Today I attended the first day of SAP Young Rewired State 2012 as a mentor at the Birmingham City University centre. I’m so glad I did – everything I once thought about the capabilities of school age kids has been completely blown out of the water, and it’s only the first day. If there has ever been a greater advert for the reason we need to radically reform Computing education in this country, these talented young people (and the many more who must be out there) are proof that it will be definitely worth the hard work.
So, having got out of bed at the ludicrous hour of 6am and after managing to catch my train with 2 minutes to spare (like a boss ;)) I made it to Millennium Point where I was shortly joined by two other enthusiastic mentors (one of whom had taken a week’s holiday off work to be there) and six largely terrified-looking YRS-ers between the age of 11 and 17. After the initial awkward introductions and a quick run down of who had done what before programming wise, we opened up the floor to ideas – for the purpose of YRS is for teams of young people to get together, using open data, to build some kind of cool application.
This is where it got a bit weird. I was largely expecting the ideas to be along the lines of “let’s build a website that does this”. Without wishing to reveal what our teams are working on – we want to win, damnit! – I’ll analogise it like this. (Is analogise even a word? It should be.) If I was expecting the ideas to be “let’s make a cake”, the ideas were actually more along the lines of “let’s make a three tier cake with five different fillings and sprinkles, oh and by the way I’ve been practising baking at home”. I think the beauty of this event is that the kids ideas are not constrained by whether they know how to do it or the way they’ve done it before (because largely they haven’t), combined with the fact that the quality of the mentors is so high that probably most things the kids think of SOMEONE will know how to achieve!
There were also some humorous moments today, ranging from a Chuckle Brothers style incident with a LCD TV (to me, to you), to Tom’s (@phuunet) hilarious explanation of git to a 12 year old – “It’s like saving your game in case you die later” which I tweeted to much entertainment 🙂
On the way home I was thinking about the kind of student who participates in something like YRS, and I realised something bad about the education system. It seems obvious now I think of it that YRS is essentially an ‘opt in’ Gifted and Talented programme for students who excel at Computing – of which there are many, some of whom we as Computing teachers will never even meet at A-Level because they opt for Maths and Physics and program in their spare time. Yes, I know Computing isn’t just programming – but I can’t imagine many kids sit in their bedroom and deliberately learn the other bits, although they probably pick up a lot along the way.
It’s fantastic that we are encouraging more “programming for all” and I wholeheartedly support this, especially the initiatives at KS3 and GCSE which are very exciting. However, we are never going to attract these top students to A-Level without assurance that they will not be bored rigid by the course, or constrained in their freedom to learn and implement ‘cool stuff’ by the A2 coursework mark scheme. (Which incidentally, I don’t like.) I met @jenHB3 at the launch of Bath Girl Geeks and she told me of how she was frustrated by getting a poor mark in her A2 coursework for work which sounded like it exceeded the expectations of an A-Level student – because it wasn’t able to be catered for by the unflexible mark scheme. This is so ANNOYING – exam boards need to get talking to real developers and understand how they actually work and offer way more flexibility with the marking of projects – until then, we’re never going to attract the amazing students I’ve met at YRS to do our subject.
(Lush looking cake pic from http://mindofmyown-supernova.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/another-candle-on-cake.html )