CAS annual teachers conference

I’m just back from the Computing At School annual teachers’ conference, which was held in Birmingham University. It was a really fascinating conference – a mixture of policy, curriculum, practical advice, tips and tricks. The problem of computing in schools is now well known, with reports from the Royal Society, BCS, NESTA, and many other major organisations all singing the same song: we’re raising a generation of people who know how to consume computing technology, but not how to create it.

CAS as a group have produced some very important contributions to this policy debate – in terms of the current state of computing education, feedback into national curriculum consultations, and a document outlining what a computing curriculum would look like (rather than an ICT curriculum). Simon Peyton Jones of Microsoft gave one of the keynotes, on the curriculum for computing, and it’s very interesting stuff. How can we define a curriculum that’s core, for a field that’s changing so quickly? Well, not all of it changes…

I attended a couple of workshops on various tools for teaching computing in schools, both of which were fascinating. Karen Brennan of MIT Media lab gave a keynote and a workshop on Scratch, which is an environment for teaching programming using movable blocks. It reminds me a bit of LOGO (which I used in primary school myself in the ’80s!), but given that LOGO was invented by Karen’s supervisor’s supervisor Seymour Papert that’s not so surpising. The second demo I went to was by Michael Kölling and Neil Brown from the University of Kent, looking at interfacing the Microsoft Kinect device with Greenfoot. Greenfoot is another environment for teaching programming – it’s a little more complex than Scratch and enables students to learn more Java code. The Kinect gives time-of-flight data and images, and the Kinect Greenfoot interface really simplifies this nicely.

I’m going to have to investigate both of these tools – Scratch & Greenfoot – as I think they could both be very interesting for outreach and enrichment programmes with local schools. Just what’s wanted, given that we’ve got a big EU funded schools project just starting off right now called Technocamps. I can see lots of potential for the Kinect stuff in particular, as it’ll link nicely with some research in Aberystwyth that uses images and range data for robot navigation. All in all a very good conference! The Technocamps & CAS people are running one next week in Swansea, and I’m looking forward already. If you’re interested in coming along, you can find out more & register here: http://caswales2011.eventbrite.com/

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