Can you code? How did you learn? What inspired you to take your first steps? One of our board members, Jane Waite, tells us her story:
“I was very fortunate to be taught Computer Studies back in the late 70’s. My A level Maths teacher, Mr Markham, decided to learn how to teach computer science. So he found a small group of lower sixth A level students and used us as guinea pigs.
I was one of them, squeak! He learned, by having a go with us. We had no clue as to whether we would pass, and we did not mind. Plus Mr M was under no pressure to get results. What heaven!
I recall him hooking up a dumb terminal to the adjacent polytechnic’s mainframe. I have a memory of a Heath Robinson wiring system, precariously strung high above a busy city street with buses skimming under our fledgling network, and lots of popping over to talk to IT support, but maybe I dreamed that!
We were not timetabled for the course, we turned up at lunch times and after school. We all, I think, got A’s in a year. I think there were three of us. But it was a long time ago.
What got us the A’s? I’d say Mr M’s dedication and enthusiasm, his beard and open toed sandals (maybe again I dreamed that), his have a go attitude, that meant, well, we had a go. We had nothing to lose. We used the exam spec, and again I mean, we, used the exam spec to figure out what we needed to do. He was always a little ahead of us, and I think he had friends at the Poly helping too.
Also the fact that we had time to attend was really significant. Were things less pressured then?
I think so. I attended a small comprehensive, with only 4 forms! We knew everyone in our year. Our sixth form was tiny, we could all fit in a cosy common room. We had our own tea making facilities, a kettle, with our own mugs and a dirty dishcloth.
I did the O level because Mr M asked me, it was with my best mates and it was fun.
Fastforward 30 odd years, now I am teaching teachers to be computer teachers. To be Mr Markhams, but you don’t have to have a beard.
In between I did an HNC at that same Polytechnic, then found out about jk flip flops (I wear those on holiday), object oriented databases when they were pie in the sky crazy ideas at University. Went on to love being a developer, building systems to keep margarine cool, warehousing systems to not loose shipping containers, banking systems to spot money laundering etc etc for big companies and squeezed in 10 years as a primary teacher, and voila here I am learning how to teach computer science again, but this time not to myself.
I have been reflecting what is different? Not the subject matter, that is pretty similar. There are nicer programming languages to learn with, I am obsessed with Scratch. We did not talk about computational thinking back then, I am obsessed with that too. The biggest difference I think is pressure. There was absolutely no pressure on Mr Markham and his tiny team of guinea pigs, but now the pressure for teachers is perhaps at time unbearable. I am not sure what I can do about that… any ideas welcome… a time machine perhaps…where is Michael J Fox when you need him?”
Jane recently started a part-time PhD at Queen Mary University London (QMUL) looking at how children learn computational thinking. She also works for King’s College London and QMUL as Computing At School’s London regional project manager. Jane is a qualified primary teacher, having ten years’ experience in education and twenty years’ experience in the IT industry. In 2014/15 she was an author on the Barefoot project, writing resources that demystified the new primary computing curriculum. She also writes for cs4fn, Primary Computing and Cambridge International and delivers the Scratch taught element of the BCS Certificate in Computer Science Teaching.