Mags Amond, CESI
Mags Amond, Europe Code Week ambassador and volunteer at CESI. Image: CESI/Flickr

Mags Amond: Bring your creativity to the world of code

21 Oct 2016

Code Week ambassador Mags Amond wants everyone to plug into the world of code around us. She spoke to Claire O’Connell about the creativity you can bring to computers.

If you think the world of coding is beyond you, then think again. Coding is not just about sitting at a computer programming, according to Europe Code Week ambassador Mags Amond, and many of us use coding and computational thinking already in everyday activities.

“The aim of Code Week is not to teach people to code but to bring coding and computational thinking to people’s attention and make people aware of how important it is in their lives at the moment,” she explained.

“People say they are no good at maths or code, but if you look, you are coding every day. I love to knit and that involves following a pattern, and it’s similar if you make music or sing or even follow a recipe when cooking.”

Code awareness

Amond is keen that we all have the opportunity to learn more if we choose. “It is important to give children and adults the choice to learn to code,” she said. “It is about making people aware their brain can handle this, and that it is creative.”

To that end, Amond has been in several schools around Ireland in recent days for Code Week events. “It’s everything from tiny primary schools in the middle of nowhere to giant schools in cities where teachers are coming up with imaginative ways to [showcase] coding,” said Amond.

“That might be a breakfast session where the students come in early for ‘cornflakes and code’ or launching a teddy bear into space. I am constantly blown away by the creativity of the events and of the teachers and children who are involved.” 

Coding: An education

A native of Carlow, Amond draws on 35 years of experience as a secondary school teacher in Cavan, during which she has been an advocate for technology in education.

“I taught biology and science, and pure science was my original interest, but a week before I left university in 1980, someone showed us a computer and I was hooked,” she recalled. “Since then I have always woven computers into the classes where possible.”

Amond is also a long-time volunteer with the Computers in Education Society of Ireland, which looks to use technology to improve teaching and learning, and she also advises the Digital Youth Council.

If that wasn’t enough, Amond is also doing a PhD in education at Trinity College Dublin. Her subject is TeachMeet, a volunteer, peer-led teacher movement for technology in teaching that has grown through social media.

“Someone referred to it as ‘guerilla CPD’ [continuous professional development], because it is outside the normal professional development and it is where teachers share wonderful ideas with each other and it is fun,” she said.  

The power of choice in code

Other ‘informal education’ movements such as CoderDojo, as well as the inclusion of code-related subjects on the school curriculum, are to be welcomed, noted Amond. They can give young students the opportunity to at least become aware of coding and computational thinking, even if they don’t go on to become programmers. 

“We have taught every child to read and write, but we don’t expect a novel from everyone. We teach children to appreciate music and they don’t all rush off and write a symphony, but knowing about those eight notes lets you do some things musically and it gives you an appreciation of what is involved in writing a symphony,” said Amond.

“The most important thing is being able to have the choice, and it should be the same with learning about code.”

Europe Code Week runs until Oct 23rd and you can follow updates on Twitter with the hashtag #codeEU.

Claire O’Connell
By Claire O’Connell

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology from University College Dublin and a master’s in science communication from Dublin City University. She has written for Silicon Republic and The Irish Times and was named Irish Science Writer of the Year in 2016.

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