Excited Festival Panel Discussion

I was invited to be on a panel discussion at the Excited Festival on Saturday with Mona Akmal from Code.org, Keith Krueger (CEO of the Consortium for School Networking) and Ciaran Cannon (founder of Excited) to talk about coding and creativity hosted by Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin. The event took place in Dublin Castle’s conference centre about 50m from the courtyard where the historic referendum for Marriage Equality was being announced.

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Inside the room were over 100 educators sitting around big tables looking up at a big stage with armchairs and us. We were asked to respond to Mona’s very interesting presentation on how she got involved in Code.org. She spoke about creativity and, interestingly for me, she set a challenge for everyone in the room. She asked us three questions:

[su_quote cite=”Mona Akmal”]
  1. Think of a problem that you’d like to solve.
  2. Think of creative ways to solve this problem.
  3. Think about ways that technology could help with this.

This mirrors exactly what I say to all teachers and trainee teachers when I’m encouraging them to integrate ICT into their teaching. The three steps are almost the same.

  1. What do you want the children to learn?
  2. Think of good ways to help the children to learn.
  3. Can ICT help in any way? Is so, use it. If not, don’t.

Our discussion moved to how coding and creativity are linked with Mona. When it came to my turn, Aoibhinn asked me my opinion on the curriculum and why ICT was still not a subject. I gave my usual opinion (tweeted by Majella O’Dea amongst others)

I had forgotten to silence my phone and I could feel it vibrating over and over again in my inside pocket. I don’t think people were very happy until I clarified that I was only speaking from a primary school perspective. The general feel in the room was it should be a subject in its own right at second level and I just said I generally don’t comment on second-level as I don’t know enough about it and the system itself makes me cross!

The conversation moved on to why girls, in particular, stopped being interested in computer science after a certain age. Keith told a story about a school in the US where they felt that the games-based, competitive style  of learning when it came to computer science seemed to be putting girls off after a certain age and spoke about a school that moved to a more collaborative methodology and it seemed to work well.

Ciaran also spoke about how DCU are starting to look for portfolio-based ICT projects to gain access to their degree programme rather than the points-based system of the Leaving Cert, which sounds very interesting.

It was a combination of these two points above that led to the final question about what can schools do to encourage students to take on computer science, particularly girls. My answer combined the wondrous news going on outside the building with the flaws that exist in our education system…and it is definitely something for a post on its own. However, to summarise in two words: role models.

I was delighted to be able to take part in the discussion and the icing on the cake was to walk out of the conference to the celebrations going on in the courtyard as Ireland voted for marriage equality.

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