Creative Technology in Education

We caught up with educator Claire Garside to find out more about the Foundation for Digital Creativity‘s mission, and how creative technology can help education.

Hi Claire. You’re an educator and a tinkerer. Could you please tell us a bit more about yourself and your roles?

My teaching background is quite broad as I started life as a Technology subject specialist in secondary education before transitioning to link with special educational needs. My final role in school was as a senior teacher and coordinator of students with additional needs, which should go some way to explaining my interest in promoting inclusion and valuing diverse communities with current digital making activities.

Since leaving my last teaching role, I’ve loved the opportunity to work across the UK with so many passionate educators, looking to use ed tech as a powerful learning tool. The launch of the Computing curriculum in 2014 shifted my focus towards supporting school leaders and teachers with the move from ICT to Computing and the evolving pedagogies involved with managing that change. That’s given me so many opportunities to engage with new programmes and networks such as Computing at School, the Maker Movement and Raspberry Jam community, for which I lead the monthly meetup in Leeds.

Fast forward to now and we’ve launched the Foundation for Digital Creativity to build on activities and create opportunities for more people to access digital making activities, regardless of skills, confidence or resources.

What’s the mission of the Foundation for Digital Creativity?

We’re aiming to advance the education of adults and children, particularly in the fields of electronics, computing, engineering and digital literacy and inspire future generations to create, invent and learn through digital making.

Our mission is to increase participation and develop skills in the digital making for everyone, through a schools’ programme with community events and professional development. We’re certainly looking to include more opportunities to encourage intergenerational learning around the STEM to STEAM.

One of the themes is connecting communities so we’re delivering ‘The Internet of Curious Things’ as a series of workshops designed to empower groups to have a better understanding of how data can be used to develop decision making. Very much a playful and inclusive approach to introducing the cultural and community opportunities from the internet of things, and with some innovative ideas evolving already.

As a co-founder of the Foundation for Digital Creativity and from your experience in the tech and education sectors, what would you say is the biggest challenge?

Getting involved with the research team at Leeds University reaffirmed my own thoughts about the challenges and conflict schools face today, as we published a paper which examined the inclusion of digital making in the formal curriculum. Maker education is difficult to integrate alongside curriculum change and funding constraints, when teachers need time and investment to develop themselves; let alone the resources needed for further project-based learning.

Increasing community participation brings about other challenges. We’re trying to remove barriers, by linking with partners and other networks, to challenge misconceptions or trepidation about prior knowledge or skills needed to have a go at making something with a digital element. That sees our development focused on offering fun and accessible workshops with an emphasis on purpose and solving real-world problems.

You’ve been using the Bare Conductive technology quite a lot in your projects. How did you find out about our products?

Kickstarter! Excitement about possibilities with Electric Paint and Touch Board drove me to back those projects and share with teachers to support our own educational initiatives, such as ‘Research and Play’ for the development of MakerEd with teachers in Salford and Hull.

Why are the Touch Board and Electric Paint good workshop tools? What are the problems they help you solve?

I tend to incorporate Electric Paint into sessions to explain circuits as a building block to more complex digital making projects, and also to include the Bare Conductive story as an aspirational piece to encourage young makers as they develop their own creative and innovative potential. The Foundation has recently supported The Ada Show with their STEAM workshop programme to inspire the next generation of makers, and Electric Paint definitely featured in the ‘Inventions of the Future’ activity to create dynamic circuits and facilitate ‘lightbulb moments’.

On the building block theme, Touch Boards have been a fantastic resource to extend the range of project-based learning activities and collaborations through enrichment challenges at school clubs. Teachers also made use of the boards to explore opportunities to develop computational thinking skills through the Research and Play programme of professional development.

Check out the project with Electric Paint and Makey Makey.

From your experience using our products, did you find that they helped you discover new tools and technologies that you’d like to apply to future projects?

I found that the products have linked me to people and with that a wider network of support and inspiration. The maker community is renowned for sharing expertise and ideas and that’s led me to track down other tools and draw up an ever increasing wish list!

Check out the project with Pi Cap.

In your opinion, what are the opportunities for educators using tools like Electric Paint, sensing hardware and printed electronics?

Our experiences with using Electric Paint and the Touchboard to support creativity, collaboration and design thinking gained positive feedback from teachers; some of whom wanted to extend opportunities to facilitate student-led innovation. It’s been great witnessing projects developing literacy and maths skills and teachers’ cross-curricular approaches adopted in other subject areas such as Art and D&T. I’ve also seen more teaching colleagues encouraged to tinker with projects themselves and consider the impact on learning when they realise the intuitiveness of the tools. Education focuses first, with supporting tools second and always to reach a learning aim.

What other teacher recommendations emerged from Research and Play?

For those schools considering or starting a makerspace in their own school, Electric Paint and LEDs are great starter resources alongside other favourites like Lego and lolly sticks.

Team challenges using MakerEd approaches are also a great way to engage students and increase STEM skills through a real-world problem. Here’s a fantastic example of the children leading the maker space at St Mark’s Primary in Salford, as they explain their competition winning Rube Goldberg contraption to peers. They demonstrated improvements in their project through iterative design and student-directed learning so well.


How do you think the gender gap in STEM can be improved?

Initiatives to encourage girls to take up STEM subjects at KS4 will address the lack of diversity and encourage them to consider career choices in these fields. We need to tackle the perception of some girls that STEM subjects are ‘too difficult to learn’ and look to rework the curriculum to address this issue as all learners make decisions about GCSE.

Research projects on pedagogy and curriculum development to increase participation of girls in Computing were recently recommended in the ‘After the Reboot: Computing Education in UK schools’ report from the Royal Society. Currently, only 1 in 5 Computer Science GCSE pupils are female, and this needs to increase if we’re to move towards true diversity in STEM.

Realistic role models and mentors play a huge part in building confidence, helping girls to imagine themselves in a STEM role and as a taster of career plans available to them after leaving education. The Huddersfield Girl Geeks group is a fantastic example of an initiative launched to support, inspire and unite girls through STEM.

What’s in the pipeline for you? Any upcoming exciting projects?

The Foundation is extending the range of workshops offered through ‘The Internet of Curious Things’ programme and we’re excited to be adding new sensors to ignite more community-led innovations. I’ll be sharing successes and inventions at The Things Network conference in February, when I talk about removing barriers and empowering more communities to make a smarter and more connected world.

And not forgetting the Big Party Weekend in March. As we continue to learn from each other at Leeds Raspberry Jam, we’re getting ready to celebrate Raspberry Pi’s 6th birthday with an extra special Saturday event.

Author: Claire Garside

Images & Video: Claire Garside & Bloody Nora DJ

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