Last year I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Picademy, a course that helps educators see the scope of teaching with Raspberry Pi.

If you didn’t already know the Raspberry Pi Foundation changed the computer education landscape by creating the super low cost, credit card sized computer (Raspberry Pi) to help students of all ages learn electronics, engineering, computer programming and so much more.

Over 2 days I trained, learned, built, coded, hacked and eventually earned the title of certified Raspberry Pi educator. It was an amazing experience that really opened my eyes and got me thinking…

Over the years we’ve managed to develop a pretty unique approach to teaching at Foundation. We work with students from as young as 2 years old all the way up to adults and seem to have hit the sweet spot of having the right mix of people, with the right approach and core values — no pressure, zero expectation, freedom to experiment and be creative. So could we translate this model, and our culture, to something completely different, like computer science? Could we use this approach in a completely different space to engage students?

Our brains work better when we’re active, there’s solid science behind this. You start moving, your heart pumps and your blood pressure increases. Your brain recognises it as a moment of stress but this is a good thing. Your brain perceives a fight or flight situation and goes on the defensive by releasing a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor).

BDNF protects and repairs your memory, acting as a reset switch which is why we always feel so good after exercising, at the same time we’re flooding the body with endorphins.

So regardless of the student, when we get them active and moving (in the right way) we’re creating the perfect environment for them to learn, explore and enjoy themselves. While at the same time we see the physical and mental wellbeing benefits that come from regular exercise, it’s a win/win situation.

Technology like Raspberry Pi has given us the opportunity to do something pretty cool, we can change the context of what we’re teaching to engage students while at the same time showing that a career in computer science doesn’t mean you need to be tethered to a desk.

Building a Nightingale Floor with students during our pilot session
So this is what we’re going to do, and it’s called Foundation Code. This year we’re going to be using martial arts to teach computer science.

Let that sink in for a bit.

We’re taking all our knowledge and understanding from years of working in the tech industry, years of teaching and decades of martial arts training and we’re bringing them together to create something so far removed from what we would consider traditional computer science education.

All of our sessions will be unplugged, we’re going to take students out of the classroom, they won’t go anywhere near a computer lab. We’re martial artists first and foremost so we’ll be heading into the gym or the playground and creating a dojo, a school within the school. The big difference here is that this space is built on OUR values, it’s not your traditional learning space.

Our classes will be built around the KS2 national curriculum syllabus for computer science, so we’ll work with the same content that schools need to teach, computational thinking, algorithms, patterns, abstraction, variables, inputs and outputs, we’ll just do it in a different way.

At the start of the programme we’ll work with the bigger concepts, the broader stuff like inputs and outputs.

We can create a direct correlation between the input on a Raspberry Pi and input with a human (or how we use our senses to detect stimuli) and in the same way we talk about the code we write to interpret these inputs we can show how our own brains do the same thing by co-ordinating and processing information before they output a response and reaction.

With some simple, fun, active drills and games we can quickly help all our students understand and before we know it they’ve grasped the core concepts, spending exactly zero minutes looking at a screen.

Now eventually that changes and we’ll need to get students creating code and solving bigger problems, but this will be a shared experience on the mats where we can encourage failure and experimentation. All of the challenges we present will tie together the learning from the session and be built around health, movement and the culture that surrounds traditional martial arts.

Again they’re not necessarily new ideas — recording reaction times with a button press is a really simple idea but the change of context makes it all the more compelling, keeping score on a device is an easy way to introduce variables but when you’re keeping score in a challenging drill we stop seeing the code and the technology — the learning is a by-product.

Of course we have one huge benefit with what we’re doing and that is the context we’re shifting to is a world filled with culture, history, ninja, samurai and a whole host of opportunities to capture the students imagination. This rich subject means we can tell stories, teach language, history and so much more besides.

Foundation Code is only just getting started but it’s our first step towards bringing our unique brand of education into schools and there’s lots more to come.