Scroll down the page for biographical information and news.

Video and Live blogging

Simon Peyton Jones talk

Simon Peyton Jones featureAt school, we teach children about applicable skills using artefacts that date quickly, like MS Office. We also teach them foundational disciplines and techniques that don’t date, like physics. In IT, we’ve lost sight of the underlying discipline, resulting in focusing too much on technology and not enough on ideas. Simon wants children not to consume technology, but to be creative with it… as a parallel, to be writers of books as well as readers.

Computer scientists are viewed as geeky, but the subject should be thought of as foundational for all. Computer science is about information, computation, algorithms, re-usable skills, communication, coordination, programming, abstraction, modelling, design. All abstract words, so Simon is showing a video of children each holding a number and learning how to sort. The exercise encouraged children to ask questions about doing things better. Now about communication. Can Simon and a friend have a public conversation to agree on a private key that can be used to encode conversation and make it private to them? It’s possible online using what’s known as Diffie-Hellman key exchange.

Why computer science for every child? All children learn science, but not all will become physicists. It’s about learning about the world around us, so we become more empowered. Similarly with the digital world that we inhabit. Computer science has helped us understand the natural world too, such as distributed computation in termite nests, or how human cells decide whether to become kidneys or lungs. And computer science also provides generic applicable skills. (All subjects say they provide generic applicable skills; it just happens to be true for computer science!)

As of 2014, there will be a new school subject and curriculum in England, from primary age onwards. It is being observed around the world in other countries thinking about the same issues. The new challenge is to encourage and equip existing computer science teachers to deliver the new curriculum. Many of them don’t have enough background in computer science, so they need help from the IT sector, including anyone in the audience today. The Department of Education is consciously standing back, so this is the big society in action.

Simon chairs the Computing at School group, a grass-roots organisation, which is at the centre of the challenge of training teachers across the country. If you are an IT professional, get involved. If not, at least talk to your schools.

What are we hoping to gain for our children from this? [Simon’s talk follows well from Sonia’s] That they are engaged, curious, playful, creative, empowered, informed, and employed(!).

Simon Peyton Jones biography

Simon Peyton JonesSimon Peyton Jones is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research in Cambridge. His research focus is in programming language design and implementation, and the purely-functional language Haskell in particular. He is a founder member and current chair of the Computing at School working group, which has played a central role in the recent reform of the school Computing curriculum.

 

News about Simon Peyton Jones

Teaching creative computer science

Early this week, Computing at School (CAS) and Microsoft released two surveys which showed that: two-thirds of teachers are worried their students know more about computing than they do, and after one term of teaching the new computing curriculum, four-fifths wanted more training and development; and that more than half of their students believed they knew more than their teachers about programming and creating websites.

Simon Peyton Jones, chairman of CAS and TEDxExeter alumnus, has been involved in launching the QuickStart Computing programme. This was launched by the Department for Education this week, and is aimed at helping to train teachers in delivering the new computing curriculum. Simon’s TEDxExeter talk, badged as “Teaching creative computer science”, features in Section 2 of the CPD toolkit for secondary teachers.

 

1 million, 2ndary schools, 3 playlists

Karima Bennoune’s talk is watched 1 million times

We’re delighted that Karima Bennoune’s talk “When people of Muslim heritage challenge fundamentalism” passed 1,000,000 views on Sunday evening! So delighted, in fact, that we issued a press release. We’re also very pleased that the transcript of the talk is available in 12 languages, from Hebrew to Japanese, with Arabic due to be published soon.

The talk has had a major impact on Karima’s work.

On the anniversary of 9/11, she was interviewed on Capital Radio: “President Barack Obama has made his case for airstrikes against the militant Islamic group ISIS in the Middle East. But has the world community focused enough on supporting Muslims who oppose fundamentalism and terrorism as a way of defeating Islamic extremism? And how has Muslim fundamentalism changed 13 years after Sept. 11?”

