Primary school children learn about data and cyber security from Lancaster computing experts

Pupils using clip:bits while collecting environmental data in Morecambe Bay

Pupils from a Morecambe Primary School have learnt about data, cloud computing and cyber security from experts at Lancaster University.

Whether counting traffic, surveying mini beasts or managing a weather station, children in primary schools engage in data collection across the curriculum.

Sometimes data is collected by children digitally, for example when using sensors or micro-computers like the micro:bit.

As part of her PhD, Lorraine Underwood, a researcher at the University’s School of Computing and Communications, has developed the ‘Classroom Cloudlet’ as a way of introducing concepts around digital data, what it is, who owns it, where it is stored, and who can view it, to primary school children.

The Cloudlet is a transparent cloud shaped digital data store comprising a Raspberry Pi computer, micro:bit and LEDs that can visualise the movement of data from a micro:bit computer to the Cloudlet. Blue lights show data flowing into the cloud, which is designed to work offline.

On rare occasions where data is accessed from online the Cloudlet glows red as a warning.

Lorraine Underwood and Future Places Centre researcher, Dr Liz Edwards recently worked with children in Year 3 and Year 5 at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Morecambe with the Classroom Cloudlet and clip:bits, (clipboard-style micro:bit-accessories) for collecting environmental data in Morecambe Bay.

The Year 5 pupils carried out a beach survey and Year 3s did a bird count. The data collected were uploaded to the Cloudlet in a lab-style format that could be explored and visualised in different ways.

The activities included discussions about how data are stored in the Cloud as well as ownership of data, security of data online and what and with whom the children would be happy to share their data.

Lorraine Underwood said: “More and more of our daily lives is dominated by data. Understanding what data is, where it is, and how it is stored is an important life skill that we need to teach our children.

“The idea of a cloud, an invisible location where data is stored and retrieved from, can be difficult for children to understand. The cloudlet is a physical representation of a cloud. The children can touch and see it, it lights up when they access it. The cloudlet helped the children understand data more. It also created opportunities for them to ask great questions about privacy, ethics and ownership of data."

Sarah Wilkinson Year 5 Class Teacher and Computing Lead at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School said: “The work with Year 5 allowed the children to understand the role that computer data can make in decision making about our environment – an area that we encourage our pupils to engage with. The children participated fully in using the microbits to collect data in numerous ways and the visible cloudlet explained and explored how the data could be used by people anywhere. This allowed them to understand how their use of computers can be “seen” by many and the necessity of staying safe when working on the internet.

“I was amazed at what the children could manage with a little guidance on a completely new technology and feel positive for what can be achieved in the future by these children as they enter a rapidly expanding digital world. I would like to say a big thank you to Lancaster University for involving us in this project.”

Credits to Security Lancaster

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