Congratulations to Prof Paul Curzon (@cs4fn) who is this year’s recipient of the Booth Education Award medal ^JB

We’re delighted to report that QMUL’s Prof Paul Curzon is to be awarded the Taylor L. Booth Education Award medal for “an outstanding record in computer science education” for his work on the CS4FN and Teaching London Computing projects.

Thanks to Simon Peyton Jones of Microsoft Research for giving us permission to repost his comments about Paul’s win (see link at end).

If you teach computing at a UK school and would like our free magazines please visit our sign-up page where you can also sign up to hear about courses, events and our other resources. The book mentioned in Simon’s post below can be found on Amazon and is available in hardback, paperback or Kindle in English, or as paperback or Kindle in German.


Paul Curzon has made outstanding contributions to the rebirth of computer science as a school subject. He has gone far beyond simply being an effective educator in his subject: he has made a qualitatively new contribution to his nation. Moreover, Paul is an internationally-leading computer science academic, in the field of human-computer interaction

Paul’s 15-year long project, cs4fn, short for “Computer science for fun”, created with Peter McOwan, is an enormous collection of ideas, insights, and resources that demonstrate and showcase the clever ideas from interdisciplinary computer science research, aimed primarily at school-age children. He brings these ideas out in several forms:

  • The cs4fn magazine is used by thousands of schools, and has done more to improve the image of computer science in the minds of teachers and children than dozens of weighty reports. Personally written, edited, and produced by Paul, it is a free physical publication with the quality of a professional magazine. It is available online also for free, and is sent in print form to over 2,000 UK schools, as well as many others abroad. The original magazine was for secondary school students, but he has more recently created a popular free magazine for primary school students too. [Note that print copies are available in the UK only, but PDFs of all back issues are available worldwide – Jo]
  • The development of inspiring activities: His focus is on engaging activities away from computers that inspire people about interdisciplinary computer science whilst giving deep understanding of concepts in fun engaging ways: through games, puzzles, role play activities and magic tricks. He both performs these and makes them freely available to others. Over the last three years for example around 200,000 downloads of his activity sheets. They are used by teachers worldwide and have been incorporated into schemes such as BTs Barefoot resources, as well as similar resources in other countries.
  • The cs4fn and Teaching London Computing (TLC) web sites are a tremendous online resource for teachers and children alike. Resource web sites are easy to conceive of but extremely hard to sustain. They need a constant stream of new material to keep the site vibrantly alive and Paul, with his late colleague Peter McOwan, has done just that. They have written thousands of articles and activity sheets for hundreds of activities. Between 2008 and 2013 there were over 1.5 million visits to the cs4fn website with almost 900,000 downloads.
  • Teaching London Computing (TLC) is the sister web site of cs4fn. While cs4fn is article based telling engaging stories about research for young people, TLC provides a resource site specifically for teachers. It is based on material from cs4fn (and much more) but rather than presenting them as articles to read, TLC provides them in the form of activity sheets and explanations of their use in classrooms. It has visits from all over the world too, with now over a million visits since 2015 and 300,000 visitors. Downloads and visits to his websites come regularly from over 180 other countries.
  • Computing Education research. The on-the-ground impact of cs4fn is impressive enough, but Paul has consistently drawn on this experience to learn principles, and explore hypotheses, and perform critical evaluation. That is, cs4fn is not simply a successful exercise in changing attitudes to computer science; it is a unique research platform, and Paul has published a number of research papers that build on this platform.His team has also used social sciences methodologies to investigate the way primary school children are taught to write programs, drawing on a comparison with the way they are taught to write English. This showed the importance of teaching design from the outset. This very recent work has been incorporated in to Continuing Professional Development courses for teachers and is already helping improve practice.

The raw material for all of this educational work is Paul’s seemingly endless stream of ideas on a huge range of topics, drawing on research in the sciences, engineering and arts and humanities. Every single one uses a compelling context to motivate the underlying idea (hence the “fun” part). Examples include:

  • magic tricks (each with an explanation for how they work and how they link to computer science such as algorithms, human-computer interaction, formal proof, …);
  • paper-folding puzzles and hexaflexagons (illustrating computational thinking, usability and formal methods);
  • colour-by-number puzzles to teach primary school children a variety of concepts around image representation, with links to ancient history and the history of art;
  • artificial intelligence (a typical one is “Let’s build a brain out of some pieces of paper and a length of string that can actually play Snap” …);
  • anthropology (how techniques used to study gorillas in the mist can improve medical device design,…);
  • cell biology and epidemiology (predicting cancer cures, games to study the spread of disease, understanding brain cells, …);
  • medicine (machine learning in healthcare, avoiding medical error, …);
  • animation (algorithms for doodling plants and CGI, animatronics, motion capture, …);
  • robots (robots teaching sign language, why are robots naked?, creative robots, soft robotics, …);
  • art (interactive art instillations, creative computers, …);
  • music (eg ’How Madonna crashed the Internet’, how autotune works, music compression, ….);
  • communication (e.g. how can someone with “locked-in syndrome” communicate? …); and
  • astronomy and Space (planetary networks, robots controlling telescopes, finding stardust, …).

