Outreach Coordinator lights up young minds

29 Feb 2016 - 09:05:28 in Achievement

John Barrow is enthusiastic about his mission for 2016: to connect with New Zealand's young people and get them excited about technology.

“We have to show it to the students, let them play with it, encourage their crazy ideas and help them to make it a reality”, says John, the newly-appointed School of Engineering and Computer Science Outreach Coordinator.

Outreach combines student workshops and personal development for schoolteachers with tours of the Victoria University campus and support to hold events. The aim is to encourage students with a passion for computing, technology, science and maths into tertiary education by showing them the diverse range of courses and careers available to them through the University.

John began in the temporary position of Outreach Coordinator in 2015 and has now signed on permanently. He brings an interesting mix of real world IT and teaching experience to the role and has 24 industry-related exams behind him. So what drew John to the Outreach job?

“The University offers a great working environment and capable colleagues, not to mention the latest technology and support to make things happen”, says John. “The best part is seeing young students click on to a concept and get enthusiastic about the opportunities open to them.”

In 2015, John visited a number of schools up to Hawke's Bay and hosted hundreds of students at Victoria. He also attended a national robotics competition for children called Robocup and worked alongside school staff in Canterbury and Otago.

“It was a real eye-opener to experience first-hand the technology buzz happening in our communities”, says John.

And if that wasn't enough, John delivered a successful technology pilot programme at Avalon Intermediate. Topics covered included Scratch (a programming language for children), drones, graphics and cryptography (the art of writing and solving code).

“It was nice to have regular contact, build relationships and see the students really grab the technology and play with it”, says John. “At the Kapiti Robot competition I was really impressed to see year 10 students making robots to navigate a maze - that's what we get our first year university students to do!”

Now John's goal is to develop lesson plans to support teachers who deliver digital technology standards in schools. This means teachers can strengthen students' core maths and science skills by delivering a set of ten lessons, a resource that follows on from John's introductory workshops.

John also plans to set up more events and competitions, such as involvement in Wellington's LUX light festival, and encourage technology education in school productions, code clubs, robotics clubs and 'extra for experts' sessions.

“Technology will be a big part of their world, so let them own it and make it brilliant”.