A fun and colourful gateway to computer science

By William Lau. Posted

William Lau has created a colouring book to help make computer science accessible to all

For many people, their first educational experience of computer science will involve some challenge and some jargon. Some will encounter computer science at primary school, others at secondary school, and some may never receive any formal education in the subject.

For teachers, it quickly becomes apparent which group a student falls into. Students will have varying prior knowledge and for those with no prior knowledge, this means the gap that they have to bridge in order to access the school curriculum may be much greater than their peers. These educational experiences vary even more for the adult population. What if there were a resource that could make computer science accessible to all, regardless of age or income? Creating the Computer Science Colouring Book has allowed me to reach this broader audience and introduce computer science concepts in a new and creative way.

Image credit: William Lau

Colouring outside the lines

My experience of teaching computing has given me time to reflect on the best medium for teaching certain topics. Computers have their purpose in computer science education, for example, when visualising simulations, learning programming, and teaching IT-related skills such as graphic design, animation, and video editing. But there is so much more to computing, and much of it can be achieved using unplugged and traditional media. I am also wary of putting children off from an early age.

While sitting next to my own children, aged six and one, I thought about how colouring is accessible from a very early age. I also thought about how computer hardware in particular is usually either black, silver, or white. Yet children love colours, and in primary schools many computing devices are colourful. Putting all this together, the Computer Science Colouring Book was born.

“What does this say, Daddy?”

Colouring books themselves vary in quality; some have puzzles and some are educational. Before my son could read, he could colour in, and he would ask me, “What does this say, Daddy?” The colouring books became reading books. This led me to add some basic accompanying text to the colouring book so that it would be accessible to young children, students in secondary school, and adults. Aside from colouring, there are quizzes and, like all good activity books, the answers are in the back.

The choice of images was generally inspired by GCSE Computer Science content. I was also motivated by wanting to demystify certain hardware and software and to provide the general public with an introduction to computer science. People often hear of the terms ‘CPU’ and ‘RAM’, but the layperson probably doesn’t know what these look like, or what role they play. My colleague, Leila Lassami, later suggested including pages where students could colour by number. The computer science version of this is colouring pixels to make images, and this led on nicely to introducing colour depth. The book therefore covers some foundational GCSE topics and is suitable for all ages.

Another learning experience

Throughout my teaching career I have had to learn new skills, and this is the beauty of being a computing teacher. Creativity will necessitate learning new software, tools, and skills. As a teacher, you will have an idea and then you will need to find a way to implement it. This book allowed me to learn how to edit vector graphics. There was a large bank of Creative Commons (CC0) and public domain images on websites such as Pixabay. I then needed to learn how to make these images black and white and to outline them so that they were suitable for colouring. Some images took seconds; others took hours!

Image credit: William Lau

I thought about approaching a publisher with this idea, as the colouring book market is quite big and this book could attract some adult readers too. Ultimately, I stuck to my previous publication model: to make digital copies of the book available for free as a PDF; if people want to support me by buying physical copies, they can do that too. The book has already been downloaded over 500 times and some teachers have already said that they have included the book in their home learning packs while schools are shut. The great thing about the PDF is that parents, grandparents, and teachers can print off individual pages that a child might be interested in and then the whole educational experience can take place offline, away from a screen. I hope that the book will broaden access and inspire future generations to pursue computer science.

  • The free PDF is available here

  • Physical copies can be bought here

I would love to hear from readers who have printed out or bought the book and I encourage you all to be bold and reimagine hardware and software in whatever colours you choose. Share your creations on social media using the hashtag #CSColouringBook.


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