tl;dr If you’re a London-based teacher looking for help with any aspect of IT, there are people willing to help. For free! Drop by the Twickenham Coding Evening [actually in Richmond] on June 21st. You can just turn up and say “who can help me with this…?” or you can stay for a while and see what else is going on.
It’s no great secret that many teachers are overworked and under-supported. It’s also the case, thankfully, that there are many people who are willing and able to try to remedy some of that (mostly the under-support rather than the over-work). But the under-supported and the willing-to-supporters don’t always meet in the middle.
I’ve been a casual lurker on the Computing At School forums for a few months and people occasionally advertise local meetups (called “Hub Meetings”). But they’re, understandably, timed to facilitate teacher attendance, typically at 4pm or a little after. As helpful as I’d like to be, I work full-time in Central London and, even if I stretch my hours a little, I’d struggle to make a meetup anywhere at 4pm. On the other side, I help to organise the London Python Dojo and we’d welcome teachers to come along and participate. From time to time, we even make the Dojo especially education-oriented. But for a tired & busy teacher, taking out an entire Thursday evening somewhere in Central London for a beer & pizza coding meetup may not have the same appeal that it does for a buzzing techie who’s just finished work somewhere nearby.
Is there a single answer? No, not really. In the nature of things, some people are always drawn to one thing, others to another. One person may like diving in to interact with people they’ve never met; another might shy away unless they’re certain of a friendly reception. Another factor is that the majority of techie meetups are male-dominated. They may be as friendly and welcoming as you like, but a lone woman might well feel out of place and/or in the spotlight. And some proportion of teachers are women. I’ve no idea what the ratio is, but it’s got to be different from the 99:1 common in tech circles.
To state what is perhaps obvious, what’s needed is a variety of support channels to meet those various needs and preferences. There’s a bit of soul-searching at the moment on the Cas forums over whether they’re useful or not, but what it comes down to is that some people find them useful and welcoming, while others don’t. That’s going to be true of pretty much any forum (in the broadest sense of that word). So if you’re looking to help, don’t agonise over whether some initiative is going to prove fruitful or not: just go ahead and organise it, advertise it, make it as friendly and useful as you can. And take it from there.
More or less since its inception I’ve been helping at the Twickenham Coding Evening, organised by the dynamic Cat Lamin, originally a teacher, now something else. It’s a completely informal thing, more or less once a month, until now in a room over a pub. It’s just moving venue and the next session is June 21st. It’s basically a bunch of techies offering whatever help they can to any teachers who might drop by. Some of the technical people are also teachers or teacher-support; some, like me, are in industry. Sometimes there are demos of things; but, really, it’s just an open house. It takes place from 6.30pm onwards, notionally finishing around 9pm. There’s no formality: just turn up and say hello.
So, if you want specific help with a specific thing, come along and ask: “How do I remote control my robot using Python?” or “Can I do random numbers in Scratch?”. If you’re looking for more general approaches / advice, just ask: “I’ve got a bunch of micro:bits; what can I do with them?” or “I’ve been told I’ve got to teach coding to Year 7s next year; what’s available to help me?”. If you’re looking for hardware ideas or experience with particular pieces of kit: “I’ve got a budget of £10 per kid; what can I get to teach physical computing?” or “Is it worth getting a classroom set of Crumble Bots?”. There are usually people from Code Clubs and people with teaching experience as well as people, like myself, who are full-time coders but with a side-interest in helping education.
You don’t have to stay for any particular amount of time. Just say Hello and start asking for advice — or offering it! if you’re an enquiring teacher who needs help with IT, I look forward to meeting you on June 21st.