Looking back on CBBC Live in Leeds

Executive Product Manager, Children’s Future Media

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Editor's Note - In July 2013 CBBC packed its bags and took the children's channel on holiday for three action-packed festival days at CBBC Live in Leeds.

BBC North director Tom Howells has produced a selection of highlights from the weekend, which you can see below. 

A selection of highlights from CBBC Live in Leeds.

The 40,000 people in attendance saw some of CBBC's biggest names including Dick & Dom, Sam & Mark and Hacker & Dodge, as well as getting to hear Blue Peter's big announcement about it's new presenter Lindsey Russell, the 36th presenter of the programme. 

Away from the main stage five zones contained enough entertainment that even those who attended for all three days will have missed something. The 'It's Your Go' area gave everyone the chance to try presenting and working behind the camera. 'Absolute Genius' featured Fran Scott and her crack team of scientists entertaining with explosive experiments. The 'Wild Zone' brought weird and wonderful from the natural world into a large tent full of wildlife activities. The 'CBeebies Zone' was a space for crazy fun from the channel's newest show 'Swashbuckle'.

In this post, Executive Product Manager Children's Future Media Jon Howard has writes about his and his team's work in one specific area of the event: The Creative Zone. 


The 'Creative Zone' element of the weekend, an event staged in the Leeds City Museum and a space full of digital activities and workshops: a maker faire, code club, spy school, game jam and digital art arena all rolled into one.

The Creative Zone was split into multiple areas:

The Game Builder Zone allowed children to create, play, publish and share their own games featuring the stars of CBBC. The tool available here was Game Builder, an already very popular application on the CBBC website. Games are a common language to all and a brilliant focal point for digital skills learning. The quality of game design skills the kids demonstrated was amazingly high, and some of their work was taken onto the Creative Zone stage and demonstrated live. This area really inspired kids to see games as a creative activity, just as fun to make as to play.

The Game Builder app is already very popular on the CBBC website.

A programming experience was available in the Coding and Animation Zone. This used systems developed by the BBC Knowledge and Learning team and allowed kids to experiment with a programming language using simple blocks of code to animate dance moves for Hacker T Dog. The activity had a learning curve that allowed for quick experimentation to full-blown scripting for advanced new animations. This was a key experience in demonstrating that making a computer do what you want it to is an achievable, fun and engaging endeavour.

In a similar vein, a Doctor Who game was installed on tablet devices and placed on stands within the Creative Zone. The objective of the game was to give instructions, through a drag and drop interface, to The Doctor. He would then follow the sequence of commands to travel across rooms without being caught by the Weeping Angels. As an introduction to logical algorithmic thinking this game was a brilliant exercise.

In the Crafty Electronic Zone components for a Wolfblood badge were assembled. This comprised of lights, conductive paint, batteries and printed cardboard. This zone gave children a chance to become comfortable with the handling of electronics and the construction of circuits - to bring a physical artwork to life. These tables were so successful that component stocks required replenishment by the morning of day two.

Getting crafty with electronics at CBBC Live in Leeds.

The Art Zone hosted a multitude of computers running CBBC's massively popular Art Tools. These allowed the attendees to engage with digital art - some for the first time - gaining an understanding of digital image creation and manipulation. (The art tools are a system of templates that enable activities to be created specifically for a brand - Blue Peter, Dumping Ground, Deadly 60 and Wizards vs. Aliens.)

Keeping up with the high tech nature of these activities - an augmented reality treasure hunt ran across the whole Live in Leeds site. Tablet devices were used to bring pictures of CBBC stars to life as videos. These augmented pictures delivered clues that lead to a secret CBBC party in the Creative Zone. Over 1000 kids finished the trail and gained access to the party.

Alongside the drop-in activities in the main Creative Zone area, two longer more in-depth workshops were run by external experts.

The MI High Coding-from-Scratch Workshop was run by CoderDojo - a global network of clubs that teach programming to children. The session taught kids how to build a website by hand, developing in HTML, CSS and JavaScript. A further task was set to hide and interpret secret messages hidden in images (steganography) - a real spy activity, and one that was lapped up by the attendees. This was an advanced workshop, but the methods and techniques were enthusiastically picked up by the children.

The MI High Build-a-Gadget Workshop taught kids how to build their own electronic gadgets and to programs. In this case the ‘gadgets’ were MI High communicators - agents in the CBBC show communicate via an LED lit writing implement. The workshop, led by Cefn Hoile, took the participants through steps to build the device. Extras were added: a speaker that could be programmed to play RTTL files (Ring Tone Transfer Language). The room was a cacophony of Mission Impossible Super Mario and Pacman ring tones by the end of each session.

Making gadgets at CBBC Live in Leeds.

The level of detail that was taught in these workshops and the successful application of new knowledge by the children really demonstrated capacity that kids have for learning technical subjects. Most of the attendees had done very few similar activities before, but all were enthused and inspired to look into finding out more.

The whole Creative Zone promoted a huge interest in digital skills to the 8000+ attendees over the 3 days in Leeds. Many will hopefully now develop an interest in electronics or programming or digital art. An objective for the event was to help encourage digital consumers to become digital creators.

The Creative Zone was brought together by the combined efforts of teams from across the BBC, from Children’s, Knowledge & Learning, Future Media, R&D, BBC North and BBC Scotland.

This combining of skill sets from different departments demonstrates one of the core BBC values – great things happen when we work together. The positives here weren’t just in the entertainment and learning provided to the children: BBC volunteers all walked away enthused and with much greater insight and understanding in how kids engage with and enjoy digital activities. This knowledge will surely feed into a bigger and better future content on the channels.

Jon Howard is Executive Product Manager, Children’s Future Media

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