We Don’t Need Everyone To Code

We don’t need everyone to code. But we do need people to understand how Computers work and how to use them effectively.

For example, We need people who understand how to search for patterns in the noise of millions of database records, efficiently. How to configure and performance tune a web server so it can serve photographs of people enjoying themselves. And definitely make sure servers aren’t full of security holes – which are usually left open by sloppy programmers.

Code is often not the final destination in Computing.

The valuable end product is often not the code but the data it subsequently produces and increasingly in large volumes aka big data. Being able to understand, manipulate and secure it is important and that’s not always the same thing as programming.

Knife and Fork
Knife and Fork

We are all taught from a young age to use a fork and knife, but not all of us will be surgeons.

I know, it’s a lazy extrapolation (and I’m certainly not saying programmers are the surgeons of Computing – that’s UI designers for me πŸ˜‰ but you get the jist.

Computing is learning to use a tool and it’s not just about coding.

Here’s a real example:

I worked as a Software Engineer at Reuters in a small R&D team that programmed the Reuters Business Briefing products for web. When I say a small team, although there were only 3 programmers the real team was much larger. Working with us was a team of branding experts, User Interface designers, SQA testers, System Administrators, enterprise network architects, operations deployment engineers and product managers.

If you read back that roll call that worked to deliver what became an award winning product, the number of people writing code was pretty small.

The majority of the jobs on a technical project were clearly not programming. Though, if you talk to the majority of programmers they’d tell you that they’re doing most of the work. But we’re slightly biased!

This is where the educational aspect of Computing beyond coding can have a real impact. There are many great, interesting, important, jobs building products that don’t involve any coding. But what they all need is a solid understanding of Computing.

Why? Because if the research is correct, the next 7 years will see a massive amount of opportunity for our children if they’ve got the correct skills.

Computing Jobs By 2020
Computing Jobs By 2020

Mum, I Want To Build A Computer – take away from GameCity

GameCity Craft Computer
GameCity Craft Computer

Something unexpected happened during our week at GameCity running the Craft Computer workshops. We didn’t stop!

I want to build a computer!

was the surprising response most children had when they saw us.

I was expecting a curious few to attend but we had a lot of very happy excited children sat with us building computers, learning about pixels and art for pretty much the whole time we were there.

In fact, during the first day I was literally hidden away in closed off room on the fifth (top) floor of Waterstones and we still had a continuous stream of visitors. Every single one had come specifically as the children wanted to build a computer after seeing a write up in the event programme.

One parent had a long conversation with Russell about how she’d been reading our blog posts “with interest” – and now we know where our other reader is from now πŸ™‚

Joking aside, it’s clear that there is a growing and real interest in this area from people that might ordinarily see this material as out of reach but craft makes it accessible. And it’s more than just code clubs too. Craft approaches and the Internet of things promises to provide tangible and fun material to play/learn with.

National Video Game Archive : GameCity 8 Antiques Roadshow

I was too late. The drive from Cardiff to Nottingham had taken too long. There was too much rain. One diversion via Derby too many.

The GameCity Antiques Roadshow had left the building and I stood outside, in the pouring rain, with my memories in my rucksack.

So I thought I’d better do something with them, so I’m putting them here:

The many faces of the Manic Miner and the Communist Mutants From Space
The many faces of the Manic Miner and the Communist Mutants From Space

The aim of the GameCity Antiques roadshow is to provide a focal point, kicked off by the physical artefacts people bring, as a way to tease out the various stories that are attached to our gaming experiences. It’s something I’m interested in from a historical perspective but also because sometimes it’s just nice to hear people talk fondly about things like power-ups and secret rooms.

That last point also gets to the heart of the matter of why games matter for me: they are fun worlds in which play, discovery, exploration are encouraged. These activities are crucial in our development, especially as we learn new subjects. (You see, games and education do tie up!)

As I drove up from Cardiff I had plenty of time to reflect on the games that had an impact on me and there is one above all others.

Manic Miner Loading Screen
Manic Miner Loading Screen

Manic Miner. Of course there’s been Mario and Zelda and Katamaris and Rezes and Pitfalls and Boulderdashes and Grand Theft Autos and Raptures. But as the Ustinov quote goes:

Manic Miner got to me first

It’s such a beautifully British game. From the Blue Danube opening to ice skating penguins, toilets with flapping lids to Return of the Jedi references with the Endorian forest. Matthew Smith was a new digital Python, complete with giant Miner squashing boot that signalled Game Over.

But what I really fell in love with was the setting: subterranea.

The fantastic adventure was all happening under Willy’s very average little house. A house with a car on the drive, a tree in the garden and washing on the line outside. Who knew what would happen next under that house.

A house that was just like yours and mine.

Manic Miner Map

HTML5 Spectrum Loading Screen

I was searching around to see if someone had written a Javascript library to simulate the old ZX Spectrum loading screen. I didn’t find a library but I did find this great little HTML5 screen loader on robeesworld.

For those of you too young to remember, this is what Spectrum owners would see for large portions of their time with the machine:

Spectrum Loading Screen
Spectrum Loading Screen


This inspired me to hack a quick one for our GameCity visit with MicroTowns and here’s what take 1 looks like. Need to pixelate it next and add the yellow/blue borders πŸ™‚

Hackable Games, MicroTowns and the Craft Computer at GameCity

Hackable Games, MicroTowns and the Craft Computer at GameCity.


