Project 9 is our student-led IT programme in which students in Year 9 (hence the fairly obvious name!) engage in a diverse range of IT modules taught by students in Years 10-13. We are now entering our fourth year and it is becoming a properly embedded feature of the curriculum. We have a very broad curriculum at KEGS, with a high level of incidental IT usage across departments; this coupled with a general sense that a GCSE IT wouldn’t be sufficiently challenging or relevant for our students has left us with a fairly skeletal approach to taught IT; one hour per week in Year 7 and a few lessons on a carousel in Year 8. That’s it.
Project 9 was devised after I had a conversation with our Director of IT in my first term. We both felt that students had an appetite for more IT learning and we were looking for ways to achieve it without being constrained by an examination. There was also the issue that we only have one IT teacher! The idea came to us that the CCF model might be worth exploring. KEGS has had a Combined Cadet Force for well over 100 years. I’d never had any contact with anything like this prior to joining KEGS but I was immediately struck by the incredible level of the leadership skills that students develop. Every Monday about 120 boys come dressed in their ‘greens’ ready for CCF training after school. (You can tell these photos were taken on a Monday…) These sessions are remarkable. From map reading, survival, marching drills, ‘skill at arms’ and a range of outdoor camping skills and general military know-how, the lessons are taught by the cadets themselves. They prepare proper plans and learn to teach the younger recruits. It is hugely impressive. I thought, if they can do this in the CCF, why can’t they do it with IT?
From the outset we wanted this to be totally student led so we appointed our first Project 9 Leaders, explained the concept and left them to it. The first set of leaders were brilliant. They conducted some surveys of the interests of younger students and then devised the whole programme that we are still running now in more or less the same format. In the very early stages we were invited to the SSAT National Conference in Birmingham where the boys explained Project 9 in a workshop. They did magnificently well. From start to finish, the process is driven by students. Each year the leading team of Year 13s recruits a selection of around 20 student-teachers or Project 9 Tutors after a formal process of applications and interviews. They also organise the process by which students select the module they want to take and organise the training of the Tutors using our moodle-based VLE. The Tutors are allocated to the various modules based on their skills and interests and are tasked with writing a plan for their course. There is some matching up and technical planning to be done before the sessions take place.
In terms of time, there are two core three hour sessions with half the year group at a time, a couple of weeks apart. This is followed by a final showcase session a few weeks later where the boys show each other what they have done. This year, we are running a follow-up session several months later to see how far the boys have taken their learning independently, after the taught modules. It might not sound much but there is a definite ‘TARDIS’ effect. From a total of 9-10 hours activity, the boys gain a massive amount and the spirit of Project 9 permeates the rest of the school. This is students doing it for themselves; they learn what they want, they teach it themselves and they have a great time in the process. We couldn’t do much more because the tutor team then come under pressure from missing lessons; as it is they give over 20 hours each to the project spread over a term and that is a significant commitment. Staff are very supportive and Project 9 is now regarded a core feature of the curriculum rather than an optional bit of enrichment.
So, what do they actually do? This year the Project 9 modules are as follows ( as described to me by the students themselves; half the time I have no idea what they are talking about. )
- Flash animation
- Web design using Notepad ++ . Students programme directly using HTML and CSS code
- Music tech making tunes with LMMS (Linux multimedia studio) Free software that allows the use of samples and multitracking.
- Programming a Raspberry pi computer using the Python language.
- Programming another mini-computer device called Arduino using ‘a kind of C’.
- Programming in java to make android apps using the Processing ‘environment’. Apparently this involves using a pidgin version of java with various shortcuts for graphics etc
- PC building, taking the core components and making a functioning PC
- Google sketch up:
- Stop-go animation using the Animaatiokone package.
There is growing demand for coding and programming in the school and we may well soon have to introduce an AS in Computing to meet it. However, for now, Project 9 delivers a great deal. Not just the IT element but the wider skills of leadership and responsibility that the Tutors develop. The atmosphere during our Project 9 sessions is superb. The Tutors busy themselves looking after the Year 9s and all the students love it (well, almost all – see the survey below.). Most of the Tutors have learned their skills independently, using online tutorials in their own time; some picked it up at previous schools if they had an AS Computer Science course. Some started in Project 9 a couple of years ago and have simply developed the interested from there.
As a model and symbol of student-led learning, Project 9 is stunning. Where to next? That is the question!