Primary Schools Outreach – reflections

I have now taught at x2 primary schools and have learned much.  I thought I would share these reflections for anyone else who is considering such a project.

Firstly, it’s hard work! 

It has been usual for schools to ask that I arrive at 9:00am and leave at 12:00. Primary students are like mini nuclear power stations – they never switch off and I have to be ‘on it’ from the get-go until the end.  It can be exhausting, in a good way.

The first job is packing the car which takes about 20mins and this is only really possible with a trolley:

A trolley.  £39 well spent.

The computers pack away into the monitor boxes which is good as it doesn’t cost anything extra, and they pack efficiently into the car, but eventually they will fail as they are cardboard and there is no weather protection for the days when it has rained.  Also, they are not that stable when being arried on the trolley.  I need to think about this a little more.

It all just about fits in.

Everything else (Pi’s, mice, power, keyboard etc.) goes into x3 plastic container boxes to keep things simple and secure.

Unpacking and setting up has taken me 30mins if given a room without children in and easy access to the room (one school had their classroom up a flight of stairs).

Total time: 20mins packing + travel time + 30mins unpacking/setting up = ready to go.  Then the same routine in reverse at the end of the session.

Secondly, things go wrong but the show must go on seamlessly so bring spares.

Luckily I have a spare keyboard, mouse, Pi and SD-card because on both occaisions something has broken or gone wrong.  It would have gone badly wrong had I not been able to quickly swap out the broken stuff for a working replacement.  There would have been x2 children with nothing to do = x2 dispondent children + classroom management issue.

Fortunately the RPi is quick to boot so only a few minutes are lost changing over a complete system.

Leave on a high.

The x2 sessions I have run so far have taken the following format:

  • Students are in pairs.
  • Introduce myself, where I am from and why I am there.
  • Hand out keyboards (monitors are already set up)
  • Hand out mice
  • Hand out power packs
  • Then ask if students are ready to go.  Some say yes, some ask where ther computer is.  I then labour the point that the monitor is NOT the computer before introducing the RPi.  I explain that the RPi has been designed specifically for them by boffins in Cambridge.  I drop one and let the case come apart, then reassemble it to show them how durable they are.  I then hand out the RPi’s and ask the students to plug in everything EXECPT the power.
  • The RPI’s are handed out WITHOUT the SD-CARD.  Once the RPi’s are plugged in I show the students the SD-CARDs and explain that they store the memories of the computer and that I have put some memories on already for them to use.  I then hand out the SD-CARDs for the students to install.  This installation process gets the students used to the computer so they can do it themselves at home, it gives them confidence to tackle hardware issues during the session and it ticks off a paragraph in the KS2 Key Skills (something about respectfully and carefully using hardware…)
  • Students then power them on and go through the initial process of following the instructions (type in team name, activate mouse etc.)  They DO NOT log onto the WiFI, there is no need.  Students do this themselves with only a few needing teaching assistance.  In fact, I usually hide near the door so I am not immediately around them so they appear less likely to put their hand up.
  • First hour, students can explore the system themselves.  It is normal that some students find the PONG game and play that endlessly (!?) so they need encouraging to move on if they take too long on PONG.  I also encourage students away from Scratch and onto the “Story Mode” which is a virtual world where they learn about the different parts of a computer.
  • Then break time.  Tea and biscuits.
  • Second hour is on the Minecraft challenge to build a castle.  This does sometimes glitch, especially if the students do something wierd.  But the handy thing is it is easy to reset: quit the challenge and restart usually fixes anything major.
  • Some students find following the Minecraft instructions hard and so, wanting to finish on a high, for the last 15 minutes I ask them all to open “Numpty Physics” a great little problem solving game.  I can’t describe it well enough so please Google it if you are interested.  But the kids love it.
  • 12:00 end.  Hand out certificates (with website addresses for further help for parents) and pack up.

Offer resources and advice to all (The stages of Computational Thinking)

Parents often need advice on how to help and what to buy, students often want to continue this stuff at home and primary teachers often want resources and advice on how to cover CT at KS1-2. 

I have put together a parents page on my department website outlining how they can help (help.thinkct.com).

I have also put together fire-and-forget lessons for primary teachers to simply follow (codeq.thinkct.com).  I am a great believer that all that is required is for the stages of Computational Thinking be taught at KS1-2.  Simply giving the students little problems to solve in a structured way, but mainly getting them onto creating in code as much as possible is the best and more engaging thing for them at that age.  The theory about networks work etc can wait until KS3.