Empowering pupils with kinaesthetic Computer Science

Adam Speight

Award-winning teacher Adam Speight is a Middle Leader in a secondary school in South Wales and also works as an FE lecturer specialising in ICT and Computer Science. Aside from Adam's teaching commitments he also runs his own education consultancy business - Mr Speight Consultancy and since qualifying as a teacher in 2011, he has worked in both Wales and England in the state and independent sectors in a variety of roles. He is always keen to share his ideas and is a frequent educational writer and speaker. Adam is always looking for new, innovative teaching ideas, so that no learner ever gets left behind.

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Up and down the country, ICT teachers are nervously preparing themselves to make the transition from into teaching a subject which is known as ‘Computer Science’. What school leaders must realise when making this change is that Computer Science is a world apart from ICT. Teachers will need time to re-examine the pedagogy they use to ensure they deliver Computer Science lessons that are factually correct – and most importantly – craft classes that engage all learners in the room.

"Pupils should instead be allowed to use whichever programmes they want to."

I speak from experience as, this year, I took the bold move of removing ICT as a subject in my school and replacing it entirely with Computer Science, so I have already undertaken this transition.

It is important to remember that ICT underpins Computer Science and therefore its use in the subject needs to be fully realised. Having said this, it doesn’t mean that every lesson should involve a pupil creating a PowerPoint which so many poor ICT lessons have comprised of in the past.

An engaging Computer Science lesson should allow pupils to make informed choices for themselves as to how they would like to present a piece of work. Rather than exclusively using Microsoft or Google products, pupils should instead be allowed to use whichever programmes they want to - as long as they can justify why they’re using a particular software package. This simple element of choice will empower them to think proactively about the decisions they are making, thinking about which products best support their needs and help them to express themselves.

A lot of the content within Computer Science can be quite ‘dry’, making it difficult for pupils to connect and engage fully with what they are learning. I believe that one of the best ways to bring the subject to life is by giving pupils a kinaesthetic learning experience.

There are several ways teachers can integrate kinaesthetic learning into Computer Science - the entire back wall of my classroom is covered with different pieces of technology which my pupils have taken apart. After all, if you’re teaching pupils how Internet transmissions work, why not get a router and take it apart and see what’s inside it? Straightaway through this approach pupils’ interests are piqued - they’re doing something they wouldn’t normally do at home and engaging fully with what they are learning.

Role-play activities are also really effective: when learning about the various buses that exist in a computer system, my pupils can undertake a role-play activity which involves the journey of getting on a bus and all of the various parts which are involved in this journey. This enables pupils to transfer this experience to the concept of how buses work in relation to the CPU.

Much can be gained through simple, hands-on methods like these. Pupils relate their newfound knowledge to a real-life process and do it with a smile - which is half the battle in any learning environment!

"The only time I stand at the front of the room is when we’re analysing a piece of code on the board."

One of the biggest problems I see with today’s teaching methods is the ‘teach from the front’ approach. When I teach programming, the only time I stand at the front of the room is when we’re analysing a piece of code on the board. Aside from that, my pupils learn how to code through following videos which are on my department’s YouTube channel - splitting their screens in half with the video playing on one half of the screens whilst they copy the instructions on the other side.

I can easily make my way around the room and, spending time with the pupils who need additional support. This teaching technique allows for each pupil to be at a different stage of their work - making progress at a rate which supports them.

Earlier on this year my Year 11 and 12 pupils participated in a Skype call with someone who worked for Microsoft in India. Sharing and exchanging ideas with someone came from a very different culture from their own helped to engage them in their learning. The employee from Microsoft reinforced lots of the points I had been making to them as to why Computer Science is such an important subject to study.  

As educators we have a duty to try and get our pupils more engaged in Computer Science and the only way we’re going to do this is if we as teachers allow our pupils to explore the subject fully. We shouldn’t be afraid of our pupils knowing more than ourselves: we should have the expertise and knowhow to facilitate and maximise their learning in a stimulating environment, and open their eyes to the possibilities that lie in the future of the field. This is what ultimately makes Computer Science lessons something for pupils to enjoy – being able to look forward to and see the value their knowledge and skills hold for their future.

Do you teach Computer Science? Share your experiences below!

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