Hello World

How do we give learners context and creativity in computing?

May 24, 2021 Hello World Season 1 Episode 3
Show Notes Transcript
Mark Calleja:

It shows you the utility of those skills and that comes back again to empowerment for young people. This is my idea. I care about this. I want to make this help me do that. Right. That's the core of what I like to teach computer science.

Dahlia Poulton-Trask:

Then make sure you always have. I don't, we especially don't want people doing coding and they think it's boring.

James Robinson:

I don't think I can have summed that up much better.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Welcome to Hello World, a podcast for educators interested in computing and digital making. I'm Carrie Anne Philbin currently working for the Raspberry Pi Foundation leading the development of a computing curriculum in England.

Dahlia Poulton-Trask:

And I'm James Robinson a computing educator. I'm working on projects promoting effective pedagogy within our subjects. If you want to support our show, then please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and leave us a five star review.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Today, we're going to be talking about the importance of context and creativity in computing and speaking with some really special guests about why these two are so important for inclusion and equity. So, James, I've got a question for you. What is the most creative lesson you ever created as a competing teacher?

James Robinson:

I think for me it was a series of lessons where I'd recently come back from my experience at Picademy, I'd learnt how to use Minecraft and program that, we did some work with the students to get the basics. And then I sent them a task over their half term holiday to, first of all, to produce me a space invader in Minecraft. That was their sort of basic bit. And then to do something interesting with that, and I left that very open to them. And we came back after the after the half term and they'd all been doing lots of work with with loops and lists and iteration and selection and all sorts of different things. And they'd all applied those techniques in very different ways. Everyone had completed a little space invader, but we had flashing Space Invaders, animated Space Invaders, moving Space Invaders, hidden Space Invaders. Somebody got halfway through making Space Invaders the game, in Minecraft. And then the nicest thing for me was then actually getting them all to, this buzz in the classroom as they all looked at each others' projects and asked questions. And "how did you do that?" and "oh, that's really cool!" And it just it created such a great kind of bit of conversation. And I think for me, you know, creativity and context is really important because it allows students to have that agency and the different contexts that we give our students to work in means that you can sort of encourage a broader range of students to get engaged in the subject by offering lots of different contexts. So, yeah, that's that's kind of my experience

Carrie Anne Philbin:

For me that really resonates. I mean, I remember when I was first introducing kind of text based programming into the classroom, we've done a lot of block based programming. We'd been using tools like Scratch for a while. And that tool what was really great. And it was clear that for all my students, whatever their backgrounds, whether they were girls or boys or different class backgrounds, they all got something out of using that tool because they felt like they were able to create things that were projects that were meaningful to them. And again, they had agency over that. When we moved to text based programming, I think that was a transition where I could see I would lose students right? Who in scratch were loving it. But when I moved to text based programming weren't quite on the same journey. And so I was really fortunate just by happenstance, to sort of just coincide with a researcher at the University of Cambridge Computer Lab called Dr Sam Aaron at the time was creating a tool to be able to program music, and that was called Sonic Pi. So we met up and on my whiteboard, I remember designing a sort of really basic IDE that students would be able to program on one side and they press a button and they would be able to hear the sounds and actually compose music, but using code. That project, for me, it was just a kind of idea we both had coming from different levels of experience and backgrounds, working with students who again were different abilities I had top end students and students with special educational needs all doing the same lessons and all getting something out of that lesson in terms of engagement and excitement, but also in attainment. They were achieving. They were learning. They were learning concepts around computer science. They were learning sequence, selection, iteration. I remember introducing a lesson about variables, which was a complete disaster because I learnt very quickly that students only need computing concepts and programming concepts when they need them. Don't introduce a variable just for the sake of it. But, you know, creativity and context, the context here being sort of music and having the freedom is the creativity to make something that was meaningful to them, really engaged a broad range of students.

James Robinson:

I've got a just a really quick story related to that, I remember I use Sonic Pi in my classroom, I was introduced to it through Picademy as well, really love it. We once had a local radio reporter come into our classroom and I think the experience as this individual came in and just heard the students just playing really random, varying quality, is how I'm going to politically sort of put it, music was a real experience. The kids were making really weird sounds, but they were so proud of what they'd made. It didn't have to be like good or high quality. It just had to be theirs. And that really motivated them.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

The synthesisers that you can add to just some very simple bleeps and bloops in Sonic Pi are just mind blowing for teenagers, it's like so the varying degree of quality is definitely there. But the the fun is also a big factor. I mean, that's very creative for a couple of teachers, you and I James, but thankfully, we're joined by some students to get their perspective. So I'd like to welcome Dahlia and Ethan, better known as Coding Siblings on YouTube. What's the most creative computing project that you've been involved with?

Dahlia Poulton-Trask:

Hi, I'm Dalia. And probably the most creative thing we've done on Python and posted on YouTube is probably the hangmen we've been creating recently.

Ethan Poulton-Trask:

Yeah, we've been having to I think the most creative aspect of that game is making the the figure that is, you know, like whenever you you lose a life, it adds on an extra body part. So we've had to kind of select what keys and what symbols to put into it to make it seem accurate. Yeah, we you need to have a bit of creativity to kind of figure that out.

Dahlia Poulton-Trask:

And we've been posting like splitting up like different sections and then putting them on YouTube. So we've been getting a bit of first of the code and then putting and putting into one video and then the next video putting a bit more code and then etc.. So that's been pretty creative, I think.

Ethan Poulton-Trask:

Yeah.

James Robinson:

And what inspired you to start your YouTube channel, which, by the way, also the chemistry between you on screen, you know, your clearly siblings, you really get on really well on the camera. And it's a really great series you're producing. What was the inspiration or motivation for creating that series?

Dahlia Poulton-Trask:

Well, both our parents are computing teachers. We've been taught a lot about coding since a very young age. When I was in year three, maybe we've been doing very basic Scratch and very basic and then like four, five, six doing Python basic Python

Ethan Poulton-Trask:

Computing can be very creative. And some of our favourite lessons in computing, other than coding, although we do like that, have been when we've been using stuff like Blender or Photoshop to edit the images or create models or stuff like that.

Dahlia Poulton-Trask:

So we really started coding when we were year 6 and when you were year eight...

Ethan Poulton-Trask:

Yeah, something like that.

Dahlia Poulton-Trask:

And then we thought we should make a You-tube channel on it and show everyone what we can do and help them get better. And in case anyone's not, they don't think they're great python, then we can help them get better.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

So you're obviously very excited about this subject, both of you. And you obviously come from a family who are very excited about this and James and I are very excited about this subject. So we will happily sit here and talk about it all day. But I think what came across to me from your article was the sense that perhaps in all schools and not every young person has access to the same kind of inspiration, perhaps, or perhaps aren't as excited about the subject as you guys are. So I wondered if as this is a podcast for teachers, if you had any ideas or tips for teachers on how they could make computing the subject digital making and computer science perhaps more interesting for people your age.

Ethan Poulton-Trask:

My number one tip would be to apply the examples they show to the real world and the real world situations. So an example of that would be things like Covid data. So if you're teaching spreadsheets or graphs, you could kind of link that to the Covid-19 and the data of what's been going on. We think, me and Dahlia think that children connect with the real world much better than just a made up example,

Dahlia Poulton-Trask:

Especially learning code can be quite difficult. So when you get better, it's much easier. But our top tip is probably to just make sure you have fun while doing coding, because some people who do try coding is not it's not really for them. And even if they do try it and it just it's sometimes people it's not really for them, then make sure you always have fun. I don't especially don't want people doing coding and they think it's boring.

James Robinson:

I don't think I could have summed that up much better. I think that's a really good, I think the point about making it real, that's really, really important. And I think also like you know, from our conversation, it's clear that we all enjoy computing and coding and programming. And I think that should be the feeling that engaging in this subject gives you. You should find it fun. You should find it enjoyable because it is super creative.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

So what what's the what's the next project for Coding Siblings, what's the next thing you're going to do on your channel?

Ethan Poulton-Trask:

Ok, so we just we've just completed recording the videos for our hangmen series, so we're going to be uploading those to YouTube soon. And that's on the repl.it code, and you can, we've got a link to our descriptions for the videos so you can go and check that out if you want to play it

Dahlia Poulton-Trask:

On Twitter As well.

