A bit of CS4FN - computer science support for primary schools
QMUL's Computer Science for Fun project uses everyday concepts to help introduce computer science research to young people in a friendly way
For the last 12 years Prof Paul Curzon and colleagues in the Computer Science department have been demystifying computing as a topic. CS4FN (Computer Science For Fun) takes a magazine-style (with accompanying website) approach to the latest research projects in computer science, many of them based at QMUL, and writes about them in an accessible way for secondary school-aged students and their teachers. CS4FN recently won the (Richard) Garriott Award for Leadership in Public Engagement.
Younger primary-school children (9-12) are learning about computing too and we wanted to give them their own magazine and accompanying website with additional information and resources. We created "A bit of CS4FN" and were delighted to be awarded funding from QMUL's Centre for Public Engagement to expand from our pilot issue. A bit of CS4FN is a mini A5 magazine containing short articles, puzzles, drawings and activities that introduce some computing concepts in a friendly, colourful way.
For example an algorithm is a series of instructions or steps that a computer must follow exactly, if it doesn't the program won't work. For the second issue of the magazine we asked young readers to imagine how they'd teach a robot to dance, encouraging them to plan out the series of steps (perhaps testing it themselves first) before writing the 'instructions'. This introduces new words and new concepts to do with computing and also highlights the importance of planning and following a sequence. (For an even younger child you might talk about algorithms in terms of getting dressed - socks go on before shoes, otherwise your Clothes 'app' won't work).
School teachers have told us that our mini magazine is a fun tool to have in the classroom. Primary teachers are usually generalists so we designed our magazine to help them in several ways
- teaching computing - the magazine and website can be used for lesson planning with ideas for introducing computing topics
- cross-curricular support - the magazines' stories draw on a variety of subjects (history, art, maths etc) to explore themes relating to computing and can be used in classes about other subjects
- literacy support - it's a piece of non-fiction that children can pick up from a classroom reading box and read along (and younger children can also read it, perhaps with support). The magazine has short stories with simple language as well as colourful cartoons.
- other in-class activities - the quizzes and puzzles are useful for some quiet time at the end of the day
- as a reward - teachers have told us that they enjoyed handing out the magazines at the end of term as gifts, and their kids enjoyed receiving them
We've also benefited from having the magazine ourselves. At our QMUL open days and other events we now have something that we can hand out to primary school teachers, primary schoolchildren and their parents. Previously our output has focused more on the 12-14 age-group and older so it has been fun to expand our reach and build a new audience. At QMUL's Festival of Communities 2018 event we even had quite a few families asking if we had anything for pre-schoolers!
Our third issue of A Bit of CS4FN magazine has just been posted out to teachers with over 10,000 copies going to 316 subscribing UK schools. We've also sent out free copies to schools that haven't subscribed yet, encouraging them to sign. You can download a free copy of the PDFs yourself too - issue one, two and three. If you're a primary school teacher in the UK you can sign up to receive copies (while stocks last) and we'd love to know how you're using it in your classroom, we also have a survey for your students to tell us what they think of A bit of CS4FN too.
Follow @cs4fn on Twitter.