Based on trials and pilots we have conducted with early adopter schools, we are developing a set of unique techniques to accelerate the learning of programming, computer science and computational thinking among young people.
We focus on young people (10 – 17) but the techniques apply to anyone who is interested. Encapsulated in a book form, our kickstarter product/project is a methodology which we are creating using collaborative/ open-source principles.
Your pledge will make a difference; both in fostering an interest in computing among young people and in the scaling the methodology to a larger number of schools.
Three trials of our methodology are already running in schools and education institutions (London, Liverpool and Amsterdam).
We hope to develop the content into a fully fledged service and a book with your help enabling us to reach a wider audience.
Today, there is a grassroots movement to teach programming to young people. We are a part of this movement but we are developing techniques which focus on three unique challenges, which we believe are not being currently addressed
1) We are creating a set of techniques to accelerate the early stages of learning for computer science for young people. Globally, there is a renewed emphasis on teaching of Computer Science (as opposed to ICT). This creates a richer conversation and is more inclusive because it helps to see the beauty and interconnectedness of computer science from the outset.
2) We focus on computer science (and not programming alone). This helps students to pick up programming languages faster when they see the application of Programming Languages in context of Computer Science
3) We focus on Computational thinking i.e. the use of Computing to solve problems – often in other scientific and technical domains.
Why does this matter?
We all speak of the skills shortage. But we really have an 'ability to acquire new skills rapidly shortage'. This is true especially in disciplines like Computer Science. The best contributors of the future economy will be the ones who can rapidly learn new skills and also apply these skills to other domains (ex Biotechnology, Nanotechnology etc)
In schools and educational institutions all over the world, there is an emphasis on Computer Science rather than ICT alone. In this context, ICT is seen as users of computing tools (ex spreadsheets, word processing etc). In contrast, Computer Science involves the ability to understand how these tools are made, how they can be applied to other domains (such as Biotechnology) and the idea of Computational thinking.
How do we teach these ideas?
Our approach is based on Computational thinking and in understanding how the computer sees the world (essentially this introduces the idea of abstraction, data structures and algorithms)
- We are developing a three stage learning process (Concept, Compute, Extrapolate) – which we explain in the video
- We focus on Physical computing which involves building interactive physical systems which can sense and respond to the Analog world – especially applications that can be created by the Raspberry Pi and Arduino
- We teach the concepts of programming languages to young people (as opposed to a specific programming language). By abstracting the common elements of programming languages, our aim is to enable learners to rapidly learn any programming language. Our three stage methodology is designed to inculcate an interest in computer science among the learners.
- Social inclusion – Our ethos is built around a social objective which is to provide open access to computer science for all citizens.
- We study the upcoming Computer Science/computing syllabus for schools in UK, USA, Holland, Germany,Israel etc and incorporate these ideas into our learning
From a learning standpoint this is interesting because once the participant can see the big picture and they can add their own unique contribution/imagination to learning. Our techniques lead to a richer conversation in teaching. Instead of discussing endless variants of IF-THEN-ELSE statements and FOR loops, we have the freedom to explore the beauty and interconnectedness of Computer Science at an early stage. We can talk of hardware and software and algorithms holistically. We can introduce the principles of Systems thinking. We can prepare young people for the next wave of computing by looking at a variety of computing devices.
The story behind this approach starts with a question ..
What was the first programming language you learned?
The point is not which language you learnt but that it was a specific programming language.
Those of us who went on to study a degree in computing, engineering or maths eventually studied the ‘Concepts of Programming Languages’ or the ‘Philosophy of Computer science’ which actually taught the 'why' and not just the 'what'.
But what if you could switch the two - and teach concepts of programming languages upfront, even to kids?
This seemingly simple switch has significant advantages:
- Learners have a fast on-ramp learn at their own unique pace which keeps up interest
- Learners can see how programming applies to real life problems at a very early stage of their learning
- They can learn complex concepts of programming within a wider context.
Some Testimonials about our work
Hung Ly – Head of Department at Sir John Cass Secondary School
“My name is Hung Ly and I am the Head of Department at Sir John Cass Secondary School and Sixth Form College in Tower Hamlets, East London. I have been asked to write a short testimonial to what I think of the free programming course run by Ajit Jaokar of feynlabs. To be honest this is really new to school especially with the introduction of the Raspberry Pi and Python coding. I really liked the hands on approached and the excellent communications that Ajit offers. Each session is communicated in advance and liaised with me to ensure that the resources are available and pitched at the right level with the combination of theory/concept/metaphor of programming to really trying out programming itself. We are coming towards the end of our sessions and I sure the students and other staff members will miss Ajit and his lectures. I would like to thank Ajit and his associations in providing such an invaluable insight into the world of programming and making it an experience that we will never forget and something that can grow at this school in the future.”
