Ideas for the computing curriculum: #2 What box?

Ideas for the computing curriculum: #2 What box?

In this series I’m going to be making some suggestions, putting out some ideas. These are based on presentations I’ve given. I can think of how these ideas, or their implications, might be applied in the classroom. However, I think it better if I stand back and let you do that part of the work!

One of the most depressing things for me is the degree of conformity I come across. I don’t blame people: we live in such judgemental times that I understand why people would stick to the tried and tested ways of doing things. Even so…

Once, having taken a group of teachers around the Press Association, a member of the group said “Wow, this has been fantastic! The amount of technology here is astonishing. It’s everything I’ve been teaching the kids about.”

“Brilliant!”, I answered. “So how will this have an impact on your teaching?”

“It won’t.”

“It won’t??”

“No. I have to make sure my students get a grade between a C and A*, so I can’t afford to go off the beaten track. I must teach them exactly what the syllabus says.”

Well, that’s a sad state of affairs if you ask me, but there are two things to note:

First, the syllabus the new Computing Curriculum doesn’t exist. There’s a Programme of Study that consists of a few bullet points for each age group, and if you stuck rigidly to that then either you would have completed the course in a month or the kids would have died of boredom before you reached that point. (If that’s your intention, by the way, you will find my book “Go on, bore ‘em: how to make your ICT lessons excruciatingly dull” quite useful.)

Fift Box, by Ken's Oven

Second, when I was teaching advanced level Economics I covered all manner of things that were not on the syllabus, and taught them using role play, computer games and debates. Did that disadvantage the students? Quite the opposite: it inspired in them a love of the subject and a desire to learn more. It also helped them to start thinking like economists.

And that, surely, is the point? We need to be getting kids to think like computer scientists and systems analysts, or at least get them to think “computationally”, not merely to get them through a ‘syllabus’.

My starting point is this: people go on about thinking outside the box. I say: “What box?”. Even acknowledging that there might be a box is, in a way, surrendering to the status quo. What if, instead, you started to toy with impossible ideas? For example:

  • Could I teach the whole of the Computing curriculum by taking the students to the park every lesson?
  • Could I teach it by adopting a fully ‘game-based approach?
  • Could I teach it by getting in guest speakers – from completely different disciplines, like historians, poets, artists, writers, scientists?

“OK”, you say. “Terry has finally flipped.” But the point of such questions is to go to the brink, then pull back, and see what you’re left with. For example, you would probably not want to turn your entire course into a game (though I imagine you could, and it would probably work quite well!). There may be ‘political’ reasons not to as much as practical ones. For example, how will you sell the idea to the senior leadership team and to parents?

But you might be able to take a game-based approach for one unit of work a year. Or not as long. Or longer. I once ran a computer game that took just one lesson, but led to tons of discussion. I ran another game that took up one lesson a month, and that also generated lots of great discourse.

Thinking up impossible scenarios is an excellent way of pushing the limits – and still remain within the bounds of the possible.

cross-posted at

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."