Interview by Michelle Hua @MadeWithGlove
Donna Rawling is an IT coordinator and teacher of computing in a medium-sized primary school in Greater Manchester. With a real passion for enthusing children with the computing curriculum. Donna runs a code club and drama/digital media clubs, and is a CAS Lead Master Teacher and Raspberry Pi certified educator.
Recent initiatives have been the setting up of a digital leader scheme and the encouragement of girls into code via a new wearables club, aimed primarily, but not exclusively, at girls. A belief in showing children as many possibilities as she is able, allowing an informed choice where computing is concerned along with a passion for inclusion for all is her main driving force.
What is CAS and how did you become involved in CAS?
CAS is the DofE funded Computing at Schools initiative which aims to promote excellence and consistency in the teaching of computing in primary and secondary education.
I became involved initially in an attempt to develop my own skills in teaching Computing and to access the fantastic support network the CAS provides.
What does a CAS Teacher do and what types of classes and workshops do you run?
CAS (Computing at Schools) Master Teacher status is an accreditation which can be worked towards by educators teaching computing at primary or secondary schools. I am a Level 2 Lead Master Teacher and as such have responsibilities beyond my regular role of teaching and overseeing computing throughout the primary school where I am based.
I regularly take workshops run by CAS Manchester, based at Manchester University for both primary and secondary age children, using a range of physical computing resources, my favourite of which is my wearables workshop. I have also run similar workshops for fellow professionals on the Edgehill University Teacher CPD days.
How did you become involved in teaching students about wearables?
My initial interest stems from being very much involved in handicrafts from a young age, be it sewing, knitting , crochet etc. the combination of handicrafts and computing/electronics was something that seemed tailor made for me. I wanted my students to be able to access this wonderful world but soon found that the basic skills, those of being able to sew a simple running stitch, or indeed in some cases to thread a needle, were lacking. I have written a piece for Innovate My School on my endeavours to change this situation and my reasons for wanting to here.
What are the benefits of teaching your students about wearables?
The benefits are many fold. The opportunity to create something away from the computer screen with a real-life application, whilst honing existing skills or learning new ones teamed with the community atmosphere, the social nature of creating things by hand is something which all enjoy and can't be valued highly enough.
What has been the biggest challenge in working in education in particular in STEM?
The biggest challenge in computing is the fear factor that many educators still have around teaching computing, in particular the computer science element. In addressing this, I have found that the more I can show the cross curricular opportunities that STEM based learning presents, the easier it is becoming to encourage colleagues to be more confident in delivering the curriculum
If you had an unlimited budget for education, what would you do for your students in STEM based activities?
There are so many avenues I would like to explore further, the use of conductive inks, circuit stickers, sensors as well as using conductive threads but I don't think budget is always the most important element in delivering a STEM curriculum, although more wearable supplies are always welcome. I think it's more of an acceptance that STEM, coupled with a reinforcement of growth mindset and a bigger inference on computational thinking needs to be adopted and seen as the way forward.
In education, do you see a difference in boys and girls when they are learning or take on STEM subjects?
In primary education, I would say the gender divide is far less evident in STEM subjects than it is as children progress to higher education.
I endeavour to show the children I work with as many applications and opportunities in computer science as I am able, to allow them to make an informed choice as they progress to high school. If they are fully aware of their options and still choose a different career path, at least it is by choice and not by lack of knowledge or awareness.
There is concern about the imbalance of girls taking computer science at secondary school. CAS Manchester has been instrumental in running ADA Lovelace days and workshops for secondary girls to encourage them to consider pursuing computer science studies.
What does the #WomenInTech initiative mean to you?
The #WomeninTech initiative I feel is important to encourage girls into careers in computing and for the support and networking opportunities that this also offers. I do feel it is a shame however that in this day and age that anyone would question their capabilities in any arena.
What have been your biggest achievements?
My biggest achievements have been running lunchtime drop ins for all the Key Stage 2 classes- where anyone wanting to work on a computing project or a STEM activity is welcome. These voluntary sessions are regularly attended by 40+ children. They have full access to a large maker cupboard, basic tools and computers. The children fill out a project request form, detailing their project and listing materials, equipment and assistance they might need and are then able to work on these at their own pace as independently as they wish.
Personally, becoming a Master Teacher and helping fellow educators and being involved in such a supportive community has been a real highlight for me.
In your opinion, what will be the key trends in educating students?
More and more emphasis is already being placed on teaching computing using physical resources and this will continue to develop, although many schools will still deliver their curriculum using prescriptive bought in software and schemes of work. The more a subject is brought to life and the more real world applications are demonstrated, the more interest and passion we will create in our children.
The other major area of growth and development will be that of cybersecurity and the career opportunities that this will also afford children in the near future.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to students in STEM?
The advice I give all my students is never be afraid to try anything. I use the acronym FAIL to learn:
with them all the time
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech?
I am obviously massively inspired by the amazing work that yourself and the Women of Wearables are doing.
School Website: www.stmarksce.co.uk
LinkedIn: Donna Rawling