Computer Science Inclusive
‘I really love it’: the team using micro:bits to change a country
Keith Quille is a computing lecturer at Technological University Dublin. When Keith spotted an opportunity to improve perceptions of computing in Ireland’s schools, he and the rest of his department set out to achieve this in their spare time. The team’s aim was simple: they didn’t want to make money, they just wanted to change Ireland!
They developed a plan to teach coding to schoolchildren and called it Computer Science Inclusive. With 12 laptops and some boxes of micro:bits, they began to offer free training camps in primary and secondary schools throughout Ireland. Students took part in Computer Science workshops that helped to break down stereotypes and challenge assumptions, and were then introduced to the micro:bit and the concept of computational thinking.
“I really love the micro:bit,” Keith said. “While it was designed for children, it’s sophisticated enough to continue to be used as a tool as more advanced concepts are introduced through to senior secondary and beyond.”
I wish I could do it again!
In the first year, the initiative reached 3,000 young people. Positive feedback on Twitter resulted in huge demand and now over 5,000 students in 160 schools have taken part. And although the project did not specifically target girls or girls-only schools, 500 more girls than boys have taken part. This high level of interest from girls has been really heartening for Keith’s team, for whom inclusion has been a core aim.
The team have learned a key lesson: that if every child does a workshop like this, rather than a self-selecting group, then outcomes are better. Students are exposed to topics they might not have believed they were interested in and confidence is developed as a result. Teachers can also take part in introductory and advanced professional development courses using the micro:bit, and this is boosting their confidence, too.
Feedback from the children has been enthusiastic. “Fantastic”, “extremely brilliant” and “five stars” are some of the comments from primary pupils, as well as: “I really loved it and wish I could do it again!”
The project that aimed to change Ireland is doing just that. A Google grant of £30,000 is now funding the teacher CPD training, with a focus on schools in disadvantaged areas. Microsoft is backing the student camps and Keith’s team is working with Ireland’s Department of Education and Skills to change computing education for the better. A new qualification in Computer Science is being launched, with the first cohort of students sitting the exam in June 2020. And Keith is recommending the micro:bit as a central part of the learning.