Monthly Archives: July 2018

Computing in Schools

This is the first update on our plans to improve computing education in Australian high schools. We look forward to sharing an update every month.

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Summary

We are focused on building and delivering a new computing subject for high schools, and helping teachers become successful at independently and confidently teaching the subject. The programme costs nothing for schools or students in 2019 through the generous support of donors.

Our model works like this:

  • We are hiring teachers who are experts in computing
  • We are planning to put a teacher in a classroom with a teacher from a school that we’re helping
    • In the first term, our teacher teaches the students, and the school’s teacher learns in a support role
    • In the second term, the school’s teacher teaches, and our teacher is there in the classroom to provide full time support
  • After two terms, the school continues teaching the subject. We’re available on call to support the school
  • Our teacher moves to a new school and repeats the same process

Our programme is built around a new foundational computing subject:

  • A compulsory Year 7 computing subject of around two teaching hours per week for one term
  • An introduction to coding and other computational-thinking fundamentals
  • Coverage of around half of the hours required by the Victorian Digital Technology Curriculum for Year 7, and focused on the “hard parts” that school’s struggle to teach
  • A fun, engaging programme that shows kids how computing is important in the real-world

In 2019, we will pilot this new subject and teaching model. The goals are to:

  • Teach kids how to write code
  • Help teachers in schools become confident at teaching coding
  • Teach the subject in seven to ten Victorian high schools
  • Teach at least 1,000 students, and help at least 10 teachers
  • Assess the learning outcomes to understand whether we’ve been effective in teaching basic coding and computational thinking skills, and whether we’ve taught teachers how to confidently deliver the materials

After 2019, we plan to roll this programme out across Victoria, expand to other Australian states, and begin work on subjects for Years 8, 9, and 10.

Why are we doing this?

Computer science is as important today as Maths, English, and the (other) Sciences. We believe it should be compulsory at school.  Even if a child isn’t going to become a Software Engineer, they are almost certainly going to work in a field that will be revolutionised by hardware and software. It’s critical to understand how software is built and what’s possible using a computer.

Most Australian kids aren’t learning the fundamentals of computing at school. There’s often a 3D printer or robots at a school, and maybe the kids have been on an excursion where they’ve built something technical. But that’s not even close to what’s needed if we’re going to help our children be ready for the jobs of the future. Our kids need to learn how to code, in the same way they need to learn how to read and write, and understand mathematics fundamentals.

Kids need to know how to break down problems into steps, and how to represent those steps in a programming language so that a computer can solve a problem. Building on these basics, students can learn how to write applications that do everything from play games to automate common tasks to solve real-world problems. More broadly, they need to know how to create software, so that they can be part of creating new jobs, industries, and technologies that are changing our world.

Nine of the ten most valuable companies today are technology companies including Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook. These companies are full of computing professionals, and they’re creating the software and hardware that is changing our world. The next generation of companies could be here in Australia, but that’ll only happen if we have the people with the skills and talents in computer science. Fixing computing education in schools is a critical first step.

Our 2019 plans

In 2019, we’ve committed to teaching 1,000 students, training 10 teachers, and working with 7 to 10 schools. Success is not only hitting these goals, but leaving these schools and teachers with the skills and confidence to continue teaching the programme in 2020 and beyond. RMIT University has agreed to independently assess whether we’ve been successful at the conclusion of our 2019 pilot.

When we work with a school, we’re going to provide the full teaching materials, hardware, and software that are needed to succeed. More importantly, we’re also providing a teacher who’ll help in the classroom and who has two goals: make sure the students have fun learning new skills, and make sure the school can confidently continue teaching computing without our hands-on support.

Progress so far

We started this project around three months ago. So far, we have:

  • Signed-up three schools, including Toorak College and two others that we will announce soon
  • Raised money. We have promises of nearly enough money to fund out 2019 pilot, but we’d always love more (because it makes more possible — we’re happy to think bigger)
  • Focused our plans. There were many possible starting points, but we have decided on a Year 7 compulsory subject for our pilot
  • Sought corporate support. We want industry to stand behind what we’re doing, so that schools are confident the programme is helping their students develop real-world skills. We will announce corporate supporters soon
  • Received a commitment from RMIT University to independently assess the educational outcomes of our programme

Focus for August 2018

This month, we are focused on the following next steps:

  • Signing-up more Victorian schools. We are particularly looking for public schools, but we’re open to working with any school. It costs nothing. Can you help introduce us to a school? Send us a note at hugh@hughwilliams.com or selina@selinawilliams.com
  • Establishing our venture as a formal entity. We are exploring becoming a registered charity, which means that donors can give us money and receive a tax deduction. It turns out this isn’t easy, and we’ve enlisted the help of lawyers who specialise in establishing charities
  • Hiring teachers. Now that we’ve signed-up a few schools, we’re ready to hire our first teacher. It’s critical that they’re a great teacher with a computing background. Their role will be helping build materials, as well as teaching and training in 2019. If you have any referrals, send us a note at hugh@hughwilliams.com or selina@selinawilliams.com
  • Wooing corporate supporters. It’ll make a huge difference to everyone if they know that major names believe in our programme. This will help us with funding, signing-up schools, and developing the programme itself

Perhaps surprisingly, the hardest thing so far has been signing-up schools. Many schools don’t even bother to respond to an email. Once they do, it’s a long “sales cycle” from a first meeting to convincing a school to make room in their Year 7 curriculum for computing. We’re pretty surprised about this, but perhaps this will change as we sign up more schools, have more corporate support, and our programme gains a reputation. In any case, if you’d like to help, the most valuable thing you can do today is introduce us to a decision maker in a Victorian public school — we need to sign-up another four to seven schools over the next month or two.

If you’d like to join our mailing list to receive this monthly update in email (and a little more information), send us a note at hugh@hughwilliams.com or selina@selinawilliams.com

Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom. We’ll post another update in a month.

Best wishes, Hugh and Selina.