Public Engagement

A Bit of CS4FN: Mini computing magazines for primary schools

Jo Brodie, the Public Engagement Co-ordinator for Computer Science for Fun (CS4FN) tells us the story of their Large Grant project 'A bit of CS4FN'

Published:
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Written by Jo Brodie

As soon as we-- Prof Paul Curzon and I-- held our first 'Magic of Computing' stall at the Festival of Communities we realised we needed some reading material for younger kids. We had plenty of puzzle sheets for that age group, as well as colouring-in activities for them and even younger kids, but parents kept asking if we had anything for their pre-teens to read... Which we didn't.

At this point, we'd been publishing CS4FN, a fun free A4-sized computing magazine for secondary school-aged children, since 2005 and we gave plenty of those to older kids, parents and local teachers. But at the Festival, it became clear that there was a need to adapt this into something for a younger audience.

First we applied for a CPE Small Grant to develop a pilot A5-sized issue of 'A bit of CS4FN' for primary school kids: specifically years 5 and 6. We worked with a former primary teacher (Jane Waite) to make sure our writing and content were age-appropriate and linked in to the curriculum. This pilot went well and so we decided to apply explore applying for a CPE Large Grant to expand our project. 

The Large Grant scheme fit well with our project idea: we wanted to expand the project to include two more issues and beef up the accompanying website-- which would allow us to engage with a new audience (well, two new audiences: years 5 and 6 students and their teachers!), in a different way to how we'd worked with them before. 

We wanted to produce something that had a dual function: as a piece of interesting non-fiction for kids to read and a useful teaching tool for teachers which would spark ideas for the classroom. Primary school teachers are generalists so as well as computing information we included history, art, design, words and numeracy in the booklet too so that it was applicable to the wider curriculum. We were also careful to maintain gender-neutral language and ensure representation of different ethnicities in the images we chose.

To reach our target audience of primary teachers we created a mailing list, got the pilot issue of the magazine plus sign-up sheets in delegates’ bags at teacher conferences and handed out copies to parents and kids at lots of different events asking them to tell their teacher (it’s very easy to approach people when you’re holding out a free, colourful thing for them to take!).

We also told colleagues within our own department at Queen Mary; not only does it let any staff member know that we produce free magazines for schools but also if they have kids the right age, they get to take some cool reading material home.

Now whenever parents ask us if we have anything for their pre-teens to read we can say 'yes!' and show them 'A bit of CS4FN'.

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We also asked Jo to give us three top-tips for those who are looking to apply for a CPE Large Grant this year:

"Our top tips from our work on 'A bit of CS4FN' are:

  1. Consider who your main audience is and who are 'the gatekeepers' that can help you reach these people.
  2. If you’ll be working with other departments within Queen Mary (like design, printing, posting) get in touch with them early to help manage your turnaround timings, and getting costing ideas.
  3. Keep an updated dashboard (Google Docs and Sheets are great for this): keep copies of key information in them and add it in as you go, it'll also help with your evaluation at the end."

Applications are now open for the Centre for Public Engagement Large Grants 2021. Queen Mary students and staff are eligible to apply for up to £10,000 to support their projects that engage the public with research, teaching, or core business of the University. You can read more about the scheme and apply here.