their own stories with me or let me know that it helped them just to hear that someone else struggled too. I realised that in times of pressure, we need a chance to talk and we had lost these outlets. In school, we would pop to the staffroom or a friend’s classroom for a quick vent, but that wasn’t an option anymore. People were feeling isolated, scared, stressed and didn’t have anyone to turn to.
I realised that in times of pressure, we need a chance to talk, and we had lost these outlets.
Thus, the first Global Google Educator Group Staffroom: Mental Health Matters was launched on 14 March 2020, which coincided with the US government announcing school closures and UK teachers still waiting anxiously to hear when doors would close. The aim of Staffroom was to give teachers a safe space to talk about how they’re feeling under the overwhelming weight of school closures. To say it was a success would be an understatement, with teachers joining the calls from Australia, Malaysia, the USA, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Europe and more!
“Staffroom for me is a place and time to connect with other teachers from around the world. I remember seeing the calendar invites by mail and I kept thinking I should join but was afraid to do it. The first time I did it, I listened first and it made me realize that my struggles during pandemic online teaching were the same struggles as everywhere else.” – Pily Hernandez, Monterrey, Mexico
Which William are you today?
In those early days, we just gave teachers a chance to talk. The format of our meetings was simple: what’s your name, where are you from, and then an ice breaker question like ‘What colour do you feel like?’ or ‘What song represents your current mood?’ It wasn’t long before we hit upon a winning formula by making our own ‘Which image are you today?’ picture scale (see the ‘Which William’ image below!). Using the picture scales allowed people to really express how they felt. Often someone who had been happily chatting would explain that they were actually struggling to keep their head above water because a silly image allowed them to be honest.
One of the most important messages from Staffroom was that many people involved with technology in schools were feeling alone. After years of suggesting teachers use technology, suddenly they were blamed for schools not being properly prepared. They were struggling with not necessarily knowing what to suggest to teachers with technology difficulties, as they were grappling with their own personal lockdown situations. Hearing that other people, all around the world, were experiencing something similar was hugely eye-opening and took a great amount of weight off their shoulders.
“As someone who thrived from having in person connections and networking opportunities, lockdown hit me hard. Staffroom really helped to keep those connections going and has developed into such a lovely safe space to talk and connect with others.” – Abid Patel, London, UK
We varied the tone of the sessions depending on the needs of the attendees. In the first few months, we shared our lockdown situations and our different experiences across the world. We could share advice and tips, as well as best practice for delivering content and things that had gone terribly wrong since switching to remote teaching. Or we’d discuss food in different countries around the world (did you know that in Australia, fish and chips is made from shark?) or joke about whether Vegemite was actually an edible product (it’s ok, I tried it live on camera during one Staffroom). Other days, we would discuss how difficult we were finding teaching, isolation or life in general during a pandemic.
An honest environment
One of the things that people continuously mentioned was that Staffroom was a safe place where they felt they could share, be listened to, and be understood. We made it clear that no one had to speak unless they wanted to. I made a point of always being completely honest about my own mental health. As a person who had suffered from depression and anxiety in the past, it was no surprise to me when I was diagnosed with both near the end of 2020, and I was fortunate enough to get virtual therapy. I shared my story with the group, which allowed attendees to feel more comfortable being open and talking about their own struggles, in some cases leading to their own diagnosis and getting much-needed support.
“Staffroom has been the best ‘out of my comfort zone’ leap that I have ever taken. I have met educators from all over the world and learned that there are more things that unite us than divide us in this world of education.” – Frederick Ballew, Minnesota, USA
People would join Staffroom to share new jobs, engagements, even cross-country moves, but equally they would join after losing a loved one or hearing of a pupil sick in hospital. Staffroom became a safe haven for teachers, coaches, IT directors, and pretty much anyone involved in technology within education. It is a place where we could bond over shared experience, share a joke, ask questions, get ideas, and even plan our futures.
Do not underestimate the power of connections, and of sharing your story.
Alongside Staffroom, I also built a website to allow teachers to share their mental health stories and to feel a little less alone (mentalhealthineducation.com). I continue to host regular Staffrooms, although less frequently. 18 months ago, we needed a chance to talk three times a week, but now we meet two or three times a month instead. You can find current Staffroom dates at www.globalgeg.org/events. If you take one thing away from this article, however, it is this: do not underestimate the power of connections, and of sharing your story.
Cat Lamin is aRaspberry Pi Certified Educator, CAS Master Teacher, and Google Certified Innovator who works as a freelance trainer and coach, supporting schools with digital strategy and enabling educators to use technology more effectively. For running this regular mental health staffroom, she was awarded a Mental Health Champion Award from Edufuturist.
Share your thoughts about Hello World with me!
Your insights are invaluable to help us make Hello World as useful as it can be for computing educators around the globe. Hello World is a magazine for educators from educators — so if you are interested in having a 20-minute chat with me about what you like about the magazine, and what you would like to change, then please sign up here. I look forward to speaking with you.
Download Hello World for free
The brand-new issue of our free Hello World magazine for computing educators focuses on all things health and well-being.
It is full of inspiring stories and practical ideas for teaching your learners about computing in this context, and supporting them to use digital technologies in beneficial ways.
Download the new issue of Hello World for free today:
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