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Many of you will have realised that interesting things are afoot in the world of ICT. Michael Gove has echoed several recent reports in suggesting that there should be more of a place for Computer Science in the curriculum, while developments such as the Raspberry Pi could put a programmable computer in every pocket. At Camp Hill we have been providing A level Computing for 5 years and as part of our school specialism and role as regional hub for the Computing at School group, we organised our second Computing Conference for the 13th March.
The event involved pupils from four schools, split into smaller groups to try to encourage activities to be as interactive as possible. In our case, girls from the Year 10 and 11 AS Computing groups were invited.
There were a variety of events. Two local brothers (one an ex-pupil of the boys’ school) who have developed an online programming language led an interactive coding session in C1 (playmycode.com), while a hardware enthusiast showed us how devices such as Arduino boards can be used to make cheap electronics devices including games consoles, data loggers and heart-rate monitors. There was also a talk from a chief examiner and ‘brainstorming’ session with a PhD student who combined aspects of Computer Science and Psychology to encourage students to think about how computers could be used to help modify behaviour. As a result we heard about smartphone ‘apps’ that would sense you approaching a cake shop and suggest a diversion away from temptation, while groups devised such products as an ‘intelligent fridge’ that would apply electric current to the door to prevent you eating until it sensed you’d finished your homework!
The highlight, however, was a talk from Dr Peter Dickman, a senior engineer at Google. He was using some of the famed 20% time employees are allocated for their own projects to support UK Science & Technology Week by flying in from his office in Switzerland. He gave the keynote speech, describing the sheer scale of the technology behind the simple ‘Google search’, and the difficulties involved in aiming for a response time of 10ms with a system with so many computers in it that processes have to be designed with the expectation of regular ‘one in a million’ failures.
After a brief break, he then provided a second talk for an open audience including parents, non-Computing students, etc… … and most of the girls’ school management team. This time the themes were data security and Google’s engineering-driven culture. I can’t wait to see if Mrs James and Mrs Johnson plan to implement some of their ideas: inspiration/games spaces around the workplace (we may have that one already?), the ability to nominate any other employee for a £200 bonus for good work, and the ‘rule’ that no employee should ever be more than 30 metres from free food and drink!
Particular thanks to Mr Pitt (CHB) and Natalie Ravenhill (Y13), who helped events run smoothly on the day, and Mrs Gahir for her help beforehand. Feedback from those attending was extremely positive and it is hoped that we can organise something similar next year. If you have any contacts/ideas in this area then please let me know!