Barefoot supporting teachers with computing science

Barefoot Computing ProjectIn today’s increasingly digital world, children growing up with tablets can take selfies before they’ve even learnt to say ‘cheese’.

It’s a constant reminder that getting to grips with technology is just as fundamental at primary age as reading and writing.

Indeed, the future belongs to the tiny tech lovers of today but they need the best support to learn. That’s where the BT led Barefoot Computing Project is making a big difference.

Powering the next generation

Back in 2014 the Barefoot Computing Project was born when it was realised that teachers needed help with understanding and teaching the new computer science curriculum.

The programme was created by the British Computer Society (BCS) and Computing at School (CAS), with funding from the Department for Education, and support from BT and other parties

In 2015 BT picked up the baton, funding and programme managing the project, working in partnership with BCS and CAS to create and deliver free Barefoot workshops in schools across the UK.

The nationwide project has now touched the lives of more than 950,000 children and that’s in no small part down to the team of volunteers who help run workshops for teachers.

Leading for BT is Karen Hayton, who says she “loves Barefoot and could talk about it till the cows come home.”

Why does she love Barefoot so much and how can anyone take part? We sat down for a chat to find out.

Karen, can you tell us how it all began?

The computational thinkersIn 2014 when the curriculum in England changed to include computing and computational thinking, primary teachers needed help. That’s when Barefoot was established, to help teachers gain confidence with computing concepts that underpin tech literacy.

Our trained volunteers led teachers through workshops where they get to try out fun based learning activities such as Pizza Pickle Scratch Debugging, Snowflake Making and Monster Bee-bots to help children become computational thinkers.

Barefoot is now available across the UK. We’ve aligned the teaching resources to the curriculum of all UK nations, offering translations in Welsh, Irish and Scottish Gaelic. I’m also really pleased we’ve added teaching resources for pupils with special education needs (SEN).

It sounds like a game-changing project, how’s it going?

It’s certainly evolved a lot, the drive has really grown. We know that children are swiping and using technology but are not always interested in how it works. More than 12 million people in the UK alone don’t have the skills for the digital world we now live in.

BT's tech literacy programmeThat’s where BT’s tech literacy programme comes in. We’re about enabling, inspiring and equipping people in an exciting way. We’re on a mission to improve the tech literacy of five million children by 2020.

Our work on the Barefoot Computing Project is part of that ambition, and results are very encouraging. Since the start of the programme we’ve supported 33,000 teachers, our free resources have been downloaded more than 130,000 times and we’ve reached 950,000 children.

Schools have really embraced the project, the feedback’s been amazing. It’s loved by pupils and trusted by teachers, with more than 94 per cent saying they feel more confident to teach computational thinking after attending a workshop. What’s even more exciting is that Barefoot teachers say they see really significant impacts among their pupils, they are better at problem solving, collaboration and they also see improvements in numeracy and literacy!

Lots of people across BT are involved as Barefoot volunteers, but we also have volunteers from other companies and organisations. We’ve lots more schools to reach so I’m always on the look-out for volunteers.

Do you need to have a technical background to volunteer?

Not at all! I’m hardly the most technical person you’ll ever meet. Volunteering works really well because all you need is a passion and enthusiasm to help others. In fact, it can be a good thing if you’re not too technical as you don’t get side tracked into actual coding conversations, it’s more about bringing the resources to life to help teachers get primary school children into computational thinking.

We currently have a thousand volunteers who are trained to deliver the workshops, and about three quarters work for BT. The rest are from all walks of life.

What’s next for Barefoot?

In the last year we’ve concentrated on taking the project nationwide, including special education need (SEN) resources into the materials as well as growing the school and volunteer base. My next challenge is looking at how we engage more with parents.

What happens when the children leave the classroom to make sure the learning is reinforced? Key to all of this is are teachers and parents, because they’re the people who will support and influence a culture change for the next generation.

Another piece of work I’d like to explore is using the resources for even younger children. Our materials are aimed at five to 11 year olds, but I think they’re equally as useful for early years learning, especially the SEN resources we’ve just launched.

When it comes to updating and developing new resources we’ll be collaborating over the next year with like-minded organisations such as Raspberry Pi and TES (formerly known as the Times Educational Supplement) to get the best materials.

Want to join in or be a Barefoot volunteer?

If you’re drawn to helping the next generation along their digital adventure, visit the Barefoot website and register your interest.

For anyone who’d like to start talking to their local school about the programme, why not share this story and download this flyer for the next time you drop in.

It’s worth knowing that Barefoot volunteers aren’t just industry professionals or tech experts, they’re people of all ages who have a desire to help others. You’ll get all the training you need and you definitely don’t need to be technically gifted, just a good communicator.

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