Turkey, Green Skills Award finalist

Interview with Selçuk Arslan, Computer Science teacher,  Ataturk Vocational and Technical High School, Ankara, Turkey

Learning about computer coding and nature at the same time is an unusual combination. But for a computer science teacher that is ecologically minded, it makes perfect sense.

“You can develop environmentally-themed solutions while learning coding. My students are designing software that can calculate an individual’s ecological footprint, and robotic solutions for smart agriculture,” says Selçuk Yusuf Arslan.

Selçuk is probably Turkey’s most famous computer science teacher. He has won the Global Teacher Award, Working Wonder Teacher award from Microsoft Turkey, and has thrice been Extraordinary Teacher of the Year. His work got the Ataturk Vocational and Technical High School selected as Turkey’s most environmentally-friendly school.

Selçuk has achieved all this through teaching coding. One of his projects, ‘More Coding More Girls: Let’s code with girls, code for the planet’ has reached more than one thousand students in the last two years. Through coding Selçuk aims to counter the gender imbalance in the subject as well imbue students with a more environmentally aware attitude.

“I believe as we teach coding to students we can use the environment, climate change, biodiversity and renewable energy for themed topics,” he says. “We can find good features for girls to learn coding and to be aware of diverse problems related to the environment. There can be solutions by using robotics.”

The project has inspired other Turkish teachers to use his method. “We must share best practices in order to create a better world,” says Selçuk.

In addition to being a teacher and teacher trainer, Selçuk volunteers with the country’s largest NGO by membership, the Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats (TEMA). TEMA works at local and national level to implement educational activities and organise awareness-raising events.

Inspired by the foundation, which has a high-school programme, Selçuk has taken his experience teaching coding to under-privileged students in villages to sow seeds about future work prospects in IT, and in environmental sciences.

As a volunteer teacher, Selçuk recently gave a two-day coding workshop to 20 primary school students in İzmir. “Our aim was to teach coding related with nature,” he says. The project, called “Code 4 Nature”, is sponsored by Turkish airline Pegasus.

The İzmir workshop has had long-lasting results. “I kept in touch with the teacher, and she said that students’ environmental awareness had increased and that they see the world from a different perspective. They are also continuing to learn coding, as it is important for their future. Technology can be more environmentally-friendly if we use it correctly,” he says.

In another project Selçuk has developed, his students designed software to inform people about their carbon footprint. “Questions are asked to calculate the carbon footprint. Depending on the outcome, if you are environmentally-friendly, you get points. If you are not, we give advice related to the outcome. By using technology we can raise awareness about a person’s carbon footprint and climate change,” he says. The project was featured in the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Coolest Projects Festival 2019 in Dublin, Ireland.

A further project involves teaching secondary school students about hydrogen through animation and gamification. Another project is centered around robotic solutions for smart agriculture. His students have submitted a project to a large technology festival in Turkey called Teknofest. “We collect information about a farm and put it on an online cloud. The process is managed remotely with a mobile app, so if there are problems the farmer can take action. It helps to decrease transportation costs, reducing carbon emissions,” he says.

Selçuk uses the BBC micro:bit mini codable computer to teach coding. Used in the UK for computer education, these tiny computers have motion detection, a built-in compass, LED display, and Bluetooth technology.

Selçuk has sought support from a local university and industry to improve IT hardware. “Two years ago we established a collaboration with Hacettepe University, as we didn’t have robotic tools, and also with industry partners, to use their resources,” he says.

In addition to his teaching, Selçuk is a PhD student, studying educational leadership and how to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through education. “I believe education and sustainability are a match,” he says.

Selçuk has also found the time to provide teacher training on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and the environment. “During the COVID-19 pandemic period I’ve taught 35 different sessions on STEM and the SDGs,” he says.

He has a particular focus on SDG 4 – quality education. “It is a key development goal, as if we can provide quality education to humanity we can help solve many of the problems we face,” says Selçuk.

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