Code Club

We just stumbled across a project called Code Club, which is a volunteer run network in the UK all about teaching youngs kids how to computer code.   There’s a couple of articles out there about it out there, including this one from the BBC.

I think it’s interesting, but it’s still the same focus in education as seems popular at present: little kids.  I’m really interested in teaching this stuff to teenagers who perhaps need a few more opportunities.

The Drupal Bus

The Oxford Drupal Camp, held at St Catherine’s College Oxford on 22nd and 23rd of June, was a great opportunity to meet people in both the Drupal arena, and, due to the Camp’s focus on Education, that arena also. There were some interesting sessions on the menu, although I only went for the second day, the Saturday, and I heard there was some good stuff on the Friday. I went to a few of the presentations, but it’s not my style: I prefer more loose format, open workshops and discussions, than the prescribed sit and listen as the soothsayer reveals all approach. Luckily, Oxford Drupal Camp had a space for people like myself in the form of BOFF sessions, and one of these I particularly got a lot out of as it was about Drupal in schools. As usual, the focus was on the little’ns, rather than the years 9+, but I can see why: it’s effectively easier to inspire the little guys and spending time doing something new and different isn’t taking time out of their busy schedule studying for GCSEs and fitting themselves into to the National Curriculum mincing machine.

Cynicism aside, big or small, I’m keen that children have a chance to a more diverse and enlightening education in ICT and computing than the current Curriculum prescibes. I’ve thought quite a bit about how a return to the basic computing I learnt (not at school I hasten to add) would fit in with today’s schoolchildren. Why shouldn’t kids learn programming in a language designed for the job of learning programming, such as BASIC or Pascal, and why shouldn’t they learn how to programme a robot, or other device, using a language like Logo, or perhaps even some assembler?

However, one of the ideas that we discussed in the session grabs me a something that really could be a winner: the Drupal Bus. Conceptually this encompasses travelling around schools to teach ICT in a multi-disciplinary fashion, using Drupal as the basis to do this. There are so many levels and disciplines that Drupal encompasses, from content composition, to web site management, to graphic design, to systems administration, to programming, even. This I think makes it ideally suited to be introduce schoolchildren to the world of the managing the Internet, of content, and of programming. There’s myriad entry levels as well, so with Drupal you can get a feel of programming, such as building forms and templates, without getting your hands totally dirty.

The Drupal Bus really rang bells with me, and reminded me of some of our previous experience working with Bristol Wireless and Psand providing a suite of Linux-based computers at festivals and educational events.

And, if you’ll excuse the pun, the Drupal Bus would be the vehicle to deliver this: a suite of computers, ready to go, arriving on site to deliver a series of workshops. It would leave something lasting and useful for the school, in the form of a Drupal-based web site, either public or private, where, using such facilities as organic groups, each department, year or class could have its own area to collaborate and share its work.

Back to the future

I’m a member of the BCS and receive their quarterly magazine. In July’s issue I found an interesting article that was a retrospective of the BBC Micro, now celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year. What struck me about those times was the excitement that could be felt amongst people as this newest of technologies had finally become available to mere mortals, and schoolchildren. The BBC Micro, along with its cohorts, such as the Commodore VIC-20, the Sinclair ZX 81 and ZX Spectrum, the ORIC 1, TI-99/4A, etc, brought the computer age to the masses; into their homes, and into their schools.

What I found especially interesting about that time, was that it was an initiative by the BBC to produce a computer that could be used in schools to teach computing. Acorn Computer rose to the challenge and produced an excellent machine, with one of the best keyboards around, one of the best BASIC interpreters and a plethora of peripherals that could be connected to the machine, not to mention the epoch-making Elite, the pan-galactic trading game.

For many years I’ve wished a return to these heady days. When teaching computing, or ICT as it’s now called, isn’t about filling kids with the veneer of the industry, largely it seems how to use proprietary office applications to produce posters and little else, but rather it should be able helping them to have a deeper understanding and application of technology, learning not to be apprehensive of it, but how to exploit it to their own ends, and build a better future with it. This is what the BBC Micro promised; a brave new world brought to us by the power of the microchip.

How about we do this again, suggested the article, and this is exactly what I think. I’ve been thinking about setting up a laboratory in the local community centre where kids in their teens can relive the excitement of making a device do something because they told the computer to tell it to do so. The Raspberry-Pi is an obvious once, but perhaps we can get hold of a few BBC Micros to complement them….