Very Exciting!

We’ll be running kids coding workshops at the forthcoming GameCity 8 in Nottingham from October 23rd to 26th.

But even more exciting, we’ll be showing of our Hackable game MicroTowns for the very first time. I know! I can barely type for the all the hoopla.

What’s a hackable game you ask?

A hackable game is one that allows you to hack on the ‘code’ of the game while you’re playing it or running it.

Aimed at children at Key Stage 1 and 2 (KS1 / KS2) ages we’ll be making Craft Computers to learn about the main components inside and some Computing fundamentals such as files and programs.

After they’ve mastered their hardware we’ll let them loose on our MicroTowns prototype which will teach them the basics of Computational thinking and programming.

MicroTown Logo
MicroTown Logo

The schedule, locations, times, nitty gritty, 411 and the lowdown are all here:

MicroTowns and the Craft Computer at GameCity

For the Craft Computer sessons we’ll be using a craft based approach, lots of card, glue and colouring in to teach your little computer whizz-kids the fundamentals. We’ve been running it for the past four weeks in a local primary school with a girls only group and the results are pretty astonishing. Best of all, they love it πŸ™‚

Here’s a pic of them yesterday with their Craft Computer cubes

Mynydd Cynffig Infants - Craft Computer Club
Mynydd Cynffig Infants – Craft Computer Club
The Craft Computer Cube
The Craft Computer Cube

BBC plans to help get the nation coding

Classical education used to teach Ancient Greek, now it needs to Modern Geek – Stephen Fry

BBC plans to help get the nation coding with an announcement yesterday that it plans to return to producing Television content to support a National drive to get our children coding. As someone who grew up watching Micro Live with Fred Harris (below) I am so excited about this. Micro Live was a great programme, a mainstream Computing based show which didn’t dumb anything down and helped inspire a generation of developers.

Fred Harris BBC Micro Live
Fred Harris BBC Micro Live

On the new venture, run by BBC’s Future Publishing team, Ralph Rivera, director of future media at the BBC, said:

“The BBC has played a hugely important role in inspiring a generation of digital and technology leaders in the past, and now it’s time to reignite that creativity.”

Interestingly, their technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones remarked:

The Corporation will have to be careful that it doesn’t tread on anyone’s toes – one previous educational venture BBC Jam had to be cancelled after complaints from commercial companies.

But if the BBC can use its creativity to make coding cool that could have a big impact, giving the UK skills that are vital for a modern economy.

Here’s the full BBC article:

BBC Plans to Help Get Nation Coding

Wales ICT Independent Review from Leighton Andrews’ Steering Committee

Independent ICT Review Wordle
Independent ICT Review Wordle

Last year Leighton Andrews’ Steering Committee set out to report on how to reform the ICT education in Wales. Their goal was to ensure every child in Wales is equipped to take advantage of our heavily technology centric world.

The recommendations in the report are visionary, bold, relevant and importantly they’re achievable.

Here’s the full report as a PDF Wales Independent ICT Review PDF

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Key Stage 1 Computing with the Craft Computer – Post Lesson Notes Week 2 & 3

All you need is love
All you need is love (and some pixels)

Imagine having to write everything down on paper before you go to sleep otherwise you’d forget it, even your name…and then you have to read it as soon as you wake up otherwise your mind is empty

This is how we started to talk about memory and the file storage of a computer. I asked our group of 6 year olds to pretend that unless they had something written down they wouldn’t remember it. This, of course, was a source of much amusement to them. By the way, it still amazes me, that they’re only 6 years old. They don’t perceive things by varying levels of difficulty, just varying levels of interest/fun.

Mynydd Cynffig Infants - Craft Computer Club
Mynydd Cynffig Infants – Craft Computer Club

This approach serves as a really fun way to talk about computers, have them role play and learn some high level concepts around the way computers ‘bootstrap’.

The pixel heart picture above is from the Craft Computer Kit (download link below) and it’s a black and white numbered grid. Each number corresponds to a colour e.g. 1 = Red and the children spend around 15 minutes colouring them in.

They love this as a) they love colouring in and b) they’ve no idea what the picture is until about a 2/3 of the way through. They think it’s magic – which is a great jumping off point to explain, it’s not magic, but the way Computers work which is ultimately more exciting.

Weeks 2 and 3 merged and overlapped due to the role play, Q&A and the craft items which some of children were slower at. So my advice at this point on using the Craft Computer approach is to allocate more time than you think or be happy to have one week overlap with the next.

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Wales Steering Committee Report on ICT Curriculum Review

In October 2012, Leighton Andrews, then Welsh AM Education Minister, setup an independent steering committee to report on how to improve ICT education in Wales. Included in the review scope were the following themes:

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

The report was published on October 4th 2013.

You can download the full Steering Committee Report as a PDF here Wales Independent ICT Review PDF

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Estonian President Explains His Country’s Tech Boom And Why America Is Falling Behind

if you want to transform a society, you have to start with the young people, and give them the kind of education that will allow them to handle the future,”

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves
President Toomas Hendrik Ilves

Business Insider has a great story about the President of Estonia’s speech at a New York conference in which he outlined the two reasons for his country’s current technology boom:

  1. Teaching children to code
  2. A government infrastructure that embraces technology

Read the full article on Business Insider:Β http://www.businessinsider.com/estonias-tech-success-comes-down-to-2-factors-2013-9#ixzz2gg4RnS00