Thank you Royston Primary

So it finally happened and I got the letter to say I’d been awarded my PhD. Time for celebration after all this time am looking forward to graduating in the summer.

One special group of people who have been involved in my research are the staff and pupils at Royston Primary.  They are my second family – not only have they taught all my children they also supported me from when I first started uni many moons ago now right through even letting me conduct my research in school and helping build my network of other schools to work with.  As well as the research I’ve been running the computing club in there for 5 years now and hope to be back again after the summer. However they invited me to their whole school Friday morning assembly to share my good news with the pupils and well I only though that I was going down just to join in their normal assembly and that but nope whole assembly was for me (I hate fuss and they know it ). Each class made something special for me and their messages were so heartwarming but also made me realise that what I’ve been doing is important.

My beautiful thoughtful gifts from each class.

To me it’s natural now if I’ve time I’d rather be running a club than sitting at home doing nothing the kids really do get so much out of it as do I. I feel like I’m giving back to my community and also deep down hope that I’ll inspire at least one or two to go further in computing or games or even just to genuinely think about their future and know that they can do absolutely anything they set their minds to.  Took me long enough but I’ve finally got that PhD.

To all the staff and children whom I’ve worked with over the past 14 years thank you heres to many more volunteering hours ahead.

So how do we fix this games/computing gender problem?

I posted a short reply to a post on facebook earlier by David Renton on how to get more women into games courses and wanted to compose this post in order to elaborate further. So how do we solve the problem then of getting more girls into games or even computing in an ideal world we stop genderising things whether they are toys, jobs even hobbies. It won’t happen overnight or even at all however it’s a start right?

OK so it’s not the ideal world how can we help change the notion that Computing & Games are for boys. I’m using these since that’s my specific area however I’m sure there will more subject examples dominated by one or the other gender and seen to be girly/boyish. Education I believe plays a part in this and helping demystify some stereotypes. I have for 6 years been researching in primary schools and I firmly believe this is where we need to start. Children learn from an early age and they learn from us. It’s our responsibility as adults to show them the opportunities out there and to show that no matter their gender they can do anything. So why don’t we teach them then how to make games in schools (yes it’s part of our Scottish school curriculum from Primary 5 onwards) and it’s been on my radar for the past 6 years. I’ve been trying on my own to get more children in Glasgow (there are other folk doing fab things across the country) into games by teaching them how to make games using Scratch – in school lessons I should add.  My research focused on working with nearly 400 children between the ages of 8-11 and teaching them and their teachers how to make games. The children worked in pairs and not once did I ever hear/see anything gender related towards the games that were produced. The only gender issue I encountered was a couple of P6 or 7 classes who when told they would be working in mixed gender pairs gave the ever so awkward pre-teen look of how can I work with a boy/girl but after 2 minutes that was forgotten about and awesome games were soon made.

Primary is a very important stage of education as it forms children’s opinions on subjects they like and dislike. By giving children positive experiences of games construction & computing in general. However this then needs to be reinforced throughout secondary school also and children need to be able to have the opportunity to carry on seamlessly from primary to secondary. This is where I had the idea of an event that lets primary and secondary schools work together. A Mini Game Jam – a game jam is where folk get together for 48 hours in the one space and form a team and well, make a game. My idea was shrunk down for the school day. I envisaged that after teaching the children during my research they would have some game making knowledge – enough to make a small game – to be able to work in a team and have some fun while doing so. Hence the Mini Game Jam was born. I am now into year 4 of the event which schools are now starting to see the benefits of. Last year I worked with 300 children over 6 events to spend a day working on a game based on a given theme. By putting the children into mixed teams and not making a fuss about it they worked together side by side as it should be. By showing primary and secondary schools how both can work together for one little part of the curriculum it might help sow some seeds.

Given what I’ve seen during my years of research in schools I don’t believe solely in “women into x, y or z” events. However they may be a short term fix but we need to think long term for these ideas to stick. Also OK why not women only classes for getting more women thinking about the subject I dont mean full on the whole 4 years or that but getting an introduction would maybe be helpful. I chose my subject at university knowing that yes it would probably be male dominated but at the end of the day my choice was based on what I wanted to learn not the male/female ratio in the class.

There isn’t an overnight “Women into “ course and suddenly uptake of FE/HE even Nationals/Highers goes through the roof, no this is a long road and we all must be in it together to work and change attitudes from early years onwards otherwise we will still be having this same old conversation in 20-30 years time.

I know I’m working at it are you?

Just a Parent!

Last week I was asked to present to a group of Head Teachers in the Southside of Glasgow at one of their meetings on my experiences of being a parent who helps in my child’s school. Mainly as I do a lot of Computing & ICT work with them – the day itself was a day full of talks by HT’s about technology in schools. So my talk was kind of a 2 issue talk – one about getting parents involved and two using technology in schools which I’ll write about in another post.

The first part of my talk was mainly discussing what everyone gets out of me helping in the school. Well in my case the HT gets someone with a wee bit of spare time & subject specialist knowledge, the staff get someone who can help with ICT/Computing lessons (and deliver CPD sessions to further knowledge if needed) but most importantly the children are the ones who benefit by getting more out of their lessons and after school clubs. The children are ultimately the most important reason I do what I do. I’ve been involved with activities in the school for over 10 years now and while all I’ve done has been only for the benefit of the school it’s really only in the past few years I’ve gotten properly involved in the educational side of helping and realising that at the end of the day it’s for the children’s benefit. Firstly with my research for my honours work and subsequent PhD thesis (just about done) but in undertaking that work led me to want to help out more in the educational side of things and asked if I could be involved more and haven’t left since. My initial involvement was working with teachers in helping them get the most out of their ICT lessons and eventually it grew to me running my own afterschool clubs in the school which have now been going for over 18 months. Yes folk do think I’m a bit crazy doing this stuff BUT and here’s the BUT why would you not want to be involved in your child’s school if you got the chance? You don’t need anything apart from a willingness to give up a wee bit of your time to come help in your child’s school even a wee hour a week if you can. I am sure many schools out there have many parents who can offer that wee bit of time.

PARENTS/CARERS you CAN make a difference and HEAD TEACHERS if you don’t already then get to know all of your parents/carers find out what their strengths are and get then involved by encouraging them. As a HT it’s not just the children you work with but ultimately us parents/carers too and by building relationships it will only benefit the school and in turn the children. You never know what skills your parents/carers have until you go investigating!!!

I do actually get a lot out of the stuff I do in school too. Seeing children grow in confidence in their abilities in the work they do in the club – presenting to people who have visited our club without hesitation, having the children invited to talk to teachers outside of the school. I am very proud when I see the children do these things as I know I’ve played a part in that. There is the other side too for my own professional development I’ve had loads of support in getting my own career going which has been invaluable to me.

For me I’ve learned that the school is more than just a building I send my children to, to be educated it’s a place where staff go above and beyond for families too and that for me is what makes the school. That’s why I’m always more than happy to help out by giving back to the school while I am able to.