Preparing to teach the new Computing curriculum

8/11/2014 12:00:00 AM

I've been giving talks on preparing for the new Computing curriculum, and as well as waxing lyrical that also involves listening to others' concerns. It also means hearing about some innovative approaches that colleagues have adopted.

At the same time, I have been conducting a survey of what people have been doing to prepare for the new curriculum. I'll be publishing the results in due course. In fact, some of the resources mentioned in the collection of coding resources in the early July 2014 edition of Digital Education  came to my attention from that survey.

So, given that at the time of writing there's about 2 or 3 days to go till the end of term, what can you realistically do at this stage to prepare for September?

No need to panic -- yet!

The obvious answer is “not a lot”. But hopefully you will have already started to do something, even if you are yet to be able to convince yourself that you are ready to tackle the subject.

However, what you can do is to draw up a list of a few things that you will consider or do. Hopefully, the list below will give you some ideas and make the whole thing seem more doable.

Make connections

If you don't know how to do computer programming, it is imperative to find someone who does. There used to be an advert on British TV for the Automobile Association's roadside rescue service.

“Do you know how to fix this?”, the hapless passenger would ask when the driver announced that the car had broken down.

“No”, came the reply. “But I know a man who can!”

Where will you find someone who “can”? I suggest the following”:

  • Join Computing at Schools (CAS) if you have not already done so. Incidentally, I recommend CAS a lot because I think it does a good job of connecting people and facilitating the exchange of ideas and resources. I'm not on the Board of Management or anything like that.

  • Once you've joined CAS find out where your nearest Hub is and go to meetings and events. There probably won't be anything going on now, but see if your hub has a calendar of events coming up in the new term.

  • While you're there, make a note of the name of the Master teacher in your area. He or she should be able to give you some useful pointers or help you find out about training going on in your area.

  • And also while you're there, see which other local schools are listed, and then make a note to connect up with one or two of them next term. It may be possible, for instance, to arrange some mutual in-service training. Or another possibility: what if you divided up the next couple of terms' work between you, so that you share the preparation?

  • If you work with colleagues in the same school, you can do that in-house. By dividing up the units of work between you, covering the curriculum becomes much easier. It also becomes more enjoyable, because if each person in the team takes responsibility for particular units, they can approach each one in a way that they will find most engaging for themselves. By “taking responsibility” I mean ensuring that the curriculum objectives are met for that unit (eg an understanding of loops, cyberbullying, networking, or whatever), devising the materials and other resources, coming up with suitable assessment tasks, and training the rest of the team in how to teach it.

  • Contact your local college if there is one. You may be able to take on a student to help train you, hold your hand in the classroom, or help you deal with issues of understanding arising in the classroom.

Introduce a project-based learning approach, if you have not already done so

In the early July 2014 edition of Digital Education, John Partridge extolled the virtues of project-based learning (PBL). Interestingly, the survey I've conducted revealed that it's not just secondary (high) schools that have been adopting PBL, but primary (elementary) schools too. So what's the attraction?

  • For a start, it makes it easier to cover the different elements of the Computing Programme of Study – Computer Science, Digital Literacy, Information Technology and e-Safety – in a meaningful way. Breaking up the subject into strands may make it easier for those who know about Computer Science to keep track of what they've taught, but it doesn't make much sense in the real world, and it's hard to make the subject interesting by doing it that way: who wants to do a module on loops, or one on e-safety?

  • Almost any real-world problem can be a PBL starter: how can we make the roads around our school safer? How can we make the next Open Day run more smoothly?

  • A huge benefit, both for pupils and their less-than-confident teacher is that they only have to learn coding on a need to know basis. That is to say, they can learn the aspects of it that will be useful for this particular project, and ignore the rest of it. That in itself makes teaching the subject as an expert much more doable. (Don't take any notice of anyone who tells you it's OK just to be a facilitator and not know anyhting, for reasons given below.)

Learn to code

Unfortunately, there's no avoiding this, for three main reasons:

Firstly, you'll feel a lot more confident in the classroom and in planning, not to mention assessing.

Secondly, unless you are able to delegate the teaching of coding entirely, I don't see how you can avoid it. Ofsted looks for subject expertise in teachers, and so they should: would you want to be taught by someone who is one lesson ahead – if you're lucky?

Thirdly, I don't see how you can confidently and competently move pupils on to their next step, or to clear up their misconceptions, if you don't know really know the subject.

So what can you do?

  • Forget all the nonsense you hear about being able to learn coding in a day. Computer programmers, like experts in any other field, spend years honing and expanding their skills. You may be able to learn the principles in a day (I don't know: I think even that is a stretch), but not much more. In any case, learning how to code isn't the same as learning how teach others how to code. In my opinion, all that making pronouncements about “you can learn to code in a day” does is make people feel inadequate. To my mind, it's the equivalent of someone who knows how to draw announcing that anyone can learn to sketch in a day. Baloney.

  • Try out one or two of the online resources given in the early July 2014 edition of Digital Education, which had a focus on coding. I'm reluctant to suggest this, because teachers are tired, and have a six week summer break for a reason. But if you can bring yourself to spend 20 or 30 minutes a day teaching yourself some coding I think you'll feel a lot more confident about it all come September.

  • If that last suggestion sounds awful, try reading the free book I mentioned in that issue, Computing Without Computers, by Professor Paul Curzon. It doesn't sound much like holiday reading, but it is quite entertaining, with puzzles to try and examples from the world of magic and everyday life. It's a huge tome, but you can download individual chapters if you prefer. Here's the link: http://www.eecs.qmul.ac.uk/~pc/research/education/puzzles/reading/.

  • Get some training when you get back. Yes, easier said than done, I know. I'm quite appalled at the number of times courses have had to be cancelled because headteachers won't let their staff out on courses. Short-sighted doesn't even come into it. But as a teacher said to me last year, it's like asking a teacher of French to teach Russian from next September. I don't think it's quite that bad – at least, if you were following the last (ICT) Programme of Study properly it shouldn't be – but I think she had a point. Maybe that's the argument to use if you are unfortunate enough to work for a headteacher who thinks you don't need to go on any training.

Well, I hope that some of those suggestions are useful, and give you some ideas about things can you can do to make the whole thing less daunting.

This is a slightly modified version of an article that was published in the late July 2014 edition of Digital Education, the free newsletter for those with a professional interest in educational ICT and Computing. You can see the full table of contents here: http://www.ictineducation.org/home-page/2014/7/16/digital-education-latest-edition.html. To sign up for the newsletter, please complete the form at http://www.ictineducation.org/newsletter/  

cross-posted at www.ictineducation.org

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant with over 35 years of experience in education. He publishes the ICT in Education website and the newsletter “Digital Education."

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