During next week’s DojoCon Netherlands, the annual conference of the Dutch CoderDojo community, Felienne Hermans will be one of the keynote speakers (I’m one of others). Preparing for the conference I looked at the other speakers, and Felienne’s twitter stream ( pointed to her presentation at R Studion Conference 2019 early this year. It’s just under an hour long, but I watched it with pleasure.

The hand drawn slides are cool (can’t imagine the time that went into it, or at least the time I’d need for something like that.), and so is the story, about how to teach (children) programming.

Starting from the quote ‘Morning boys, how’s the water?‘, she says in contrast to e.g. reading, we don’t know much of anything about teaching programming. There’s no body of work (which is what she’s now building at Leiden University).

  • That the way many of us acquired our own tech skills strongly shapes the assumptions about learning to code. Many people growing up in the 70s and 80s learned to work with computers by spending endless hours behind the keyboard, without parental oversight or guidance from knowledgeable adults. I definitely fall in this category too.
  • That those experiences covertly influence the way the field thinks about teaching coding, where exploration and getting stuck and unstuck on your own is the way to go.
  • Research of children learning Scratch suggests however that there are many drop-outs that way, that the acquired skill level flattens out quickly, and that there’s no efficiency gain visible in consequent activities of the children involved.
  • Her research shows that age-old reading teaching tactics such as vocalisation and repeating out loud do work and show consistent results. And that tests work well too. Not to grade children, but to find out as a teacher where you are at.
  • Oh, and that creating applications in Excel is real programming too. Don’t say, or let people say, that some form of something isn’t real work / the real thing.

I feel vindicated by that last point (made early in the keynote) šŸ˜€ My meanest programming feat still is building the first intranet (2001/2) of my then employer by hand from scratch using the browser as a window on / to interact with Excel, the folder structure on the shared drives, and back-office systems like time writing, and having the browser grab stuff from Excel files. It was a jumble of HTML, Perl, Visual Basic, and Excel formulas, but it worked and helped cut significant time out of quality assurance processes and made things like starting a new project way easier and actually helpful for my colleagues, instead of being dreary bureaucracy for them. I’d never call myself a real programmer. But it was real programming. Even the tiniest little bits, like yesterday’s simple hack, are real.

Open Nederland heeft een eerste podcast geproduceerd. Sebastiaan ter Burg is de gastheer en Maarten Brinkerink deed de productie en muziek.

In de Open Nederland podcast komen mensen aan het woord komen die kennis en creativiteit delen om een eerlijke, toegankelijke en innovatieve wereld te bouwen. In deze eerste aflevering gaat het over open in verschillende domeinen, zoals open overheid en open onderwijs, en hoe deze op elkaar aansluiten.

De gasten in deze aflevering zijn:

  • Wilma Haan, algemeen directeur van de Open State Foundation,
  • Jan-Bart de Vreede, domeinmanager leermiddelen en metadata van Kennisnet en
  • Maarten Zeinstra van Vereniging Open Nederland en Chapter Lead van Creative Commons Nederland.

(full disclosure: ik ben zowel bestuurslid van Open Nederland als bestuursvoorzitter van Open State Foundation, waarvan CEO Wilma Haan in deze podcast deelneemt.)

Some links I thought worth reading the past few days

In the coming weeks I will be working with a Dutch school class (group 7, so 10/11 yr olds), in collaboration with the Provincial Library Friesland and their FryskLab team (a mobile FabLab).

Last summer I wrote a series of postings on how I see a path to significantly increase agency for various group in various contexts, if we succeed in lowering the adoption threshold for existing technologies and techniques. Then any group can recombine those technologies and techniques to create a desired impact in their own contexts and environment.

With a little bit of funding from the Dutch Royal Library, the Provincial Library Friesland and me will work with a school class of the Dr. Algraschool and later with people in a neighborhood to put that model to the test.

In collaboration with the NHL, a university for applied sciences, we will use the results of the experiment to propose a follow-up project as part of the NHL’s lectorate on ‘agile craftsmanship’.

The first session is Wednesday, where we will start with the class to discuss the type of things they would like to change or improve around themselves, and what capabilities they feel they themselves and classmates have. In a follow-up session we will combine those ideas and their talents with the facilities of FryskLab, and then work with the children to build their own prototypes, solutions and projects.

I’m looking forward to it. It’s been a long time since I worked with primary school kids. Back in 2007 I worked with 12 primary schools to integrate digital literacies in their regular lessons, where we explored what children were already doing online, and how schools could help guide that, and build on it in their lessons. And it will definitely be a pleasure to work with the FryskLab crew (who were such a great addition to our 2014 Make Stuff That Matters birthday unconference)

The FryskLab mobile FabLab, parked in front of our home, 2014

Last week on the invitation of Martin Lindner, I attended the one-day workshop-style event ‘Hack die Bildung‘ (Hacking Education) in Berlin.

A very nicely diverse group of about 25 people attended. This number of people worked well for me, reminiscent of the BlogWalk format, as it allowed for more deep-diving conversation.

Six themes were proposed beforehand :
informal self-organized learning, workplace learning, beyond the classroom, open course materials and open universities, beyond texts and books, hacking education out in the ‘real’ world

I was attending to both be ‘host’ to the theme of ‘beyond text and books’, as well as to share my experiences in working with Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and 10 primary schools here in the region.

Edu-hackers at work

After a general intro plenary round, two rounds of ‘speed-geeking’ followed. In short bursts of 6 minutes everybody rotated in small groups through the six themes, that were introduced by the hosts by way of showing examples, applications or sharing a few anecdotes. This way everybody gets an overview quickly of all themes, before choosing a topic to explore more deeply in the group discussionĀ  rounds. Fittingly a description of my speed geeking remarks about the theme ‘beyond texts and books’ is too long a text to fit in this blogposting so it is posted seperately.
During the discussion rounds in the afternoon, notes on each of the themes discussed were made in etherpad (in German).

More edu-hackers at work

The closing plenary session we used to formulate a few educational hacks. Here are some of those mentioned, from the top of my head (i.e. without diving into the extensive notes):
– ELSA, as practiced at a school in Berlin, where parents, teachers and pupils/learners together negotiate the way the learning experience is shaped.
– Hands on themed projects, in which learners get most of the responsibility (as example a bike tour to Germany’s highest mountain top in the Alps was mentioned)
– Parent blogs, to counter the ‘control freakishness’ of teachers
Micro labs

It was a very pleasant, and intensive day. I find in general these small scale get togethers give me a lot in terms of conversations, learning as well as contacts. More than large conferences do. It’s not a new insight, of course, been doing these unconference things since early 2004 after all, but it is one worth repeating every now and then.
On top of that, I rather enjoy Berlin as a city, so that helps too!

Berlin had a festival of lights, illuminating different buildings, such as Brandenburg Gate