Knit wits and proud: Mixing old school with new tech

Donna Rawling

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 Code Club and Drama /Digital Media Clubs, is a CAS 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 possible, allowing an informed choice where computing is concerned along with a passion for inclusion for all is her main driving force.

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I have recently implemented a Digital Leader programme within the Primary School where I work, requiring children to complete a written application, attend interviews and complete practical challenges. I’ve tried to encourage those children who need support with social skills or behavioural issues to apply and get involved. One thing that I have long since noticed is that many of the children who gravitate to the often more solitary activities, such as Computing, are those that need this support.

I love the fact many of these children start attending lunchtime drop-in sessions, heads down and not speaking to anyone and, as time progresses, beginning to be involved with peers, even striking up conversation.

These conversations, initially about the task on screen, soon diversify to any number of topics. Eventually, these children experience a boost in self-esteem and confidence, tempting them to rejoin their peers at playtimes on a more frequent basis.

“Is it okay if I don’t come today and play out instead?” is always music to my ears. I am now on Phase Two of my mission to brainwash / encourage all children to enjoy and see the possibilities Computing can bring.

One thing about which I’m particularly passionate is encouraging girls into coding. After a busy Monday drop-in session, with at least a dozen children independently carrying out five or six different Computing projects, I found myself replaying a conversation I’d had with a group of Year 6 girls who had stumbled upon the button box in Maker cupboard. Initially fascinated by the buttons themselves, the talk soon turned to who sewed on buttons at home.

Many of the girls said that Grandmas did that sort of thing. The chat then progressed to ‘Old fashioned’ things like knitting and sewing in general, things I have lovely memories of doing with my own Mum. One of my favourite possessions is the button jar I inherited from my her. I still love sifting through it, and I always seem to find exactly what I’m looking for.

A couple of years ago, I was involved in helping set up outdoor play provision at school. A colleague and I introduced, among other things, elastics and group-skipping activities, as well as the rhymes and chants that go with them. I also made several wool loops and taught them string/elastic-based game Cat’s Cradle, which they loved. At the time I remember thinking that if these things weren’t maintained then within a generation they could potentially be lost forever.

In an attempt to encourage more girls into code, we have begun to explore wearable technology, using Adafruit Gemma, which we recently used to make a piece of digital art for a seaside-themed project.

I also recently taught children to make bobbin tanks as part of a STEM/STEAM competition. The challenge with this project being to create a complicated invention to do a simple task, Rube Goldberg style.

Musing over all these little snippets, a plan has started to form. What if I can craftily (no pun intended) introduce the girls - and indeed anyone who is eager - to sewing, initially for more wearable projects, but also look at how knitting, crochet and finger-knitting can fit alongside coding? The possibilities for these New Age retro makers would be limitless, and a whole range of skills would have been saved from possible extinction.

Some of my fondest memories are of being taught these skills. Maybe it’s the cosiness and community feel on activities which will be the main draw for our Geek Girls. I’m certainly going to give it a try.

As the old saying goes, nothing ventured…

What old-school props do you use in the classroom? Let us know below!

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