Ireland's first ever computer science conference took place on Thursday 13 October.

In attendance were students, teachers, school leaders and representatives from all areas of the education sector to promote computer science across the continuum of learning.

Post-primary STEM team leader at Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST) Helen Van Eesbeck says: “We are delighted to be organising this conference as part of Ireland's first ever computer science week, which we are co-ordinating with the support of the Department of Education.”

With the aim of promoting computer science to the general public and schools, Helen explained: “There is a wide range of supports available to schools if they choose to add this new subject to their curriculum.”

Vista Milk’s 'Coding with cows' resource was at the centre of this event.

What can students learn?

'Coding with cows' is an interactive resource that provides participating primary school students with skills to handle activity data from cattle using coding software.

As part of the process, they develop their own coding skills and get output information on the activity of the cows during the day, including health status and reproductive events. In this way, the children improve their knowledge of coding, but also of cattle farming systems in Ireland.

Students will also understand how coding can be used to improve the working life of a farmer by providing real-time information on what the cows are doing and alerting him or her when something is wrong.

Teachers can thus use the 'Coding with cows' game to educate their students in coding and livestock systems in an innovative, fun and interactive way.

VistaMilk postdoctoral researcher, UCD, Lucile Riaboff, who imagined and led 'Coding with cows' says: “This educational program was designed to inform the next generation of computer scientists about the impact and importance that coding has in our daily lives.

"As agricultural and computer scientists, we use activity data collected from cattle neck collars to get information on daily activity, health and reproductive status of cows using artificial intelligence.

"We thus thought it would be great fun for children to simulate the process used in our research to follow a day in the life of characters like Gus the Aberdeen Angus, Hefin the Hereford, Hallie the Holstein Friesian or Josie the Jersey cow using a coding software specially designed for a young audience.”

Access and resources

'Coding with cows' is a free resource. Teachers can avail of training in the use of the program or can organise for VistaMilk representatives to attend their schools.

For more information, visit here.

Computer science is a subject that is suitable for all students and has applications in most aspects of today's modern world, not least the agriculture sector. Teachers can also access the computer science website launched at the conference here.