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14 October 2022

Code: {ish} computing open evening activities

Pete Dring profile image
Written by

Pete Dring | Secondary School Teacher (11-18)

Teaching is hard: The to do list is often both exhaustive and exhausting. On a good day though, teaching Computing is the best job in the world. For me, yesterday was one of those good days.

Over the last few years I’ve seriously flirted with the idea of leaving teaching. I completely understand and respect colleagues who’ve made that decision, but after much soul searching I chose to stay,  resolving to try to do two things:

  • To be less afraid to say “no” to new tasks or to leave a job unfinished.
  • To be deliberate in allocating a small amount of time “inefficiently”.

That second one has been a game changer for me. My week is full of important jobs that will never get fully “done”: I wanted to create space for individual people and rediscover “fun”.

I think this ties in with Stuart Ball’s recent call for examples of CODE:{ish} activities: things that are unashamedly fun, that capture students interest but are also really enjoyable to teach.

Yesterday was Y6 open evening at my school. Around 1,000 parents and children meandered between classrooms. The bucket which normally collects rainwater near my classroom door was hastily hidden and the posters which were removed for last summer’s on-screen python exam were rapidly restored. I think parents quickly see through the gloss and polish but they remember the students that they see: what they do and how they do it.

I had some brilliant student helpers last night. Some stayed from 2pm to 5pm to set up, then through until 8pm when the last parents went home. The slot from 2pm – 5pm was brilliant: one of those CODE:{ish} moments that makes the job so worthwhile.

My local university had very kindly donated some old physical input devices designed to work with the old, offline version of scratch. In Y12 CS yesterday we were writing some code in C# to read the sensor values as a practical example of OOP encapsulation (using a public method to provide access to a private attribute). One student stayed on after school to turn the sensor values into MIDI music to provide an interactive soundtrack for open evening. It was one of those moments with tangible ‘pump the air in satisfaction’ reactions when it all came together.

A Y8 student started the evening making a car in Google Sketchup and then imported it into Blender to make an animation of it zooming between street lights. The final step involved exporting it into Unity’s 3d game engine and writing the scripts to control its movement.

The long day was exhausting but I cycled home feeling both grateful and proud to work in a state school with such talented students.

My next CODE:{ish} project is going to be in STEM club next half term: a team of students are going to try to create some digital percussion instruments with Arduino kits kindly provided by the brilliant UK Electronics Skills foundation. The aim is to code and create instruments that we can hopefully use in the upcoming school musical production. We may not be successful but we’ll have a lot of fun either way!

How about you? Have you got any suggestions or tips for open evening ideas? What fun CODE:{ish} activities have gone down well recently? How you create time for what you value as important amidst all of the things other people tell you are urgent? I really value the CAS teacher discussion site as a place to bounce around these ideas and more. Thanks for taking the time to read – do come and join in the discussion.


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