Also on the anniversary of 9/11, Open Democracy re-published the second and third parts of her father Mahfoud Bennoune’s 1994 article “How Fundamentalism Produced a Terrorism without precedent” that Karima had translated. Part one was published back in May. She says: “Sadly, in light of events in Iraq and elsewhere, it has never been so relevant.  I hope this may be of interest, as it discusses both the history and the ideology of jihadism and fundamentalism.” Here are the links:

  • Part 1 – Algeria and Nigeria: sharing the deadweight of human mindlessness
  • Part 2 – From 1990s Algeria to 9/11 and ISIS: understanding the history of “Homo Islamicus Fundamentalensis”
  • Part 3 – From 1990s Algeria to Iraq today: trampling Islam underfoot in the name of Jihad

And Karima’s book “Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here” has been nominated among the non-fiction finalists for the prestigious Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Inspired by the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords that ended the war in Bosnia, this prize is “the first and only annual U.S. literary award recognizing the power of the written word to promote peace.”

But most important of all is the impact that interest in the talk is having among Muslims in Algeria and elsewhere.

The support groups in Algeria are moved and heartened to know that so many care and want to be informed about their lives, their realities. In view of all the terrible news right now it is so important that so many people are listening to the voices of those who can help us understand this best.

One of the stories Karima shared was that of Algerian law student Amel Zenoune-Zouani, who was murdered in January 1997 by the Armed Islamic Group. Amel was only 22. She was killed for having dreams of a legal career and refusing to give up her studies at law school. Yet Amel’s name means “hope”. Hope can be found in the strength of her family and all the other families to continue telling their stories and to go on with their lives despite the terrorism. And hope can be found everywhere that women and men continue to defy the jihadis.

The world came to Exeter at TEDxExeter 2014. We were honoured to host Karima, and challenged to become part of something larger than ourselves. We want to encourage everyone to watch her talk at TED.com. As Karima says, “It is not enough… just to battle terrorism. We must also challenge fundamentalism, because fundamentalism is the ideology that makes the bed of this terrorism.”

Simon Peyton-Jones’ talk to be distributed to secondary schools

Simon spoke in his talk of Computing at School, the grass-roots organisation he chairs, which is at the centre of the challenge of training teachers across the country to teach computing. Those who were there, or who have watched the video since, may remember he gave a call to action: if you are an IT professional, get involved; if not, at least talk to your local schools.

“Quickstart Computing: a toolkit for secondary teachers” is a Computing at School initiative funded by Microsoft and the Department for Education, to help train teachers for the new Computing curriculum. One of the things Quickstart is doing is to develop a CPD package of training materials for teachers, for distribution free to every school. It will be launched in January at BETT 2015, the British Educational Training and Technology Show. The package will include Simon’s talk, available both on CD and online. The aims are to provide the context for the challenge, and to motivate and give experienced teachers the confidence to teach computing.

We’re thrilled that Simon’s talk will be used in this way, and that TEDxExeter will have a legacy in education, through inspiring teachers to inspire the next generation of computer scientists.

Karima and Scilla Elworthy’s talks are featured on 3 playlists

Karima’s talk is featured on a powerful TED.com playlist:

  • Insights on Terrorism. It’s a solemn subject—one of the harsh realities of our world. Here, speakers with insightful thoughts on why terrorism continues … and what we can do to stop it.

And Scilla’s talk “Fighting with non-violence” is nearing the 1 million mark too. It is now on two TED.com playlists:

  • Freedom Rising : From the Arab Spring to the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe, a new generation of freedom fighters — entrepreneurs, journalists, activists — shares powerful stories of resistance against dictatorships and oppression.
  • The Road to Peace : Peace. It’s humanity’s eternal, elusive dream. These speakers offer inspired ideas, practical advice and real-world examples from around the globe of how it just might be attainable.

Save the date!

The next TEDxExeter event takes place on 24 April 2015 at the Exeter Northcott Theatre, with the theme “Taking the Long View”.

We would be interested in hearing from you if your company would like to sponsor TEDxExeter 2015.