A remote summer school to support well-being

By Peter Marshman. Posted

One of the projects children could create was a plant moisture monitor

In August, Peter Marshman led a remote summer school where pupils used micro:bits to explore nature

The Park House NCCE Computing Hub, an advisory school for developing self-efficacy in computing, delivered a remote micro:bit summer school for pupils in Year 6. The programme was run in West Berkshire and was the product of a collaboration between Park House School and the West Berkshire Council Education Service. The summer school was delivered over two weeks in August and the children involved came from 43 different primary schools.

The aims of the summer school were to fill educational gaps in computing created during the pandemic, and also to prepare pupils for their transition to secondary school by allowing them to work with experienced secondary computing teachers. The local news publication Newbury Today reported: “With many pupils missing out on transition activities and large parts of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curriculum over the last four months, the summer school aims to provide new opportunities to try coding and extend the knowledge and skills of those who have tried before.”

The theme of the summer school was Code In, Keep Fit & Love Nature. The programme was designed to support pupils’ well-being through getting active, staying healthy, and exploring nature. Six sessions were delivered over the two-week period through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous methods. This included live webinars, online support resources, and synchronous Zoom support sessions. This hybrid delivery approach ensured that pupils were provided with a range of resources including step-by-step guides, pre-recorded instructional block coding videos, and direct support via screen sharing. 

To equip the pupils for the sessions, micro:bits were posted to them upon enrolment. They needed to have a laptop, tablet, or device, as well as internet access at home. Over the six sessions, pupils learnt to program a micro:bit in order to create: a step counter; a digital pet; a species counter; a beep test; a workout organiser; and a plant moisture monitor.

All of the resources were made freely available on the Park House Computing Hub website and the pupils were also able to share their achievements on this platform.

Reflecting on the experience

It was wonderful to see parents capture their children’s adventures in coding, even while it was the summer break. One instance of this can be seen in this video, where a parent recorded their child happily working on the species counter activity at home. Another parent posted the following report from their child on social media: “I made the animal counter to count bugs and birds. It was really fun… I can’t wait to do some more coding :o).”

Such was the success of the summer school, I was able to share about the importance of coding in relation to the summer school on BBC Radio Berkshire.

During the radio segment, I spoke about the importance of keeping young people engaged and providing them with opportunities during an uncertain time: “It was wonderful to work with children across many primary schools in West Berkshire and to provide free access to micro:bits, sent to each family in the post. The focus of the project was to keep children active whilst having fun with technology and making a difference. The most memorable moments were when the children joined the Zoom support sessions just so they could show us their achievements and to talk about what they wanted to do next.”

Thomas Ng, schools ICT strategic lead at West Berkshire Council, spoke about how the opportunity and subsequent benefits arose from a challenging situation: “Coronavirus social measures have presented us with an unprecedented opportunity to introduce logical approaches to fun-loving young program designers. The outcome is indeed amazing.”

Derek Peaple, former head teacher of Park House School in Newbury, mentioned how the programme inspired young people to get outdoors and get active: “The micro:bit summer school provided children across West Berkshire with the chance to develop their coding skills and then take their devices outside to keep active with activities such as a step counter and a digital workout assistant. With children learning at home, this opportunity allowed them to continue to develop their independent digital learning skills whilst embracing the outdoors.” 

Designing hybrid learning

  • Create engaging content for live webinars that are fun and light-touch, but also have a high impact. Ensure that these are kept to less than 15 minutes long

  • Provide step-by-step guides that allow children to extend their learning and provide ideas for tinkering and opportunities to explore other subject areas

  • Provide synchronous sessions using a platform such as Zoom, which will allow children to share their solutions and get advice on adapting their solutions to their needs; it will also allow teachers to give additional support to those who may need it

Looking to next year

The Park House NCCE Computing Hub wishes to provide this opportunity for many more pupils nationally next year. We are looking for people to support this initiative by volunteering to do Zoom support sessions with young people, or by providing sponsorship. If you’d like to get involved, please contact us at: teachcomputing@parkhouseschool.org.


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