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UC academic' international award for Comp Sci Education

UC academic Tim Bell to receive international award for Computer Science Education

A group of international computer science educators from more than 60 countries has recognised the global achievements of Canterbury academic Professor Tim Bell with its prestigious annual award.

The 2018 SIGCSE Award for Outstanding Contribution to Computer Science Education will be presented to University of Canterbury (UC) Computer Science and Software Engineering Professor Tim Bell at an international symposium in the United States in February.

The well-known New Zealand computer scientist, in parallel with his academic work, developed Computer Science Unplugged; a system of activities for teaching computer science without computers which is used around the world.

Professor Bell says it all began with a visit to his young son’s new school.

“This work started 25 years ago with being asked to explain what I did for a living to my son’s Year 1 class when he had just started at primary school,” Professor Bell says.

“I had no idea that would lead to an international project involving hundreds of people, and used in dozens of countries around the world.”

Having to find an engaging way to explain the underlying concepts of computer science to a classroom of five-year-olds gave the UC academic the idea for a novel teaching tool that has taken the computing education world by storm.

“I like finding things that people say are impossible, then coming up with a solution. There was nothing exciting I could do on a computer that would be interesting for five-year-olds, so what if there were no computers? I gave myself that challenge and it forced me to think outside the box.”

Since then, using Computer Science Unplugged as a way to teach children and young people has become well-known in the world of computer science education.

“This is such an exciting time for Computer Science education worldwide as many countries are adopting computer science as part of their school curriculum, with many starting from primary school. This in turn has generated a lot of interest in how to explain the subject to young students – it’s wonderful this programme is being used around the world to support school curricula.”

The 2018 award will be presented to Professor Bell at the 49th SIGCSE Technical Symposium, to be held in Baltimore, from 21-24 February 2018. The SIGCSE Technical Symposium is the largest computing education conference worldwide. It attracts around 1300 researchers, educators, and others interested in improving computing education in schools and higher education.

Computer Science Unplugged

The Computer Science Unplugged project ( is a collection of free learning activities that teach Computer Science through engaging games and puzzles that use cards, string, crayons and physical activity. The activities introduce students to Computational Thinking (CT) through concepts such as binary numbers, algorithms and data compression, but separated – “unplugged” – from the distractions and technical details of having to use computers.

First developed by Professor Tim Bell more than 20 years ago in collaboration with colleagues at other universities, the programme has been translated into 20 languages and developed a strong following around the world as an extension and outreach programme for schools and science centres. The material is suitable for a wide range of ages and backgrounds, from primary school up, and is available free under a Creative Commons license that allows it to be copied. It has been actively promoted by Google and was boosted last year by a Microsoft grant.

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