Monday, 1 October 2012

PyConUK and PythonEDU

I attended my first Python conference over the weekend of the 29th September. This is primarily a conference for programmers using the programming language Python, but this year the organisers have worked to include the teaching community as programming becomes more and more likely to appear on any plans for a new ICT curriculum in the UK.

I was not sure what to expect over the weekend, and as I took my seat and the mornings introduction began I realised that the geek to teacher ratio was worse than expected. I was constantly asked over the weekend if I thought that teacher groups knew about professional developer communities like the Python community? I guess not.

My first session was an introduction to Python for newbies. This was my first ever programming lesson, and as a teacher I constantly questioned how I would teach this to my students? Would I teach concepts and basic coding steps and then ask students to implement them in made up circumstances or would I flip this model and give students code through a project so they can understand its application before working out what the code is doing to understand how to program. (I'm not sure if I'm closer to a solution to this conundrum.) Python seems extremely easy to learn as a programming language. I come from a more scripting background so it is still difficult for me to completely understand it but I feel empowered to at least have a go. The best part of this session was that the organisers had placed experienced developers around the room to help us students when we got stuck. This was genius. I was lucky enough to have been sat with someone who explained problems to me in such a way that helped me to understand. This triggered an idea - why not ask the coders to produce screencasts, voice threads or videos for simple concept explanations or activities to aid learning. they could be uploaded *somewhere* and we teachers could use them to create lessons.

Later that evening there was a discussion between the chairman of the Python Software Foundation, Van Lindberg, the staff of PyConUK, and for some strange reason I was there too. We discussed the future of Python in education globally. I enjoyed this discussion as I think we are all working towards the same goal. I really think the python community has an opportunity here to have Python as the language taught predominantly in schools in the UK. The raspberry pi is going to make this the number one language and if there is a way to teach something in scratch and then mirror it in python to show kids the advantages and disadvantages of both it will be an even better education tool. 

On the second day I worked with Nicholas Tollervey @ntoll to deliver an 'Education Sprint'. After talking with many of the teachers on the first day it became clear that both parties needed to be brought together to tackle the problems faced by educators. The simplest way to do this was to start with statements or questions. We had the following:

  • What do the developers need to know from the teachers?
  • What do developers think students should learn?
  • What do developers think teachers need to know to be able to teach programming?
  • What ideas for projects that can turned into schemes of work can you think of?
  • Willing to help teachers?

After giving the attendee's time to write answers for each we started a very interesting discussion on each topic. By the end of the discussion we chose 5 project ideas and split into groups. One teacher per group of developers to guide the discussion to create a scheme of work or series of lessons. I think this was a really great process, I think it showed that both groups could collaborate well to come up with something fantastic, and I personally think that's what education is all about. Good things happen when you bring experts and educators together. All the projects have been put onto GitHub which can be found on Nicholas' blog.

Somehow I ended up on a panel where I clearly didn't belong, but y'know need to represent! Luckily I was rescued before I really said what I think about the ongoing issues of education. lol.

I kept returning to the idea of having an online space where teachers, developers and students could access what they need from each other. I'm not really sure how to describe what I'm envisioning:

As the three target groups want different things it might be an idea to split the site into 3 categories: If you are a teacher click here, if you are a student click here, if you are a python guru genius developer wishing to help the first two groups because you are lovely click here.

  • Geeks can upload videos/screenshares/audio/voicethreads, or activities, or problems. They could locate schools via a search nearby asking for support, or advertise code dojos.
  • Teachers can use geek content to create lessons, we can share lesson plans, activities and schemes of work. Or search for geeks in the area willing to help out at different levels (1st, 2nd, 3rd line etc)
  • Students can find help to questions from geeks, or find other students to help them, find events to attend for them.
It's something I would like to work on, but I think I just have too much going on right now, especially if we are expecting an ofsted inspection at any moment. Perhaps some nice developer will help me out. *hint hint major hint*

At the end of the day I gave a lightening talk about trying to get the Python developer community to get involved by creating content that could be blended or flipped by teachers into lesson plans. It's difficult to get across what you are trying to under a time pressure. I tried to use my example of teaching to explain the need for a Python EDU portal but not sure I really did it very well. (you can judge by watching this video from 1.50.53 onwards) I'm trying to promote a way of doing things in teaching, not myself. The feedback from the community is that they wanted an inclusive community/group/mailing list/forum for teachers and geeks. Github is too geeky for teachers and CAS is too teachery for geeks (not my words).

The beauty of reaching out to this community of programmers is that they work on a open source principle that mirrors my own teaching. The python community listened to what I had to say and in many ways have responded. This has culminated in the creation of a google group called Python EDU for geeks and educators. I hope in some way teachers will see this as an opportunity to do something great. But currently, with this strange education climate this all could be a waste of time :/

P.S. Maybe the site should include a geek to teacher speak and vice versa translator for the lols.

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