Digital Schoolhouse: Computing through play

By Estelle Ashman. Posted

Many Schoolhouses have seen an increase in girls opting to take computing-related subjects since joining the programme. Image credit: Digital Schoolhouse.

Estelle Ashman explains how hosting a programme of workshops and CPD to inspire local primary students in creative tech boosted her own confidence and knowledge

As Digital Schoolhouse’s Curriculum Content Developer, Estelle Ashman is responsible for the creation and curation of their innovative teaching resources. With over ten years’ teaching experience and a master’s degree in Teaching and Learning, Estelle is an enthusiastic practitioner who has the expertise to take difficult computer science concepts and present them in a new and innovative way. Estelle’s role with Digital Schoolhouse is hybrid. Her working week is shared between Digital Schoolhouse and classroom teaching at Gildredge House in Eastbourne.

It was almost five years ago when I submitted an application for my school to join Digital Schoolhouse and what a brilliant five years it has been. At the time, I wasn’t completely sure what I was joining. 

My first experience of a Digital Schoolhouse training event was an innovation – finally, here I was with like-minded individuals from all over the country being trained by some of the best people in computing pedagogy and I was being told that no idea was too crazy! Not only that, but I was being paid to be there – Schoolhouses can apply for a bursary and travel for all training is reimbursed.

With a catalogue of workshops that include everything from lessons on algorithms using Ubisoft’s Just Dance to investigating binary numbers with Nintendo’s Super Mario Maker 2, Digital Schoolhouse is at the forefront of playful computing. 

Machine code Mario

Digital Schoolhouse is known for its free, innovative, playful workshops. In this example, students are taught how to create Super Mario levels that require the player to carry out binary conversions and calculations in order to complete the level.

Download the workshop resources here

Rewarding relationships

Working with local primary schools is so rewarding, from encouraging students to work in groups, which I am often told doesn’t happen as often as it should, to engaging disengaged students, and every session is different. Each workshop has one thing in common: innovative resources that bring the curriculum to life through playful learning. With our involvement stretching over five years we are now seeing the positive impact that the workshops have on both the students that go on to study with us and the development of our own teaching resources.

I have Lea Gilbert, the previous Head of Gildredge House, to thank for encouraging me to join Digital Schoolhouse. Not only did her suggestion have a positive impact on my sense of worth — it is hugely rewarding to know that someone is noticing your hard work — but it also opened our school to even more opportunities. Over the last few years our students have had the chance to run their own national e-sports tournament, visit top game studios, take part in competitions and I have had the chance to talk about the programme at events and work with partners at trade shows. In the last year, I have had the further opportunity of becoming part of the team and now split my time between working for Digital Schoolhouse and teaching at school. 

 Digital Schoolhouse prides itself on providing high-quality training led by some of the top practitioners in the country. Image credit: Digital Schoolhouse

How Digital Schoolhouse works

The not-for-profit Digital Schoolhouse programme, together with Nintendo UK, uses playful learning to engage the next generation of pupils and teachers with the computing curriculum. Digital Schoolhouse is delivered by UK games industry trade body Ukie and supported by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS). 

The process works like this:

  • Education settings (typically secondary schools and FE colleges) are selected to become Digital Schoolhouses.

  • They offer free weekly workshops to visiting primary school pupils and teachers. 

  • The aim of each workshop is to teach pupils computing in a way that is creative, innovative, inspirational, engaging, and fun.

  • Computer science concepts are taught using play-based learning. They fuse art and science through dance, games, magic, and storytelling.

  • Each digital schoolhouse lead teacher is given bespoke training to improve their subject knowledge and teaching pedagogy.

  • All visiting teachers are provided with free and personalised support following the visit. This helps them continue to embed computing in their schools. 

By joining the programme, Schoolhouses have access to a network of teaching resources, including Nintendo LABO kits. Image credit: Digital Schoolhouse

Join the programme

Each Digital Schoolhouse is based in a school, college, or university environment, and aims to work with a growing network of local primary and secondary teachers to deliver creative and cross-curricular computing lessons using playful learning. Through this model, the programme supports the computing programme of study for the national curriculum in a way that leaves pupils and teachers feeling inspired about, and engaged with, computing and the wider creative digital industries. By joining the programme as a Digital Schoolhouse, it’s also possible to improve the transition from primary to secondary school, and secondary teachers can have a better idea of the new intake while raising the profile of computing within their schools and local communities. 

Applications are now open for schools wanting to join the programme!


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