Computing in Irish Schools - Where is the Innovation and Creativity to Come From?

By Richard Millwood.

I have been teaching computing since 1976, and seen the history in the making as computers became widely available in society and schools were able to introduce even 5 year old children to programming. A challenge is how to construe the subject discipline and where to find the teachers to teach it. Unlike any other subject, few teachers have had the opportunity to study computing in depth in their own schooling. So in September I made a presentation with Mags Amond at the Art Teachers Association of Ireland‘s 2017 Annual Conference in the National Gallery of Ireland. I spoke a little about technology & learning, technology & art and then gave some examples of our own experiences and thoughts. You can follow our presentation ‘LED by the heart’ here:    

Included in the presentation was a slide showing a somewhat cubist picture of a landscape, which I had painted myself in art class in school back in 1971, following an algorithm given to me by my art teacher. I remember being satisfied with the constrained process which guided my creativity and choices, and the colourful outcome, which brought aesthetic pleasure that never went away. This was what the teacher asked me to do:

  1. Draw a steep zig-zag line to make a mountain range
  2. Draw a less steep zig-zag line to make a range of foothills
  3. Draw a smoother zig-zag line to make rolling countryside
  4. Extend the lines thinly to divide the space into geometric sections
  5. Paint the sections using sky, mountain, hill and field colours

To bring this up to date, I have more recently written a computer program using the jigsaw-programming language Snap to do this automatically and generate any number of such random landscapes. The thought processes to make this work took me beyond the simple algorithm above as I formalised the details for each step and introduced the random elements which nevertheless produced pleasing outcomes. I have since created an embroidery with my program to echo the cubist landscape using a programmable embroidery machine.

Mags and I demonstrated some other art and craft activities that were founded in technology and computational thinking, including the design of wearable electronics and the control of the lights on a building.  It is quite clear that computational thinking can be a source for artists, particularly those like Vasarely who invented an 'Alphabet Plastique' in the sixties to generate unique prints according to rules through his assistants following the 'programs' of his invention - all this from reading about the ideas of computing, since there were very few computers available to use in those days. Other artists since have created programs on the new, cheap computers that became available.

Our proposition to the art teachers, was that computational thinking and computing is a part of the world they inhabit and might be something they have the aptitude for. Only the week before the presentation I had discovered a Masters dissertation that evidenced this claim.

We also proposed that STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Mathematics) might better be written ASTEM, putting the art first, and art teachers taking a lead in developing computing in their schools. The fact is that Ireland faces a huge challenge to innovate the curriculum, and the computing & computer science specifications have been made with collaboration, creativity and 'making' at their hearts and addressing the new knowledge, craft and dispositions demanded for contemporary life, leisure and work. Who better has the perspective, phiosophy and practice to deliver this?

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie