4 Aug 2021 No Comments Experiments, STEAM / STEM

Computing and STEM- how creative is computer science?

There’s more to computer science than computers! Computing is everywhere, even in the most creative activities you can do.

Ask yourself who a computer scientist is and you’ll probably imagine someone hunched over a screen, typing code and searching for bugs. But you’re looking at it all wrong!

At STEAMWORKS, we fuse art and creativity with every component of STEM. That’s why, in this blog, we’ll be proving to you that computer science is no different. Anyone with a creative spark and an interest in engineering, making and maths can be an amazing computer scientist at any age!

Is computing and coding a part of STEAM?

Absolutely! In fact, computing fits into every part of STEAM. Computing is a science in it’s own regard, relies on technology to work, experts in it are engineers and the better you are at maths, usually the better you are at coding.

But where does art come into it, you ask? There are plenty of ways you can get your creative juices flowing with computing, and you don’t even need a computer!

Mistakes we all make about computing

Before we look at computing’s creative side, we’ll look at some of the biggest misconceptions about computer science. Many think it’s too specialist, costly or irrelevant to teach to primary school children on a regular basis.

However, it could come as a surprise that high quality, valuable computer science teaching is ridiculously easy to attain.

It’s too specialist

We’ve found through our work with primary schools across the country that a lot of teachers lack confidence in STEM subjects. For computing this is a particular issue, where many staff members didn’t learn about it at school themselves.

To teach computer science, however, you don’t need to learn your Python from your Java, your front end developing from your back end, you just need an active, scientific mind and a passion for getting kids interested in STEM.

Being a science along side physics, chemistry and biology, computing shares the same foundations. So anyone with a passion for any of those three can easy dip their toe into computing teaching.

It’s not a big part of the curriculum

Computing is separate from the rest of the primary school science curriculum which doesn’t actually mention the word “computing” at all. So why are we including it as a part of STEM?

In reality, the fundamentals of computer science go well past it’s little section in the national curriculum for primary education and are already present in an array of your current lessons, from literacy through to art.

For example, the current science curriculum says that lesson programmes must include:

  • identifying and classifying
  • using a student’s observations and ideas to suggest answers to questions
  • gathering and recording data to help in answering questions

That means you’re already covering the basics of good computer science without even looking at the computing curriculum! At STEAMWORKS, we know that the only things you need to teach computer science is a passion for problem solving, an interest in fixing and tinkering, and a talent for relating your lessons to the real world around you.

It’s expensive

It’s name is deceptive, we admit, but computer science isn’t just about the computers. As we’ve just mentioned, the basic ideas at the heart of computer science are the same in all scientific fields.

Computing is about debugging, using logical reasoning to solve a problem, to understand what an algorithm is and to design programmes which follow precise instructions. Those skills can be applied to swathes of different lesson plans and activities, so there’s no actual need to use equipment or resources that run on electricity, let alone a mouse or a keyboard!

Getting creative with computing and STEM

So now we know that computing encompasses huge sections of the curriculum, how do we make it fun? Another mistake a lot of us make is to think that computing is just about programming. Actually, its problem-solving nature means the basics can fit into pretty much any creative activity.

Simple activities that involve making and creating use the same sorts of problem solving which computer scientists use. Don’t believe us? Here’s an example of one of the easiest creative computing activities you can do- colouring-in.

Man painting a colour by numbers drawing, which can explain some of the ideas in computing and STEM

That’s right, we can smuggle in the fundamentals of coding into drawing and colouring! Did you know that colour by numbers activities are actually great analogies for how computers store and process image files?

If you think about colour by numbers activities, where you’re given a key showing what colour is represented by each number, it closely resembles how a computer stores an image.

Images are made up of pixels, tiny coloured squares which match up with millions of others to make a recognisable picture. As far as a computer is concerned, an image is just a series of numbers until it is translated by a programme. That’s exactly what happens when someone uses a key to add colour to their drawing.

With that, you’ve taught your students how code is stored, translated and displayed by a computer, mobile phone or TV just by getting the colouring pencils out. It’s by applying these fundamentals to other subjects where computing can be made real and tangible for younger students.

The key thing to remember is that computer science hinges on problem solving ability. Any activity that get’s a child scratching their chin can have a computing spin put on it so, with a bit of ingenuity, anyone can get into computing!

Resources

Still need a hand figuring out how to get there?

There are dozens of free online resources to help you get into computer science. We’ve picked out a couple which can either help you with the basics of coding or give you resources which will get you thinking like a computer scientist.

  • Codecademy: This website teaches you how to use a huge collection of programming languages. Python, JavaScript, HTML- if you need it, they’ve got it. Don’t be daunted by some of the names they have there, they take you step by step from really simple tasks like how to print the text “hello”, to how to make entire databases! This resource might be best for older children and adults but it offers support all the way through so anyone can have a go.
  • CS Unplugged: Computer Science Unplugged collects a tonne of resources for you to learn the basics of computer science without the need of a computer! Set up by the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, they have resources for teachers, parents and students to get stuck into. So, struggling for ideas about how to teach computing and STEM to young ones? Check this out!

STEAMWORKS

At STEAMWORKS we know that the easiest way to get kids just as excited about STEM as we are is to let them learn in a creative space. That’s why we add art and making into all of our workshops to allow children to innovate and create amazing things!
If we look closely, art and creativity it has always been a part of science and technology . Like we’ve shown you, even something as easy as colouring-in can reveal complex ideas at the heart of computing and STEM. We have specific computing themed workshops where children can learn about robotics, solve puzzles and programme their way though a maze! The same problem solving know-how and experimental fun comes into all of our other activities!
Science, technology, engineering and maths are playing an increasingly important role in future careers. That’s why we must fuse them with creativity to help young people flourish so they can play a part in making the future.
To book a FabLab workshop, or to apply to be an activity officer, just send an email to enquiries@steamworks.org.uk
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