Sunday 24 June 2012

Guardian Education Centre and Facilitated Discussion at #GuardianCS

Lunch at conferences is always an interesting affair. For the vegans out there, they usually end up starving and so resort to popping down to the local cafĂ© or getting out a lunchbox which they had already prepared. It is also clear which teachers have a decent canteen at school and which clearly do not. I walked past one delegate, sat on his own (he had clearly ran to the front of the lunch queue) and without exaggerating, he had at least 15 items (wraps, sandwiches, buns) piled high on his plate. It was clear which group he fell into and he certainly got his money’s worth from this CPD!

After lunch, we made our way into the Guardian Education Centre which is headed up by Margaret Holborn and her colleague Ellie. Margaret and Ellie run sessions practically every day, where school groups can come into the Guardian and learn to use Print and Video editing software that are actually used by the Guardian team every day. Access to the centre is at no cost and for this reason, you have to book one year in advance. Speaking from experience, this is certainly a worthwhile trip to plan for your school calendar. It has worked well for both Year 8 and Year 12 students at our school.

We also had the opportunity to chat to developers at Guardian. A friendly bunch, which held very mixed views with regards to Computer Science in schools; they were willing to answer our questions honestly. Here are some highlights:

Students will always ask “Why I am learning this?” or “How does it help me in my life?” It is no longer acceptable to reply along the lines of “It’s on the curriculum” or simply “Because I say so”. So as teachers of ICT, we have the perfect opportunity to teach whatever you want i.e. whatever you feel will be useful for your students when they enter the world of work/higher ed. Clearly, if at this point, you think it’s still OK to teach Powerpoint skills for more than 3 years in a row, then you are slightly deluded. There are so many excellent practitioners such as Genevieve Smith-Nunes, Matt Britland, Peter Kemp-All teaching interesting skills such as Animation using Blender, Coding using Kodu, Game Design using Stencil and Mission Maker, Music Video Production using iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. There is no reason why you shouldn’t ditch that dull unit on “Databases” or “Powerpoint Revisited” next year.

We asked the panel what their ideal curriculum would contain and these were their thoughts:

-An understanding of why computing and the internet works. How communication technology works e.g. The Internet and E-mail
-An understanding of why things go wrong i.e. why things fail, how to fail and how to recover
-Some theory e.g. What is an algorithm. Which can be easily understood by using the example of how to make a cup of tea.
-A study of “What does a self driving car look like” and an evaluation of “Why this study of self driving cars is important”-There are obvious implications like the laws of robotics, the technology required, challenges to be overcome etc.
-Web tech
-Doing things with quick feedback e.g. Coding-Not only is feedback quick, but it is private as well. No one see’s you fail.
-Code their own website (You can start with Weebly and embed code from other sites). Learning HTML and CSS is also a good start.
-Testing and quality assurance-understanding the user needs and running both automated tests and unit tests. Thankfully, this sounds a lot like Unit 14 of OCR Applied ICT.

The panel also talked about the CSWG, a working group (The CS does not stand for Computer Science) which has a period of 2 hackdays every 3 months. These 2 days give the team a chance to develop ideas and present them back to the group. Ideas can then be voted upon and implemented in the Guardian. Many of the ideas born out of these Hackdays are implemented on the beta site:

A delegate commented on similar hackdays aimed specifically at girls, which are obviously the more under-represented gender in computer science. These hackdays are run by RewiredState . Aimed at girls with no experience of coding. Languages such as Python were a popular one amongst delegates first learning to program. And whilst code academy offers great free resources for adults, most felt the code avengers was more suitable for students.

Two sites that were mentioned during facilitated feedback were and CS Unplugged.

Two further things worth looking at:

Programme or be programmed by Doug Rushkoff

The session got me thinking about independent challenges that we run in our school. These are set by each subject. Idea’s for ICT at our school include:

1-Build your own website using
2-Learn a new programming language e.g. Python (Youdacity / Invent Python/Py Games) or Javascript using CodeAvengers
3-Storyboard, Plan, Film and Edit your own short film or music video
4-Make your own game using Kodu, download it to an xbox 360. Get friends to play it and offer you feedback for improvements.


  1. Thank you for you insightful post. I totally agree about what you have said regarding curriculum. I know that Code Avengers will be a great tool for teachers and students in the classroom to go over Javascript and soon HTML and CSS as well.

  2. Very exciting news that Code Avengers will soon include HTML and CSS!