Go Berserk!

I started this blog as a way to help me recall, reflect and share the ideas that I would encounter on the US Embassy Ed Tech exchange. When I began I’d been thinking in terms of the people, places and projects that I would encounter in the USA.

However, it didn’t occur to me that one of the richest aspects of the trip would turn out to be learning from my Irish and Northern Irish fellow travellers. But from the moment I met them in Dublin Ariport it was clear that they were going to be excellent companions for the two weeks. And so it turned out to be that I have learnt so much just from the conversations in the planes, trains and automobiles we took between January 11th to 25th.

So to redefine the purpose of this blog then, and to keep it going over the next few weeks, I would like to share some of the insights I have had from those conversations.

I will come back to some of the US meetings as well as I haven’t finished reporting on those.

First up then is Gareth McAleese (no relation to Mary, apparently!). Gareth is a classicist whose day job is in the IT support of Allstate, a large international insurance company in Belfast. (It seems that jobs for scholars of Latin and Ancient Greek are much less in demand these days!). As part of his company’s corporate social responsibility Gareth had been volunteering to teach IT skills in primary school in Belfast. This video tells the story of the development of Go Berserk! the book he co-authored with Ian Simons from Stranmillis College, which teaches 8-year-olds how to create their own websites using raw HTML code.

The title ‘Digital Hero’ suits Gareth very well, but the video doesn’t mention the very significant results from an evaluation that was done on the outcomes of using Go Berserk! in schools in Northern Ireland. Ian Simons’ evaluative research found that 8-year olds were the most receptive to learning HTML and better at this indeed than older children. There were no differences in the girls’ and boys’ interest in a capability in leaning. The research also concluded that children with special educational needs, particularly those with Autism, were particularly receptive to learning code. Children identified as “low achievers” in the class or with special educational needs actually become the best coders and teach the rest.

The impact on teachers consequently and understandably has been that their view of their pupils’ capabilities was greatly enhanced and in fact an increase in the children’s self-belief and aspirations comes through in the findings as well.

Other recent news for  Go Berserk!is that they were runner-up in the Start-Up Learning Provider of the Year category of the prestigious London-based Learning Awards.

Gareth is currently writing a follow-up book (after demand and suggestions from teachers in Northern Ireland), which teaches 8 year olds how to make their own games with HTML5 and Javascript. Both books have been accredited with an OCN Level 1 Award so that for the first time ever 8 year olds can earn a recognised UK certification usually reserved for 14 year olds.

Now, I plan to talk nicely to Gareth to get a copy of the book for the Education Resource centre!


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