Paul has also placed a strong emphasis on diversity, providing a very large number of stories of the research of female role models through the magazines and website, as well as through posters. The special issues of the magazine he produced on women in computing led to a large number of requests for talks on diversity. He is currently extending this work to computing role models for the Black, LGBT+ and disabled communities.

Internationally, cs4fn is used in many other countries, and as a project is regarded as a world leader that others watch with envy. Only Tim Bell’s “Computer Science Unplugged” (from New Zealand) comes close and Paul is a major contributor to the unplugged movement too, as his Teaching London Computing resources show.

As an independent cross-check I consulted Tim Bell himself, who told me: “In the 25 years that I have been involved in computer science education, Paul Curzon’s work has been the most practical and accessible resource that I have used for helping school students and teachers to engage with the big ideas in computer science. Our own resource, Computer Science Unplugged, has picked up many of Paul’s ideas, which he has been generous in making available. Our Unplugged resources, along with our other resources we have developed for teachers, often refer to the CS4FN website. His work and my discussions with him have influenced my thinking on the subject. The UK is very fortunate to have Paul as a champion for the discipline, particularly during this period that schools are adopting the new computing curriculum.”

cs4fn aimed to both inspire students about interdisciplinary computer science worldwide, and educate school students about topics beyond the school syllabus, giving them a taste of the real academic discipline. The impact of the cs4fn magazine was seen immediately in a way that showed it really did inspire more students to take computer science. In the year immediately after the first issues were sent to schools across the UK applications to do computer science degrees at QMUL increased by 70%. They increased by a further 70% the following year and increases have continued for many years since.

Paul’s published book based on cs4fn material with McOwan has now been translated into German, Chinese and Russian. Cs4fn material has or is being also been translated, at the request of, or by others, in to German, Italian, Welsh, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish.

Paul, we salute you!

Further reading

 

Our next events: [teachers] free workshop, not-free ‘Intro to Arduino’ miniCPD, [kids] free magic show

Our diary of events is as follows, everything is taking place at QMUL (Mile End Campus). Details and tickets below.

  • Saturday 21 November (1-5pm) £30/60
    Introduction to Arduino, with Nicola Plant – a ‘miniCPD’ session on programming using an Arduino with simple electronics
  • Wednesday 25 November (5-6.30pm) FREE
    Sorting Unplugged, a free workshop with Paul Curzon
  • Saturday 28 November (1-5pm) £30/60
    Introduction to Arduino, with Nicola Plant – a ‘miniCPD’ session on programming using an Arduino with simple electronics – note that this session is identical to the one on the 21st, we’re running it twice
  • Wednesday 2 December (5-7pm) FREE
    The IET Christmas Children’s Lecture on ‘The Magic of Christmas Computer Science‘ with Paul Curzon and Peter McOwan

More details and tickets
Events for Computing teachers in London

Introduction to Arduino – Aimed at teachers of pupils at KS3 and above our miniCPD session will introduce you to programming using an Arduino with simple electronics. There are two identical sessions on Saturday 21 and Saturday 28 November, from 1-5pm, both capped at 15 guests.
[Tickets for 21 Nov session] [Tickets for 28 Nov session] £30 (London teachers) / £60 for teachers outside London

Sorting Unplugged‘ – demonstrating some practical and powerful ways to teach basic sort algorithms using unplugged methods, Wednesday 25 November 2015, from 5pm.
[Get a free ticket for this workshop]

Aimed at secondary school children and young people

The Magic of Christmas Computer Science‘ – a magic show powered by hidden computer science. Profs Paul Curzon and Peter McOwan present the IET’s Christmas children’s lecture
[Get a free ticket for this magic show]

Paul Curzon from @QMUL and @cs4fn has been making faces at #casneconf :)

Paul Curzon gave a talk at the Computing At School North East conference this morning and judging from the tweets (see below) it seems that people enjoyed themselves. Paul uses magic and audience participation to demonstrate fun and easy ways of introducing programming topics into the classroom and delivers a series of free workshops for London teachers.

(More tweets from the #casneconf below)

If you’re enjoying his talk and wondering about the resources then the links below should help. We’re posting out printed copies to our subscribers but anyone can download free PDFs of our booklets.

The Magic of Computer Science 3: magic meets mistakes, machines and medicine
magicbookcover3This book is published by cs4fn (Computer Science for Fun) in partnership with Teaching London Computing (TLC) and CHI+MED. TLC is funded by the Mayor of London and additional funding from the Department for Education has enabled us to send copies to schools of this booklet beyond London. It is also supported by Computing At School. Click on the picture for more information.

“The cs4fn magic books are collections of easy to do magic tricks (mainly simple card tricks). The twist is that every trick comes with a link to some computer science too. That means that as you learn the tricks, you will learn something about what computer scientists get up to too.

Magic is a combination of a secret method and a presentation. A computer scientist would call the method an algorithm, and that is all a computer program is too. The presentation corresponds to the interaction design of a program. For a magic trick to delight, you must get both the algorithm and presentation right. The same is true for programs”

Computational thinking: searching to speak
Searching to Speak A5 blueThis booklet was produced as part of the Teaching London Computing activities and has been used in one of our free workshops. It highlights how computational thinking can help people, for example in speeding up tasks, but also focuses on remembering when it’s appropriate to use technological solutions and when it isn’t.

Computational Thinking: Searching To Speak is a glossy booklet that shows computational thinking in action embedded in a story about helping people with disability, even without technology. It shows how the separate elements of computational thinking combine in interdisciplinary problem solving. Along the way it teaches some core search algorithms. It is written by Paul Curzon of Queen Mary University of London based on the cs4fn approach.”

Click on the picture to download a copy of the PDF, or read more about it and also see how it’s used in the workshop.

The Create-A-Face activity

IMG_0942 - Paul Curzon at CASneconfIn the picture on the left (taken by Sue Sentance at the CAS NE Conference) Paul Curzon is instructing members of the audience to create a face whose expression can be programmed with simple instructions.

“Explore programming by making an affective (relating to moods and emotions) robot face out of card, tubes and students. Program it to react to different kinds of sounds (nasty, nice or sudden) and show different emotions (sad, happy, surprised). Then think up some other facial expressions and program rules to make the face respond to sounds with the new expressions.”

Download everything you need (apart from the cardboard tubes!) to recreate this in your classroom, from our Create-A-Face Activity page.


Tweets from the Computing At School North East Conference about Paul Curzon’s talk

The tweets above refer to the Searching to Speak booklet and the one below to the latest magic book. Most of the final tweets refer to the Create A Face activity.

Paul Curzon’s doing two free workshops next Friday afternoon (20th) for Computing teachers in London cc @cs4fn

Paul Curzon’s free workshops, held at Queen Mary University of London’s Mile End campus, are fun and informal and support teachers who want to introduce programming concepts and computational thinking into the classroom in an engaging way. Each workshop is accompanied by downloadable classroom activities (also free) – these can be downloaded from the links below.

Next week’s (Friday 20th February) is a double session but you can choose to come to one workshop, or both.

The first workshop is at 2pm then there will be a half hour break with the second starting at 4pm, we aim to finish at 5.30pm.

Do I have to be a London computing teacher to attend?
The workshops are aimed at those who are currently (or who are about to begin) teaching the Computing curricula (particularly GCSE and A-level, though the information in the workshops has been used with younger children). As we’re funded by the Mayor of London we prioritise those who are currently teaching in London schools. The workshops are not suitable for school pupils though as the events are about how to introduce computing concepts into the classroom. Contact Jo Brodie (j.brodie@qmul.ac.uk) for further information.

Biography
Paul Curzon is a Professor of Computer Science at Queen Mary, University of London. He runs the cs4fn ‘Computer Science for Fun’ (cs4fn) project, www.cs4fn.org. It aims to inspire school students about computer science through a series of free magazines, website and school shows. He regularly gives such shows around the UK as well as continuous professional development talks to teachers about the cs4fn approach to teaching. He is Director of the Teaching London Computing Project. He was made a UK National Teaching Fellow in 2010 in recognition of his excellence in teaching and outreach, was a finalist in the 2009 Times Higher Education Innovative Teacher of the year award and has twice won the student nominated Queen Mary award for excellence in teaching.

Workshop A:
Programming unplugged: learning programming without computers

2.00-3.30pm (free Eventbrite tickets)

Overview
It’s easy to assume that programming is something you have to learn at a computer but if you want your students to deeply understand programming concepts, rather than blindly getting programs to work then unplugged techniques can work really well to get students started. We will see how to program a robot face that is made of students, look at a simple way to give a deep understanding of how variables work by making them physical, and see how to compile programs onto your class instead of onto a computer.

Session material This session will cover:

  • Inspiring ways to introduce programming away from computers.
  • What is a variable?
  • How does assignment work?
  • Programming simple objects
  • Introducing flow of control and if statements

Workshop B:
Computational thinking: it’s about people too

4pm-5.30pm (free Eventbrite tickets)

Overview
Computing is not just about technology, it is about understanding people too. When we solve computing problems we are solving them for people. Computational thinking is the general group of problem solving skills that students learn as a result of studying computing. Often this is equated with algorithmic thinking – a direct result of learning to program. However it just as important to make programs usable by people – or they won’t be used. We will see how magic gives a fun way to introduce these ideas and how a simple game demonstrates why graphical user interfaces are effective.

This session is in collaboration with CHI+MED: an EPSRC-funded project about making medical devices safer.

Session material This session will cover:

  • computational thinking: understanding people
  • human computer interaction
  • why GUIs are better than text-based interfaces
  • The importance of data structures