Computing and the new curriculum

Leon Brown

Leon provides tuition in computing, maths and English. He has developed the Visual Maths framework - a set of strategies and learning resources that helps visual learners to easily understand maths concepts.

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A lot of UK teachers are having to look at how they can best teach this brand-new curriculum. Here, Leon Brown discusses the challenges that the computing curriculum raises, and how they can be turned into opportunities.

The specification of the new national curriculum for traditional subjects, such as maths and English, has the potential to cause headaches for teachers throughout the country, never mind the introduction of a whole new subject that the majority of teachers have never been involved with.

Certainly, when it comes to teaching the computing requirements of the new national curriculum, many teachers will agree that the requirements set by the Government probably haven't been thought through with SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) objectives in mind. So what can teachers do to make the best of the difficult expectations they face?

Efficiency and effectiveness are two key measurements to consider for successful teaching of the computing curriculum. Certainly at the more advanced levels approaching GCSE and beyond, computing can become tricky if bad habits are taught – to a point where pupils struggle to complete coursework and lose marks as a result. These consequences occur as a result of quick-fix practices in activities such as programming, where there is a rush to get things working as quickly as possible without building a robust foundation. In terms of the programming elements of the curriculum, this type of approach results in pupils producing code that meets the initial criteria of assessed work such as coursework, but facing problems they can't resolve for the latter criteria of the specification.

The critical time for decisions on how to deliver the computing curriculum will be at the beginning of the year – this is the time where nightmare scenarios can be avoided and where good decisions will persuade pupils to become engaged with the subject in order to maximise the results of any assessment they will face. Factors of good decision making include:

  • Choosing the right starting point

As much as the media likes to point out that young people are natural experts with computing technology, no year 5 pupil has advanced programming skills – and neither do the majority of teenagers. It's important to know what skills pupils already have, so that computing concepts can be gradually introduced in a way that seems familiar and less complicated in order to encourage confidence. Teaching strategies for computing should avoid assumptions about the knowledge pupils may already have, and seek to prove what pupils already understand – especially where pupils may claim to understand certain topics, but in reality are misinformed or have picked up bad habits.

  • Selecting the most appropriate resources

This is especially important for selecting the programming languages for the higher levels of computing requirements. There's nothing that will discourage pupils from taking a genuine interest in computing than forcing them to use a programming language that is difficult to produce results from – which in turn causes problems for you as the teacher who pupils will turn to get help from. Selecting a programming language that allows children to be productive without will allow you to be more efficient with your time as well as for children to enjoy learning to write code.

  • Delivery format

Pupils who progress to careers in computing, and especially programming, will quickly learn to realise that although their job description will be worded around the operation of computing technologies, the real purpose of their jobs is to using their computing skills to solve real world problems – without these problems, there would be no need to use computing technologies. As a teacher, you can take advantage of this by efficiently integrating computing into other subjects such as maths, English, science and even PE to teach computing concepts in a way that also promotes the purpose of computing being to support activities in other disciplines.

  • Patterns, styles and strategies

For elements of the curriculum in Key Stage 3 and 4 that are specific to learning more in-depth programming skills, it is worth taking some time to become familiar with programming patterns, styles and strategies that allow for better quality adaptable code. Having your pupils understand these will avoid them from producing unstructured code that will cause them and you problems in tracing bugs and making changes.

  • Extra curricular activities

Nobody ever became a computer expert exclusively in a classroom. The best programmers are self-taught – even if they have a degree, the majority of their learning will have been from working on code outside of the classroom, either as a hobby or through employment. Pupils should be encouraged to take an interest to learn computing in their own time – even better if their hobby projects can be related to your in class teaching programme.

Computing <> ICT

The old ICT curriculum is as close computing as teaching French is to English. The problem faced by teachers is the apparent assumption that those with experience in teaching ICT should have skills that are transferrable, which other than typing and turning on a computer, isn't the case.

The main difference between computing and ICT is the focus is on how computing technologies work. This is similar to how learning to drive a car isn't the same as learning to be a mechanic.

Whereas ICT requires the use of computers to teach how to use them, computing concepts can very easily be taught without the user of computer hardware. This is a useful consideration for classrooms that have limited availability of computer hardware – concepts such as algorithms can be integrated into topics such as maths and English in a way that only requires the use of the traditional pen and paper.

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How is your school doing with the curriculum? Let us know below.

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