Coding at home with young people across the world

By Kevin Johnson. Posted

Young people can enrich their computing education with Digital Making at Home

Digital Making at Home’s Kevin Johnson shares ideas for designing and delivering successful online teaching content

In March of last year, day-to-day life as we knew it changed dramatically. At the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we realised that we needed to act fast so that young people still had access to digital making learning experiences while learning remotely. The result was Digital Making at Home, a collaborative and evolving repository of content and resources which young people — as well as teachers and parents — could access for free to enrich their computing education.

We knew that it needed to be a programme that was easy to dip into, that was about having fun first and then learning along the way. There were bumps in the road in developing and delivering Digital Making at Home, but we learnt a lot and the programme continues to evolve as a result. Much of what we learnt can also be applied to a virtual school environment. We would like to share what worked for us to help educators deliver engaging digital making experiences online.

From classrooms to living rooms

We began by immediately putting together a team who started writing content that could be taught via video. This content drew from our existing library of resources in a new way; feedback we received from parents, friends, and families in our community indicated that they found the content more relevant and accessible in its new format. Ryka, for example, is a ten-year-old who attends a CoderDojo club. Her parents told us, after discovering Digital Making at Home: “We’ve noticed that she is engaged and takes interest in showing us what she was able to build. It has been a great use of her time.” 

Digital Making at Home was launched at the end of March as a weekly blog post that included three code-along videos for different skill levels, led by members of our team — who were sometimes coding with their children as well. 

We focused on a different theme each week. Having a weekly theme allowed us to explore different real-world topics, many of which can be directly linked to school curricula, such as well-being, space, and the environment. Our hope was that if we made the learning experience more meaningful to young people, they would be better motivated to create. 

Each week, we encouraged young people to share what they created with us through a contact form, and we featured a selection of them in a weekly project showcase blog post. The young people loved this, and we saw consistent engagement from a handful of coders who would excitedly share projects with us every week. 

We would certainly recommend giving young people an opportunity to showcase their work while they are learning from home. In the absence of an in-person session, we found that it really helped boost young people’s confidence and made them feel that they were part of a fun, global community. Many young people who showcased their work for us were coding at home with a parent or a sibling, and it was great to see this wider network included. This could certainly be replicated in a virtual classroom environment for students who would like to share something cool that they’ve made.

Introducing a weekly live stream

A few weeks into the programme, we decided to launch a live video stream so that learners could engage with us synchronously. The world was missing routine, so providing a weekly activity that viewers could look forward to felt like the right thing to try. The stream also acted as a temporary substitute for in-person engagement, which gave us the opportunity to invite special guests from across the tech community to join the stream. We welcomed a huge variety of special guests, including animators, engineers, CoderDojo volunteers, past Coolest Projects participants, and colleagues from the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Inviting special guests to present a talk or hold a workshop may also work well for teachers who are hosting live classes with their students — it is also a great way to show young people how computing is relevant to many types of career.

Over the next 32 weeks, we produced 70 videos and over 45 hours of content, with 40,000 viewers. Even with this data, there was still a lot we didn’t know, such as who was watching, and whether viewership was linked to the decisions we were making. We began placing feedback surveys in the live stream YouTube descriptions and on our blogs, and those provided great qualitative feedback. One of our adult learners said the videos were “very easy to follow” and that “the explanations are really well done for each step”. Much of the feedback we received made it evident that our audience had taken a liking to our hosts, Mark Calleja (Mr C) and Christina Foust.   

We also reached out to members of our club programmes to find out what they were doing and how they were approaching at-home learning. We got a lot of positive feedback from those conversations, and some really helpful suggestions as well. For example, a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator, Yolanda, suggested that the live streams be no longer than 30 minutes, and highlighted the importance of her kids being able to pause and rewind while coding along with us.  

By the end of summer, it was clear that schools in a lot of countries worldwide were preparing to reopen while adapting to safety measures. This prompted us to consider how best to support educators; even though young people would be shifting back into a school routine, we still wanted to provide something they could engage with in their own time that would complement their computer science education. 

We decided that the live stream was the best activity to continue engagement and made it an evening activity. Thus, Digital Making at Home pivoted to being a weekly live stream for young makers. To make it more accessible, we now stream to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Twitch using a web-based broadcasting platform called StreamYard. We get the most engagement from Facebook, but our YouTube audience is quickly growing as well. Young people, parents, and educators can join our weekly live stream every Wednesday at 7pm GMT, 2pm EST, and 11am PST — and access our growing library of recordings, here.

What’s next for Digital Making at Home?

Nobody could foresee the changes that we would have to undergo globally in order to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, but we’re all adapting, and we’re still learning. The way that education is delivered has changed drastically, and we’re now aware that this may have a lasting impact on the way young people learn. Our hope is that with Digital Making at Home, young people are having fun and learning computing at the same time. 

Five tips for curating online digital making experiences

  • Focus on a theme for your session and structure your content around it. You may like to link your theme with something else your students are working on, to encourage cross-curricular learning.

  • Make use of existing content for your sessions so that you are not reinventing the wheel. You can access a wealth of project resources at projects.raspberrypi.org.

  • Encourage parents and siblings to get involved in your session too — this can be a really nice bonding experience for your students and their families!

  • Invite special guests to your session to give a talk or run a workshop. They could be local tech professionals, volunteers, or even older children with an interesting project to share.

  • Provide opportunities for students to showcase what they have created; showcasing should be fun and optional.


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