Computing advice and resources

Written by: Peter Henshaw | Published:
Photograph: iStock

Two months into the new computing curriculum, headteacher Rebecca Stacey considers some of the challenges we have faced in delivering the new-look subject, offers her advice for the months ahead, and signposts a few useful resources

I have been incredibly excited by the changes to the computing curriculum for primary and hope I can pass on some useful advice and ideas here.

Below, I have recapped some of the main changes and the challenges these pose – and I have also highlighted what has actually stayed the same.

Key changes (and what’s stayed the same...)

For some the computing curriculum seems to be unrecognisable now – introducing skills that many of our teachers haven’t used and are unfamiliar to many of our pupils. It is easy to assume that our pupils are using digital devices all the time and will find computing simple. However, the new curriculum emphasises responsibility, awareness of technology and the creation of content rather than the use of digital devices.

So where are the similarities?

Recognising the usefulness of technology is a common theme – using technology safely, with purpose and with the ability to be able to save, retrieve and manipulate data. All of this is familiar – and in key stage 2 where it speaks of sequence, selection and repetition it echoes the maths curriculum, albeit within a digital arena.

The “computing” section of the curriculum is the bit that has caused the most consternation. It calls for the specific skills of creating and debugging complete programs. To understand what algorithms are and to be able to implement them by following precise and unambiguous instructions.

It is worth taking a breath here and considering what the terminology actually means. For example, following “precise and unambiguous” instructions is something that is familiar to pupils. Whether that’s a simple cooking lesson at key stage 1 or helping to navigate Little Red Riding Hood through a forest.

In key stage 2, we see this narrowed into achieving “specific goals” – “controlling or simulating physical systems” and exploring “computer networks”. In key stage 2 – the Logo program of old was exactly that – creating an end product using computer program language. The changes now are largely thanks to the technology; the programs can achieve so much more. More tricky I feel is the “understanding of computer networks”, this includes the internet (I wonder how many of us could really explain how the internet works!).

However, what’s great is that a number of teachers and other experts in education and computing have provided lessons and resources that explain computer networks (and the internet). I have added a selection of these at the end of this article.

Computing challenges

Narrowed down, the new computing curriculum poses a few challenges for schools, these include some curriculum reworking, training for the new elements, and potentially some creative thinking around equipment.

Curriculum

The curriculum has required some thinking – and as we have so many things to think about now it makes sense to tackle it all in one go! Here’s the secret: your teachers will already do many of these things in their classes. You should not have needed to plan a whole new curriculum purely for computing.

For example, ask staff to think about their key stage 1 pupils and when they ask them to follow precise and unambiguous instructions (algorithms). A bit of thinking will lead to the conclusion that the literacy unit on “instructions” could be tweaked to include some work which results in the use of a simple program to draw a shape, or on an app to make a cute dinosaur jump.

Training

There can be no doubt that CPD is the responsibility of both school and teacher. School leaders have a role to ensure that the provision of both curriculum training and device training is linked to school and individual needs. Therefore it is important that training links to your digital technology plan – who wants to go on a course for iPads when there are only four in the school and only one teacher uses them?

I recommend identifying teachers that are engaged in computing, or at least receptive. Encourage them to try out different teaching approaches and then set up an INSET or mini-TeachMeet where they can share their learning and other teachers can have time to “play”. At the same be practical and ensure that teachers are asked to apply the new approaches in their own class (and ask them to report back).

If staff are not confident with the “computing” side of the curriculum then start small – introduce one package or one program, such as Scratch, and ask teachers to implement it in one term, then review and evaluate how it has gone. Encourage staff to watch one another share what is working. I have listed some great resources at the end of this article.

There is plenty of free advice and training available online, so make use of it. In January 2015, Computing At School will launch QuickStart Computing. The materials will be free and include resources for teachers and short CPD courses to support primary and secondary teachers.

Also, I can’t recommend Twitter enough for finding advice and support – check out the Bring a Teacher to Twitter guide if you are unsure of how to connect.

Ask yourself:

  • Are all school staff, including support staff and key governors, accessing training?
  • Is training relevant to your school setting? Don’t send teachers on Google Chromebook training if you don’t have any!
  • Have you accessed the training available for packages you already have?

Equipment

This is the subject of much heated discussion at the moment – and many schools are spending lots of money buying tablets, laptops, chromebooks and new desktop computers.

Do proceed with caution though and think through what your long-term aim is. For example, if you are heading down the iPad and tablet route, are you considering changing your desktop PCs to a Mac environment? Will Chromebooks and online storage work well with your internet providers, and so on. There are lots of different elements that will need connecting together so it is worth sitting down with your curriculum leaders, technology staff and governors to plot out a long-term plan.

The new curriculum does not need lots of expensive equipment. Many of the programs needed (such as the much celebrated Scratch) are available free and online. If you already subscribe to some form of online provision, or are buying into areas for other parts of the curriculum, the chances are that they have developed online environments to let teachers plan for the computing curriculum.

Do take advice, do visit schools that are working well and do ask your school community what works. Ask yourself:

  • Do you have a plan for the replacement of technology rather than just buying all new every few years? For example, you may not need new computers – a memory upgrade and general maintenance may be enough.
  • Broadband internet connections will be key, now and in the future, is yours future proof?
  • Does the purchase of any new equipment include comprehensive CPD alongside it?

The importance of e-safety

At both key stage 1 and 2, using technology safely and respectfully is a key objective. There are lots of e-safety resources available online and all schools should now include elements of e-safety within PSHE. However, I really urge leaders to not make this just a one-off lesson. Many local authorities also offer free online training (even if you are not a local authority school). I have written an outline of ideas for each year group on my site too.

Priorities

I heard recently that the changes in education were tantamount to a “perfect storm” – confusing and challenging school leaders in equal measure. Alongside SEN, funding changes, free school meals, assessment and new appraisal systems, small specific elements of the curriculum can seem insignificant, (and possibly something that we are leaving on the back-burner).

However, if you are reviewing assessment, setting challenging targets for teachers and looking at safeguarding then your computing is an integral part. Many areas of the curriculum can be worked on through the computing curriculum; it is a missed opportunity not to develop it at the same time.

Conclusion

The last word must be this: change although daunting at first can be a real opportunity for growth. There is plenty of support out there. Start small, and be open to learning from others around you.

  • Rebecca Stacey is head at Castle Carrock Primary School in Cumbria.

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