Once upon a time, reading, writing and arithmetic, perhaps mixed in with a bit of history and geography were the essential skills a child needed to be a contributing member of society.
With the rapid advancement of technology, schools around the world are realizing that they must prepare children for a vastly different world than the one their parents experienced growing up.
Sally Jones, an availability manager for IBM in the UK, was asked for guidance by the Broadway First School in Worcestershire on how to teach computer programming to children. Sally and her husband, also an IBMer, have two children at the school, and welcomed the opportunity to help.
Preparing students for their future, not ours
Sally spent time with teaching staff at the school to ensure that she understood their concerns, targets and challenges. In September 2014, Sally initiated and established a programming and robotics club for students aged 7-10 in help meet United Kingdom computing curriculum requirements.
The club has been successfully running throughout 2015 and has benefitted from two IBM Community Grants to purchase equipment and resources, such as The LEGO® Education WeDo Construction Set, an easy-to-use Lego set that introduces young students to robotics.
“Watching four and five year olds grasp programming concepts so fast is amazing! They are like little sponges,” Sally says.” They are so keen to learn and they just get it!”
Sally’s work makes her seem tireless. Alongside the programming and robotics club she has also been involved in teaching core computing lessons for all year groups, ran two teacher training sessions on programming, coordinated and ran an event for multiple schools focusing on programming and robotics. She is currently working on an environmental based project using robotics and programming resources.
The requirements of the computing curriculum in UK primary schools enabled Sally to use her skills not only to teach but also to train school staff on the use of drag and drop programming principles with or without the use of the robotics kits purchased with the IBM grants.
Benefits beyond just education
“It was such a thrill watching the children working in teams to solve problems with programming,” says Sally. “We have looked at mini projects such as recycling and also the effects of zero gravity on the Lego models in conjunction with a NASA schools project.”
“Projects like these have pushed the children out of their comfort zones to become mini project managers, analysts and programming whiz kids,” Sally continues. “They’ve learned skills that help them function successfully in a world rapidly becoming digitized and technologically complex.”
And as with so many volunteer projects, it’s not only the recipients of the volunteer work that benefit from the work. “My advice to anyone considering doing this is just dive in,” she says. “IBM’s support of volunteers is exceptional and with school funding being so limited these days the difference you could make is massive.”
But perhaps the personal reward is important too. As Sally says, “I leave every lesson feeling enthused by their energy and also the fact that I have challenged their ideas of a woman’s place in IT.”
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