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Alan Bundy University of Edinburgh. Computing: what shall we tell the kids?. A Lecture in Memory of Tom Conlon. 05/09/12. 1. In Memory of Tom Conlon (1954-2008). Lecturer at Moray House (1983-2008). Teacher, researcher, entrepreneur and constructive critic of education policy.

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Alan bundy university of edinburgh

Alan Bundy

University of Edinburgh

Computing: what shall we tell the kids?

A Lecture in Memory of Tom Conlon



In memory of tom conlon 1954 2008
In Memory of Tom Conlon (1954-2008)

Lecturer at Moray House (1983-2008).

Teacher, researcher, entrepreneur and constructive critic of education policy.

Dearly missed by generations of Scottish computing teachers

This lecture commemorates Tom’s unique contribution.

Computational thinking is pervasive
Computational Thinking is Pervasive

Computation pervades all aspects of 21st century life:

academia, industry, government, defence, entertainment, social life, etc.


ask new kinds of question;

accept new kinds of answer; and

form new kinds of theory.

Computers are all around us:

~100 owned by each UK family.

But fewer schoolchildren study computing
But Fewer Schoolchildren Study Computing

In many schools, ICT means office product skills,

which kids find boring and repetitive.

Computing is not identified with:

careers at the cutting edge of technology;

using and creating exciting systems.

Computing careers
Computing Careers?

“When one of the teachers suggested to the parents of one girl that perhaps she should go into computing the parents said: ‘Oh we don't want Samantha just to be a secretary.’ ”

From interview with Karen Spärck Jones, winner of the 2007 BCS Lovelace Medal.

Computing careers1
Computing Careers!

  • Diverse job opportunities in all sectors of the economy.

  • Estimated £250k extra lifetime earnings from CS degree.

  • eSkills claim max demand – supply in Computing area.

  • Includes both managerial and technical jobs.

    • School has essential role in educating for both.

Vicious cycle
Vicious Cycle

From Royal Society Report: Shut down or restart?

Describes English situation.

Better in Scotland.

Scotland the good news
Scotland: The Good News

  • Computing content has been mainstream in Scottish qualifications:

    • Before CfE at Standard Grade & Intermediate 2, Higher and Advanced Higher;

    • with significant programming content.

  • Scottish Computing teachers are required to be qualified.

  • Computing outcomes are core CfE entitlement.

Scotland the bad news
Scotland: The Bad News

  • Confusion between Computing and ICT.

    • A concern of Tom’s.

  • Declining uptake of Computing qualifications.

  • 12% fewer Computing teachers since 2006-7.

    • And 8% of schools with no Computing teacher.

  • Network lockdown restricts opportunities.

  • Curriculum for Excellence:

    • Need to retain qualification quality and diversity.

Computing can be fun
Computing can be fun!

Lots of great teaching material.

Backed by software aimed at kids:

Logo, Scratch, Alice, Greenfoot, Kodu, App Inventor, mobile robots, micro-controllers, etc.

Lots of enthusiastic teachers.

Under-pinned by a principled, rigorous, scientific/engineering discipline.

Shut down or restart
Shut Down or Restart?

  • Recommendation 3:

  • “Every child should have the opportunity to learn Computing at school, including exposure to Computer Science as a rigorous academic discipline.”

Some principles of computing
Some Principles of Computing

  • Problem solving: computational thinking, modelmaking.

  • The representation of data,

    • including programs as data.

  • Computer architectures,

    • and the general-purpose computer.

  • Algorithms and their efficiencies.

    • Program operations.

    • Big O notation.

  • Abstraction, hierarchy and virtual machines.

    • Interpretation and representation of higher levels in lower ones.

Grassroots movement for change
Grassroots Movement for Change

UK-wide Computing at School group.

Self-help group for computing teachers.

Supported by BCS, Microsoft, Google and others.

CAS Scotland

CAS designed curriculum.

Royal Society report.

Successful lobbying of Government.

Eric Schmidt speech decisive.

Chairman on uk it teaching
Chairman on UK IT Teaching

“I was flabbergasted to learn that today Computer Science isn't even taught as standard in UK schools. Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it's made.”

Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Google, in 2012 MacTaggart Lecture in Edinburgh.

Michael gove responds
Michael Gove Responds

The best degrees in Computer Science are among the most rigorous and respected qualifications in the world… and prepare students for immensely rewarding careers and world-changing innovations. But you’d never know that from the current ICT curriculum.

This is why we are withdrawing it from September. Technology in schools will no longer be micro-managed by Whitehall. By withdrawing the Programme of Study, we’re giving teachers freedom over what and how to teach, revolutionising ICT as we know it..

Education Secretary Michael Gove responding to Eric Schmidt

Curriculum for excellence
Curriculum for Excellence

“The curriculum aims to ensure that all children and young people in Scotland develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they will need if they are to flourish in life, learning and work, now and in the future.”

Can we take this opportunity to transform Scottish Computing education?

Rse bcs exemplification project
RSE/BCS Exemplification Project

Teachers responsible to develop materials to meet CfE principles.

Liberating and scary!

Exemplification materials illustrate how to do this.

Jeremy Scott seconded part-time to develop materials:

Head of Computing at Edinburgh’s George Heriot’s School;

Phase 1: 11-14 years - Scratch and App Inventor.

Phase 2 just starting: 14-16 years. Phase 3?

Starting from scratch
Starting from Scratch

  • An introduction to Computing Science covering:

    • What is a computer?

    • Programming using MIT Scratch;

    • Computational Thinking questions;

    • Group project.

  • Pack contains:

    • Teacher notes;

    • Learner notes;

    • Tutorial screencasts.

I love my smartphone
I Love My Smartphone

  • Intermediate Computing Science covering:

    • A brief history of the smartphone;

    • Hardware and software;

    • Mobile app development using MIT App Inventor;

    • Computational Thinking questions;

    • Group project.

  • Pack contains:

    • Teacher notes

    • Learner notes

    • Tutorial screencasts

What should a digital citizen know
What Should a Digital Citizen Know?

  • More than just office product skills.

  • The role of Computing in 21st century society.

  • Appreciation of the risks.

Computing i n 21st century society
Computing in 21st Century Society

  • Research and education in all disciplines.

    • DNA as a program.

    • Mind/brain as hardware/software.

  • Industry and commerce.

    • Mining customer data.

    • Automated trading.

  • Government and politics, e.g.

    • open data, WikiLeaks, etc;

    • climate change models.

  • Social networking and entertainment.

Appreciation of the risks
Appreciation of the Risks

  • Spam, viruses and other malware.

  • Grooming, phishing and other social engineering.

  • Privacy and identify theft.

  • Automated weapons, the flash crash and other loops without humans.

The challenges ahead
The Challenges Ahead

  • Every child should learn Computing,

    • including learning to program,

    • but digital citizenry too.

    • We have the technology,

      • to make this fun and engaging.

      • The RSE/BCS Project exemplifies this.

  • But we must:

    • Get the right new qualifications;

    • Reverse the shrinkage of Computing departments;

    • Increase the supply of Computing teachers;

      • Key role for Moray House

    • Provide continuous professional development;

    • Enthuse students with excitement and opportunities.