Wiard Vasen – Teacher Computer Science Montessori Lyceum Amsterdam
“Ajit Jaokar feels the urge to help people, no matter what age, gender or race, to find their individual fulfillment and meaning in life and He does this with the art of Programming.”
Robert Mullins – Raspberry Pi foundation
“Since early 2012, I have been following the work of Ajit Jaokar and feynlabs – as they use the Raspberry Pi in innovative ways in education. I watch this space with interest to see how their work evolves”
Peter Vesterbacka – Mighty Eagle at Rovio Mobile
“I was one of the first people to LIKE the feynlabs page on Facebook. Angry Birds demonstrate that we need the next generation to understand computer science from the outset. Initiatives like this will encourage more young people to take up computer science – and it’s great to see the progress and uptake for feynlabs”
Carlos Domingo – Director of Product Development and Innovation – Telefonica
“As someone who follows innovation and start-ups worldwide and a recent father, I am conscious of the need for creating an interest in Computer Science in the next generation. In this context, Ajit Jaokar and feynlabs are doing some great work.. and i hope it helps create more start-ups in future”
Dr Mike Short CBE FREng FIET – IET President 2011/2012
“Computer science and programming are more important to the Digital economy than ever before. Courses such as these go back to basics and can help prepare Digital citizens to inspire development and follow their interests in the modern world .
Prof Peter Cochrane OBE
“The education system is broken! Remembering facts and solving problems by ‘turning handles’ just doesn’t cut the mustard in the fast world of technology. We need a new breed who solve problems by thinking ! Feynlabs mission is to transform those constrained by a national curriculum and turn them into the problem solvers of tomorrow.”
“Through the Computer based math initiative we are building a completely new math curriculum with computer-based computation at its heart. So, we follow and support the work from Ajit Jaokar and the feynlabs team with interest”
Howard Rheingold – Internet Pioneer, Author and Thought leader
“Understanding programming is important for even (especially!) young students who are growing up in a digital world — either they learn how to shape that world, or will have to accept that their world will be shaped by others — and understanding computation, a powerful thinking tool in the tradition of logic and geometry,is perhaps even more important in a world where knowing how to think and how to skillfully wield thinking tools is ever more important. The approach being explored by feynlabs could be crucially important — an experiment with potential social payback that far outweighs the risk of failure. Indeed, knowing how to deal with failure — and to use it to overcome obstacles — is essential to both programming and learning.”
Lawrence Lipsitz is founder, editor, publisher of “Educational Technology
“Ajit Jaokar is a visionary who seeks to take advantage of the digital revolution now underway throughout the world in order to vastly improve education for all children and young adults. He believes that a deep knowledge of Programming — in all of its aspects — is becoming a necessity for both career advancement and everyday living in the world that is coming into clear view, for those, like Ajit, able and willing to see it.”
Risks and challenges
The three key risks to us not delivering on our promises are:
1. The costs spiral out of control
We are a team who have built companies and sold them. Therefore we feel comfortable that we can bring our expertise of building companies and teams to delivery something which has benefit to a wider community. We feel that we have the tools and experience to be aware of the costs and manage them appropriately so we can deliver what we have promised. The one high cost risk is postage, which we believe we have found sufficient mitigation to manage.
2. Our approach does not make a difference and/or it is too difficult.
The premise of this Kick Starter campaign is that by teaching computing concepts at the introduction level we can generate new computer scientists who have a much wider understanding of systems, solutions, interfaces and how computers see the world. Given the results of the early trails we feel that this risk has already been addressed as a point solution and until we scale we cannot be sure that all the areas will make a difference.
3. The quality of the materials is low or don't internationalize well
As a team we have written and published a number of books that are available on Amazon and therefore know what level is required. Video is a new area for us and we plan to bring in expertise as needed to bring this to the right level. The international aspect is address through the diverse and international team we have built.
many thanks for your questions!
Here is the first one.
Why do we not just write a book and publish as a pdf?
The reason is - we are writing the book based on live trials in schools
We stated with 3 and now have 14 more.
Most are in UK + 1 in Amsterdam
This means we develop the content based on real insights in the UK
There is also a change / emphasis to teaching computer science as opposed to ICT.
Thus, its necessary to engage with both students and teachers.
for example - Ajit is speaking at the UK comp science teachers event in Birmingham in June (http://casconf2013.eventbrite.co.uk/)
So I feel if we just wrote it in isolation we risk not engaging with the real community
Thanks for the question and we welcome more questions!
kind rgds Ajit
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