Digifest 2017: Proof that now’s not the time to turn our backs to the future!

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Computers, coding, games, tech… it’s all around us and it keeps our modern world spinning. Without it, we grind to a halt, just look at the recent British Airways debacle! When I was growing up in the 80s, our technology was still fairly limited with big leaps and bounds just around the corner. The Christmas that my Commodore 64 arrived ‘down the chimney’ was one of the most exciting. My first glimpse into the world of computer games was through the eyes of Wizball, a groovy scrolling shoot ‘em up and I was hooked! My family crowded round the telly and bickered over who got control of the joystick next. It felt futuristic and exciting to be living in a time when this kind of technology could exist in my own living room.

At Warwick Arts Centre’s recent Digifest 2017, I watched as some year 9 students proudly displayed their game creations on the big screen and it took me right back to that Christmas morning. The games these children have created from scratch are wonderful. With bright, bold graphics and movement and a sense of humour running through each one, these games show the start of our technological future. This is the generation that will take the next leaps and bounds, they just need the opportunity to get involved.

This means that projects like Play Code Share are not only hugely important in the development of children in and out of the classroom, they’re also integral to our society’s future. The Play Code Share project has been developed and led over the last three years by digital artist Ashley Brown, in conjunction with University of Warwick robotics expert Dr Claire Rocks, Warwick Arts Centre and President Kennedy School’s Head of Computer Science, Mandeep Matharu, and it brings together Computer Science and the Arts in an innovative and exciting way. Kate Sayer, Head of Creative Learning at Warwick Arts Centre, explains that, ‘the students are given the opportunity and taught the skills that are required of them in the Curriculum but in a creative and playful way which empowers them to continue their learning outside of school’.

The Play Code Share project follows a three strand structure:
…PLAY. Be challenged, experiment and take risks in learning and teaching.
…CODE. Use #processing , syntax, structure, instructional and logical thinking to design and create your own software and apply to real hands-on outcomes.
…SHARE. The outcomes and models of practice will be shared locally, regionally and nationally by the children and teachers alike.

Initially there was only one school playing, coding and sharing with a pilot project in President Kennedy School and due to its great success the project was awarded another two years’ worth of funding from the Widening Participation Development Fund at the University of Warwick. This has allowed Play Code Share to build year on year with the founder school so that by year 9, some young people have had 3 years’ worth of experience with creative coding and meant that it could expand into another secondary school; Barr’s Hill and a feeder primary school; Parkgate Primary.

Digifest 2017 was a celebration of the work that these three schools have created throughout the last three years and gave the participants a chance to showcase their developing skills to peers, family and the public. It was an exciting couple of days hosted by the year 9’s from President Kennedy School, with an exhibition of work both completed and in progress along with live coding, big screen gaming and digital based workshops, performances and demonstrations. The year 9’s were extraordinary at explaining their work and helping younger students to understand how everything works. They spoke clearly and intelligently about the project and the impact that it has had on their aspirations with one student stating that she now wants to study Computer Science at university because of her involvement with Play Code Share.

The Friday of Digifest 2017 was dedicated to the schools involved with the project and they all came to preview the festival before the big ‘open to all’ day on Saturday. There were school children creating, chatting, and coding all through the building and with their peers demonstrating how the digital creations work, the atmosphere was alive with a collective buzz of enthusiasm for artistic coding. Over the two days, some of Warwick Arts Centre’s main venues – Helen Martin Studio, Woods-Scawen Room, Butterworth Hall, Cinema, Sculpture Court and Foyer – all became hubs of digital creativity with children, teachers, parents, the public, and even Warwick Arts Centre staff marvelling at the innovation, ambition and skill on show.

Seeing children and family members communicating through a joint interest is always an inspiring thing to see and at Digifest 2017, this was a common sight. There was a particularly lovely moment when a year 7 boy was explaining how something worked to his grandad and his grandad stood back and gazed at him with a look of absolute pride. It was a perfect moment and it’s snapshots like this that live with any person working in arts education. Seeing real life relationships being touched and influenced by a project in which a child can realise their own capability outside of a traditional learning environment is one of those special rewards that will never disappoint.

If there was ever a doubt as to how important projects like this truly are, just take a look at the ‘bursting with pride’ grandad’s touching words: ‘I love to see how the kids think up an idea and then just go for it. I’ve been an engineer for many, many, many years now and I like to think through all the processes involved and work everything out on paper for months and months, sometimes years, first. These days, they just go for it. No barriers. And that’s the future. It’s fast and creative and these pieces of work show so much promise. What an exciting time.’

What an exciting time, indeed! And if the words of this grandad don’t inspire you, here’s a taster of how the participants felt about the festival…

‘We loved today, there was so much to see and do and we got to see where our projects might lead in the future. I can’t wait till I’m a year 9!’

‘Best thing was playing with all the games – it’s so cool to know that people our age made this stuff!’

‘I can make any game I want now. I can do that and I can understand how it all works. Awesome.’

‘We loved being asked for our opinion of the day. We were told to be really, really honest and so we were and we honestly thought it was amazing!’

Play Code Share is currently going through a process of evaluation by Jenesys Associates. This evaluation will form the framework from which we continue to develop the project and we hope that it will play a big part in helping us to secure funding for the future because we have big ambitions to match the big ideas of all involved!

For more information about the Creative Learning Team’s work in schools or with families and the community or to tell us an idea for an activity or project that you would like to see us offer, just get in touch!




























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