Ethan Poulton-Trask:

Yeah, and on Twitter, what we've been recording recently or like in the last few days, working through the NCCE units of work. So we've been yeah, we've been looking at the resources for those and kind of making videos about them because we know that some teachers would want to use them. And we thought that we could help out with them so that the teachers can use our videos in correspondence with the resources.

Dahlia Poulton-Trask:

Yeah, we've been working through a worksheet from the NCCE and we're just going back to like the basics like "print Hello" and like uses and variables.

Ethan Poulton-Trask:

Yeah.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

So that's the perspective from students, our next guest is a teacher, surfer, hacker, self-professed ambassador of geekdom, and he's currently working for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, creating learning experiences for young Makers. Mark Calleja or Mr. C to the cool kids of which I include myself. How important is creativity for you in your experience of computing?

Mark Calleja:

Creativity is vital, it's 100 percent vital. I think if you're learning to do this, it's all about engagement, empowerment and agency for me and creativity supplies all of those things. If you're allowing a young person to come up with their own ideas and then supporting them to make those ideas real, the engagement is always there 100 percent. The agency has been there from the beginning. You've asked them to do it and the empowerment is there for you to provide. That's the bit that you give them. That's the fuel that drives them to making amazing things.

James Robinson:

And I think often, you know, teachers might hear the word sort of creative and sort of conflate that a little bit with kind of like a fad or a trend I don't think that's the same thing. What tips or advice would you give to teachers who are looking to be more creative in their in their computing lessons, but aren't really sure where to start or how to bring that in?

Mark Calleja:

So there's a lot of different ways that you can allow creativity in your students and a lot of the heavy lifting can be done by the right tools as well. So, like, if you're asking young people to do making in 3D environments, then having a tool that can provide a lot of support and is very intuitive, works quite well. So I like to Tinkercad for those sorts of things. But beyond that, I mean, there's lots of structural support that you can get from projects. And if you run through the project first yourself and understand what the outcome is, then you can provide a more open outcome for your students based on the understanding that you have already. And we've tried to bake that into a lot of the resources that we've done for things like the Scouts. So if you're looking for something interesting that might be a bit different, try the Raspberry Pi Scouts resources, because the structure for those was provided for Scout leaders who were working in really different contexts. So in a Scout hut, you might not have Wi-Fi, you might not have the right devices, you might be working on mobile. And those resources have all of that structure and that support for educators baked right in. So have a look around the Raspberry Pi resources, because we've got a bunch of different stuff. And the NCS resources is something that you can do for like older students. And I'm not sure if we have them released yet. I mean, that's still being worked on, but they're something that would be really amazing to get hold of. So I'm working on getting those released.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

It's really interesting to hear you talk about kind of the informal learning space, you know, clubs, scouts, National Citizen Service. How important are those spaces in sort of helping you as an educator, you know, bring that sort of creativity, context, agency into kind of more formal computing lessons? Or do you see those spaces as being the place where, you know, sometimes you don't have enough lesson time to be able to really have the freedom for creativity. So actually, those informal spaces play a really important role in fulfilling that.

Mark Calleja:

Yeah, I mean, I can see that in a sense that they they add support. Every little bit that you can add helps every extra little bit of learning that young people are doing when it comes to programming, to technology and coding. It's all going to assist them in some way. And if they're getting that from a bunch of different vectors in their life, it shows you the utility of those skills. And that comes back again to empowerment for young people. It's relevant. You put it into scouting. It's relevant, right? Being able to use technology is everywhere in the 21st century. We talk about technology literacy and that's thrown away is like a very casual term. But it's a literacy. It's 100 percent a literacy and if you are technology illiterate, then you are behind all of your peers. So providing those sort of informal spaces where young people can engage with technology learning, in ways that are already interesting to them, that are already relevant to them, it's all super powerful. I think.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Sometimes teachers see, you know, running a club or taking part in an extracurricular activity, either taking part in competitions or running a club or taking on something like that as being a lot of extra work. But, you know, is that extra work or is do you see the benefit of that extra work in lessons themselves?

Mark Calleja:

No, you definitely do. That's it's definitely a virtuous cycle that you would build as a teacher going out and having that after school club. I always like to use my students as a resource. As mercurial as that sounds. I think if you've got students who are doing the after school club and they are pro technology and they are interested in engaging with their own learning, if they're in your classroom with the other 20, 30 students that are trying to work through that same lesson, they are a source of inspiration and morale for those young people. They're a secondary instructor for you in the classroom. I love having my, like, advanced students jump around the classroom and help everybody write ask three, then me. That's that's the way it should work on the last resort. If somebody else in your class can't help you, then come see me.

James Robinson:

I think that's a really good point. And I like the way you describe the students or the club as resource. I think not only are the students a resource in terms of being so I remember in my school had this little posse of kids that would come to my computer clubs, and I could rely on them in lessons to kind of be that support. And we might we might term those "Digital Leaders" but I think "Mr. Robinson's posse" is probably a better description. But I think also for me, I always felt that a club space was not only a resource for support in lessons in that sense, but I could I could use it to test ideas. It was a resource to develop my practice as well. So in a very selfish way that, you know, I could learn from the students in that way. Would you agree with that? Is that your experience?

Mark Calleja:

Definitely. Yeah. You call it selfish, but it's not because you're doing it for the betterment of your students. You want to have that better classroom. You're going out there and using all the resources at hand as a teacher to make that the best experience for your young people. And by providing those things I was talking about before, about agency and empowerment, doing creativity through your learning and having that club available to test those ideas and see how they work with kids who are probably going to be okay. If it doesn't work, they'll understand the concept and you can say, "oh, we whiffed that one, kids. But, you know, let's try again next week". I think that's super useful to go back to the classroom. And when you have those kids that will need the structure, that will need to really grounded support, you've practised it. You've run through it a couple of times now. You're ready to go.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And so you've done a lot of a lot of activities with young people both when you were in the classroom and outside of the classroom, in formal and informal spaces. Can you give us some examples of some of the most creative projects that you've seen or projects that kids have produced where they they really conceived the idea. They worked through the problem. They created the solution from start to finish.

Mark Calleja:

Yeah, absolutely. And so I did a little work on the NCS project for the Foundation, which is where we partnered up with a National Citizen Service. And we were offering a coding club for basically for the kids who attended their summer camps. And we run a few days with them and they came to us knowing nothing at all about programming, most of them. They'd never done any in their lives. And so we were getting complete beginners coming into the room, having no real idea what they're doing to inventing and building their own things over the course of two days. And then they would pitch at the end like it was a Dragons Den type thing. And that was wholly creative. So from the very beginning, they were put into small teams, which we called start ups. And so from there they designed a company name. They came up with a product that would help a social action group that they were working with. So most of them were elderly care homes. We had a few other things, but a lot of them were elderly care. And so they would go and see those as part of their course. They would go and see those elderly care residents and interview them about their needs, find out what sort of things they might be able to invent. And they could help those old people then come back to us where we would teach them Python with a series of really simple hand outs and we break it all down. And the only stuff you learn was the stuff you had to know to make your thing if you weren't using LEDs in your project. I didn't give you the code for that because you don't need to know. And I'm just going to clutter up the stuff that you were trying to learn in that that space of time, trimming the sort of fat away from those things made it really easy for the young people to engage with just the parts of the learning they had to do. They had regular stand ups, so all the way through it, we taught them agile development techniques as well. So they had to stand up at the beginning, the middle and the end of every day to see where their project was going. They swapped roles. It was really fun and the whole thing was pitched to them like a big role playing game. So you are playing the role of a Start-Up. Everyone in this Start-Up has a job, right? Your jobs will change. It felt like a cross between like Monopoly and Game of Life. And at the end of it, they'd invented this thing that could help old people. And from that project, we got some amazing things. Like some of them are really interesting. Like my very, very favourite one was we were working with a children's hospice. And so it's a little heart wrenching, to be honest, about this group of teenagers invented like it was a nightlight that would detect motion. So when one of the kids in the hospice, like, got out of bed, or had to do something in the evening. The night light would come on and trigger and it would play like a bit of music and it would send a signal to another Raspberry Pi that was behind the nurses desk to let them know that one of the kids was up and they could go check on them. And so that was a really cute one. We had other people working with like they made a hedgehog house for the Hedgehog Trust where you could put this in your backyard. It was ready to go hedgehog house. That would take photos of the hedgehogs and some measurements of them and send that stuff back to your Raspberry Pi in your house and let you know it had seen a hedgehog and this hedgehog was cool or whether it was looking a bit sketchy. So there's lots of really cool stuff that we've had come out of that. And I think allowing those young people to say, this is my idea, I care about this, I want to make this help me do that. Right. That's the core of the way I like to teach Computer Science.

James Robinson:

I want to just sort of pick up on something that's really interesting. I think Carrie Anne mentioned it earlier on and you've kind of alluded to it here about the importance of choice. That clearly is what's driving the projects and you talk about students choosing a project and then your role is to kind of trim away the fat of what they don't need to know in order to achieve that, right? And I think you know Carrie Anne talked about choice earlier on when she was talking about Sonic Pi. And I think when we think about choice in the classroom, it doesn't have to be grand big projects, it could just be I'm modelling a program, I'm putting in this number, but you shouldn't choose that number, you should choose your own note, whatever you're going to play. And I think you can put that choice onto students, you know, in a very, very small, minor ways. I think that's everyone in their classroom can do tomorrow, next week, just, you know, force your students to make some choices and don't copy your code if you're if you're modelling.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

But but also removing choice, right? Yeah. Because as Mark has said, you know, removing the choice to just litter your your project with making it pretty, you know, flashing lights, actually, that's a distractor and so let's remove that choice and provide suitable choices.

Mark Calleja:

Absolutely. And that's a big part of it, too, like you say, removing the things that will just paralyse them. There's so much available to these young people. And a big part of the project we had on NCS was, OK, you've got a million ideas. You need to whittle them back to one and then take that idea and whittle it back to something practically achievable. Right. So we had all these young people saying, I'm going to build a robot that will be sort of like an emotional interaction robot that can get your lunch. In two days, there's no chance of you building that. And that was something that we had to say a lot. And sometimes you have to be harsh about ideas. So not rude, there's a big difference between, like, disrespectful and harsh. But sometimes you have to tell young people that is not achievable. We need to think about something you can achieve. And so saying to them, you can make anything is great. But it's also not 100 percent true.

James Robinson:

I think that time things have really I mean, I remember having many a conversation like this when we did teacher training through Picademy. You know, that's a great idea. But in the time you've got you might get this little bit done, right. So is that what you want to achieve? And I think it's just helping them realise what what is achievable within a certain amount of time and make their ideas more not a lot more practical, but more realistic.

Mark Calleja:

Yeah, definitely. And like that, the realism of it is important to get. But like you were talking about earlier, I think that's very important to stress, too, is that in any project they're working on, there is a range of choices they can make and often they might just be aesthetic choices. But for young people, that's still choice. That's still agency. I don't want the cat sprite in my scratch project. I want to turn into a hamburger. Fantastic. Why is it a hamburger? Tell me more about that. Fail upward. Right. Change your mind. Fantastic. Change things. Maybe it goes wrong and you don't like it. Or you have to explain to me why you made that choice. There's always ways you can expand the thinking of that young person just by giving them the smallest choice to change their sprite.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

We also asked our audience of listeners how important is context and creativity in their lessons and what more could educators do to bring that into the classroom?

And Catherine Elliot said:

"Very context provides meaning and relevance to activities and helps students make sense of abstract concepts. Creativity helps with engagement and inclusivity.

James Robinson:

That's a really good point made by Catherine there. And I really like this comment by Katie Vandepeer Brown, who's a secondary teacher here in Cambridgeshire. And I think her point, she says "as long as creativity does not get confused with faddy. Solid teaching, the impacts on progress is the most important factor". That's really true. And I think we've kind of covered that in our conversation that creativity is really important, but it's about guiding the students and structuring that creativity. It's not about whizzy fancy technology. It's about choice and agency.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

If you have a question for us or a comment about our discussion today, then you can email us at [email protected] or @HelloWorld_Edu on Twitter. So, James, what did we learn today?

James Robinson:

I think we've learnt so much today. I think one of the really important things for me is all the small ways that teachers can introduce choice and agency into the classroom with their kids. There are lots and lots of ways they can do that. I hope anyone listening can just take that away and think about one thing they can tweak in their lesson tomorrow to give the kid just a little bit more choice and agency. How about you Carrie Anne?

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Well, I've learnt that I'm easily distracted by LEDs, so maybe I shouldn't be provided with that choice.

James Robinson:

Arent' we all.