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Challenging perceptions of Computer Science using 'real life, regular people'

Invited into Malet Lambert School, Hull, to support their 'Discover me' transition activity got me thinking about my own aspirations at the age of 11.

And then inquisitiveness set in to ask friends and colleagues about their career choices, transitions and decision making across those phases. Responses to 'what did you want to be when you were 11?' were even more enlightening than first anticipated - best left to another post : )

Back to 'Discover Me', which is an interactive 2-day transition event for Y6 primary children and delivered in partnership with Business in the Community.

Plans to share my own learning journey to date needed to support the event's aim to develop soft skills to prepare for transition; communication, problem-solving, resilience, teamwork and self-management. That lent itself to a practical session, particularly when trying to describe work and activities on a day to day basis.

So pens, paper, Pi & electric paint at the ready, a headful of ideas, a history of twists & turns to share and another opportunity to develop projects and consider thoughts from a different group of children.

All based around a couple of activities both focused on a drawing; one as a perception piece with computing and then a collaborative circuit piece as a computing project.

Additionally, my intention was always to introduce and develop ideas using Raspberry Pi with a 'crazy inventions task' threaded throughout the session, from absolute start to finish, to further extend aspirational opportunities.

A year into the Computing curriculum I was also keen to explore that perception aspect with the subject, particularly as a possible career route, given the focus of the event.



With some context through the presentation below, but no real life examples, the children worked in pairs to think about what a day in the life of a Computer Scientist could look like. They also considered a working environment and made language choices to describe the career path to peers; which for some meant personality traits.


'Interesting and nerdy?'

Discussion about choice of language and range of opportunities in the field led to the next step of introducing the work of 4 Computer Scientists who have influenced and supported some of my work this year.

So grateful that all 4 responded to my request to reference them as scientists and with their work for an aspirational project with 11 year olds. And each reply coming back with an "Absolutely - yes!".


"They're regular people!"

Responses from the children when I shared slide 8 of the presentation which showed photographs of the scientists?

  1. "Woah.....they look just like normal people"

  2. "They're regular people"

  3. "They don't look mad"

At which point these comments were taken for the direction of a discussion about each person's specialist area of computing.

With a Raspberry Pi theme still continuing, questions from the children also became more specific (and positively animated!) about the range of opportunities with computing across interest areas, once they were told that each scientist owned a Raspberry Pi themselves.

Comments and opinions raised through challenging those initial perceptions captured in the first activity?

Dr Sam Aaron - A communicative coder and creator of Sonic Pi.

"Is Sam a DJ?" The connection between music and computing wasn't surprising to the children. However, the possibilities from live coding, different environments, collaborations and, alongside a video example, different approaches to programming definitely was, and with enthusiastic comments.

"Can computing be computing if it's music?" from one child. As an insight into possibilities beyond what they'd experienced using Scratch & (for some) Python this was a chance to demonstrate creative tools linking into some of their interests.

Dr Sue Black - Founder of Techmums, Tech evangelist and social entrepreneur.

"Sue looks like an entertainer"

How can I respond to that? With a firm affirmation, of course!

But also to share the comparative description of 'Tech Rock Star" to the girl who commented. She's also now of the opinion that there's a common image forming, Sue : )

Charlotte Godley - Recent graduate from Hull University with a first in Computer Science.

"Woah!" Acknowledging outstanding university achievements and, as a particular example from me, looking to Charlotte for help and support by tapping into her experiences with wearables created another dimension not thought of by most of the children.

With a little background into involvement with the Raspberry Pi community and recent travels one of the children went enthusiastically down the global dimension route with possibilities and projects. The resulting outcome? A Raspberry Pi invention based around new goal line technology for next year's Olympic Games in Brazil : )

Robby Ketchell - Chief Data Scientist, Team Sky.

"Robby looks sporty". The connection of computing applications in sport was a new concept to the children and particularly challenged their initial perceptions.

From discussions they realised that computing and it's applications are more far reaching than first thought and are actually integral to most (or all?) areas of their lives. Comments and ideas built a picture of real life examples as they opened up their own new horizons. For one child that resulted in an automated home lighting invention....."It's a $1m idea". Further insights into global possibilities again? Certainly another eye-opener.

Once we explored examples they started to identify other areas where 'physical computing supports physical activity' and some went on to invent innovative tech sporting solutions themselves. With Raspberry Pi, of course.

There's a little more context into the session from my slidedeck above, but without notes the references of The Road to Wigan Pier and the Jam Factory will be lost.

No change there, then......

As for my next steps and what I learnt from the children yesterday?

I'll be incorporating more opportunities to develop student-led projects across the curriculum and further opportunities to collaborate with role models in the next academic year.

What I knew already. I think. But, as the introductory theme from me was about questioning and learning with every step of the journey, now I know it's definitely the right way to go.

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