Amazing methods for successful child development

Donna Rawling

Donna Rawling is an IT coordinator and teacher of Computing in a medium-sized Primary school in Greater Manchester. With a real passion for enthusing children with the Computing curriculum, Donna runs Code Club and Drama /Digital Media Clubs, is a CAS master teacher and Raspberry Pi certified educator.

Recent initiatives have been the setting up of a Digital Leader scheme and the encouragement of girls into code via a new Wearables Club, aimed primarily, but not exclusively, at girls. A belief in showing children as many possibilities as possible, allowing an informed choice where computing is concerned along with a passion for inclusion for all is her main driving force.

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Images courtesy of author. Images courtesy of author.

A while ago, in the 2016/17 edition of the IMS Guide (both this and the new edition are available here!), I wrote of my approach to getting children interested in Coding / Computer Science, beyond the usual hour a week lesson which most schools timetable for. My approach was very much focused around encouraging children’s existing hobbies and talents, and finding ways to incorporate Computing into those interests.

My own small interpretation of the Maker Movement has continued to grow, develop and evolve into an integral part of the school day, with drop-in sessions regularly attended by up to forty children. “With no explanation I go into great detail about a nightmare trip to the supermarket.”Beyond this though, I have realised that the nurturing of children for whom lunchtimes are sometimes an ordeal for those who struggle socially, and creative sessions could be used to benefit all.

Lunchtime sessions, and indeed all Computing lessons, now have a growing element of encouraging a Growth Mindset in all children. Encouragement of resilience and perseverance are key to a successful well-rounded individual. These photos show the range of visual displays, prompts, rewards and interactive elements currently being employed here at the school.

As many of the lunch and timetabled sessions as possible are child-led investigations. At lunchtimes, children complete a project proposal form, are allocated research materials, and are then encouraged to saw, drill and glue their creations - safely, but with as little adult support as possible.

For a while, a favourite phrase amongst the children has been “I don’t get it”, which in most cases means a fixed mindset with no intention of attempting to try. However, when a pupil is adamant they can’t achieve something, one simple word added to any negative statement:

I can’t do it… YET.
I don’t understand it… YET.
It won’t work... YET.

“Yet” can change a whole way of thinking.

Incorporating these elements into as many areas of my lessons and the curriculum in general, along with the main elements of computational thinking, I feel will stand the children in good stead. They’re ready to get creative not just in Computer Science, but throughout their academic life and into the Big Wide World.

Another method I use to boost creativity is the skill of abstraction - the selection of essential information in a problem to allow it to be solved successfully. For example, when telling the children a tale, with no explanation I go into great detail about a nightmare trip to the supermarket. Throwing in prices, quantities and a great deal of irrelevant information (such as a lengthy description of the lady in front of me at the checkout), I eventually posed the children a question relating to the amount of change I could expect from my transaction. At best, they will hazard a guess at an answer, but most will usually tell me that I have confused them, that there was too much information.

This is when I tell them why I’ve told the tale, and introduce the computational thinking term of abstraction, which we then chat about in more detail. How can we make abstraction easier? In which other areas of the curriculum would this be useful?

For other terms, such as decomposition (breaking things down into manageable chunks), we may write pseudocode for a song that has repeated verses, or a nursery rhyme, introducing repeat blocks and loops.

We discuss and compile perfect algorithms for daily tasks - moving from one classroom to another, getting ready for a lesson, how we are going to get to assembly, choosing different inputs and what resulting outputs will be. As the terms progress, these algorithms can be built upon, adding more complex steps and variables.

My favourite lesson at present is the one I aim to use with our new Year 3 children to start our new school year off with. I use a video called Soar

YouTube link

...again with no real introduction. This always provokes a great discussion, and the children can really relate to the little girl in the video trying to repair her plane so that she can fly off and join her friends. A perfect activity for discussing perseverance and resilience.

This, along with a child-friendly map of both brain lobes (a resource from the fantastic Gemma Lace Costigan, who is doing amazing research into dementia), helps me to illustrate to the children how amazing their brains are, as well as how they are capable of independent reasoning and adaptation in a way that most computers are not.

We examine the brain maps together, and then I will use them as thinking cap rewards as they begin to work on their projects. These have proved a great incentive for them to try their best, support each other and, most importantly, want to do well.

I began my ‘mission’ looking at how using wool, fabric, sewing and handicrafts could encourage children’s interest in Computing, and am now pulling together threads of a different kind. I’m linking positive human traits to weave a fabric that I hope will lead to not only a successful school life, but one that will stand the children in good stead for the rest of their lives.

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