How Do You Solve a Problem Like Lottie?

'What is code?' OMG, I didn't see that question coming. LOL.

I really have better things to do (planning lessons, for example), so much has already been written and tweeted about Lottie Dexter and the Year of Code Car Crash of Newsnight – and yet, and yet…

I hardly ever watch Newsnight these days, but for some reason I was still conscious at 2230. This really was ‘car crash TV’, from the moment she said ‘I can’t code’, followed by the look of mild panic on her face (above) when Paxo asked the utterly predictable question (especially for a professional PR person like Lottie) “what is code?” (Actually, it’s the first question on her organisation’s web site, so you’d think she’d possibly have had a snappier, smarter answer to hand.)

Then there was that smile (below), some say coquettish, some may even say flirty, when Paxo referred to himself and Mark Urban as ‘old duffers’. Paxo’s body language at times resembled someone in convulsions of agony, trying not to look at the person he was interviewing. In the middle of the following item on another topic, Paxo’s mind seemed to be elsewhere when his fellow reporter answered a question and Paxo just sat there saying nothing. “I’m sorry, I thought we were having a film at that point.”

Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy, you're not an old duffer. Well, maybe not a duffer.

A few thoughts:

Some of the criticism has valid points, but can be laced with some unfortunate language, eg Donald Clark talks about ‘schoolgirl errors’ and ‘Dottie Lottie’. Tricky ground here. Some unavoidable facts: Lottie is blessed (or cursed) with an interesting name, extreme pulchritude and is at an awkward age.

Lottie Dexter is 24. People may think 9 or 11 or 15 are awkward ages, but not so much has been written about the sheer difficulty of being 24. You’re living in a grown-up world, and yet so much has yet to fall into place, you have so much yet to experience and understand, and yet here you are, suddenly, on national TV facing a grilling from Paxo.

The most interesting critique I’ve seen of Lottie and her Year of Code comes from Adrian Short. He argues that Lottie isn’t the only problem: it goes much deeper. The Year of Code board has no teachers on it, and an amazing lack of any other kind of educator or educational specialists at any level: primary, secondary or university. He has political differences with Ms Dexter (who used to work for IDS’s think tank), but he doesn’t let those get in the way of a well-argued dismantling of the Year of Code’s leadership and purpose. Well worth a read.

I’d never even heard of The Year of Code until the morning of the fateful News Night to follow. I was about to send their leaflet round to ICT folk in my school, but after seeing Newsnight, was glad I didn’t.

At times it seems like the world of computing education is going to kill itself through in-fighting, bandwaggon-jumping, hoopla and distractions like Lottie Dexter (it’s not just Paxo who got himself distracted) – and I really, really should be planning lessons (or making a cool new Raspberry Pi gizmo with my daughter – details to follow!) not writing this. There’s so much guff out there, what’s a poor educator to do?

Well, this may help: Code Club have launched Code Club Pro. It’s CPD for teachers. It seems practical. It looks like it could actually help you deliver the, you know, new curriculum. To schoolchildren.

I’m excited and exasperated all at once. The new computing curriculum was one of the things that made me want to retrain as a teacher in the first place, and I’ve kind of lost sight of that, partly through the sheer workload of training in and learning to teach every other subject, but also because of in-fighting among those who claim to be helping kids code.

What did YOU do in the great school code war, daddy?

Topper Headon of The Clash was on Cerys Matthews’ BBC 6Music show this morning. He only took up drumming because a broken leg stopped him playing football. He said everyone has a talent; he was lucky enough to find his. A listener asked what he would be if he weren’t a drummer. “A failure,” he replied. “Drumming is the only thing I’m any good at.” (He wrote the music for ‘Rock the Casbah’, so that’s not quite true, but you get the point).

I know writing a bit of code won’t turn anyone into the next Zuckerberg, but as I think I said at my original job interview, it might just help a few children find something they excel at and which can have career, and life-changing, consequences. My eldest son is at secondary school, specialising in ICT, where his most recent ICT lesson consisted of having to write about ‘the advantages and disadvantages of online shopping’ – surely even a few lines of code, anything to teach concepts of flow and control, would be an improvement on this?

My happiest moment this term was seeing a child who struggles with some more traditional areas of the curriculum suddenly become an expert when were were looking programming and designing in Scratch. He was helping others. He was motivated. He was learning. He had a big grin on his face. And you can’t ask for more than that.

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