So delighted to have an article in the Financial Technologist magazine this week - thank you so much to Harrington Starr and Nadia Edwards-Dashti for your support and encouragement and Nicole Wilkins for helping with the writing!
This article not only discusses how we successfully pivoted to virtual shows in lockdown, but also highlights our focus on combining STEM inspiration with Diversity and Inclusion:
"The pivot to virtual teaching also supported the diversity and inclusion goals that are so fundamental to Get with the Program – we want to show children that STEM subjects are for everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background. All of our adventures encourage inclusivity and challenge stereotypes, right down to our female robot, Al, and we also work hard to ensure our shows and activities work for SEN and neurodivergent students."
We are committed to encouraging those less well-represented into STEM careers, helping to bridge the digital divide at the same time, and have successfully started this mission by focusing on our exciting grassroots coding adventures! If you'd or your business would like to help us inspire the tech innovators of the future, get in touch and 'Get with the Program'!
You can download the full magazine for free here: https://lnkd.in/dgF7jkr
Get with the Program – Progress despite the pandemic
When we started Get with the Program in 2019, the goal was to spark children’s curiosity with a series of fun and engaging theatre-in-education coding experiences. We wanted to visit local primary schools to teach children programming concepts in a creative way that would help capture their imaginations and get them interested in technology. Our goal was to encourage children who might not be intrinsically drawn to tech to see how it can be used creatively to solve problems in everyday life (and beyond!), and to get all children excited about these possibilities well before they choose their GCSEs. Our thinking was that not everyone ‘gets’ computing – but you can take everyone on the journey.
At first, this worked beautifully – over 2,500 primary school children took part in our unplugged Al the Robot shows in our first year, helping ‘Professor’ Trice and her sidekick Al (short for Algorithm) solve problems as part of an interactive coding adventure.
But when the pandemic hit, there were suddenly no schools full of children to perform for, no assembly halls of excited students to interact with. Realising that teachers would also be looking for a way to incorporate computing curriculum into the remote learning they were having to produce from nothing, we decided to see if we could ‘pivot to video’ and convert our existing shows into a virtual experience.
This was a challenge. Our unplugged shows had been at school assemblies where we could interact with the children, see their enthusiasm, and incorporate physical, kinaesthetic learning to help get kids moving and create lightbulb moments where computing processes suddenly made a whole lot more sense. Could we make that work in a video where we couldn’t see or hear the audience and engage with them directly? Would our Eco Coding show, which was due to launch just days after the first lockdown hit, translate well to the virtual setting?
We’re delighted to say that the response was incredible. Those 2,500 children in 2019 became nearly a quarter of a million children in 2020 as over 2,300 schools signed up to our Traditional Tales virtual coding panto! We had requests from schools as far away as the US, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and the UAE for access to the show, which we developed in partnership with the Winchester Science Centre and STEM Learning. Children loved meeting ‘Professor’ Trice and helping Al make Christmas breakfast porridge for the three bears, debugging the algorithm to make sure it was just right. In true panto style, we enjoyed seeing videos of children yelling enthusiastically at the screen whilst ‘interacting’ with our characters.
The Eco Coding show was also a huge success, handing teachers a fully-packaged adventure that fits into the computing curriculum and promotes environmental consciousness with a shopping trip where children try to Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. In our unplugged activities, children can pretend to be a robot and program themselves a route to reduce packaging in an imaginary supermarket. The feedback we received from teachers, parents and carers was phenomenal, with someone even suggesting it should be on TV!
An added bonus of getting the shows out to so many children during lockdown was that teaching them all about ‘debugging’ was a great way of supporting mental health, resilience and perseverance in a time when many were dealing with a tough situation.
In our shows, we talk a lot about how to solve problems when you didn’t get what you hoped for, that it’s okay not to get things right the first time around and to keep trying until you do. The earlier we learn these skills, the easier we cope with situations throughout our lives which at first seem hard to manage or overcome. We’re now exploring the idea of a show where Al could be programmed to help ‘Professor’ Trice calm down when she’s feeling anxious – another innovation borne out of the exceptional circumstances we found ourselves in this past year.
The pivot to virtual teaching also supported the diversity and inclusion goals that are so fundamental to Get with the Program – we want to show children that STEM subjects are for everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background. All of our adventures encourage inclusivity and challenge stereotypes, right down to our female robot, Al, and we also work hard to ensure our shows and activities work for SEN and neurodivergent students.
We don’t want children to feel left behind or develop a mindset that STEM subjects simply ‘aren’t for them’. The move to online shows meant that we could reach many more children than before, including those from areas where schools or households might not have access to the latest tech to help develop students’ interest in this area. As we look to make Get with the Program accessible to more and more schools, we are partnering with businesses who could sponsor schools to run the shows or even help with the conversion and creation of new content.
As a result, we’ve now produced a brand-new show, our Moon Landing Coding Adventure, where children will help design, test and debug algorithms to get Al to the moon on a Saturn V rocket. The show gives them insight into the STEM careers involved in this amazing achievement and teaches them about some of the role models who made it possible to get people to the moon, including mathematician Katherine Johnston and software engineer Margaret Hamilton. We’re excited to see how kids respond to the new show, which is designed with remote delivery and COVID-19 safety in mind so that it can go on whatever the circumstances in September.
While we’re looking forward to being able to do in-person shows again – the children are always delighted when ‘the lady from the telly’ turns up in their playground – we’re so proud of what we’ve been able to achieve by working hard to meet the challenges thrown up by the pandemic. We now have a much more scalable offering that is still fun, fully immersive, and most importantly gets children passionate and inspired about a future in STEM.
by Nicole Wilkins and Jeni Trice