Some practical ideas and advice for computing

Written by: Pat Mainprize, Gregory Elleston | Published:
Photograph: iStock

We continue our recent series of articles offering advice and practical ideas for teaching the new computing curriculum. Here, former headteacher Pat Mainprize and teacher Gregory Elleston offer some ideas for each of the core elements of the new curriculum

What is important to remember is that many elements of the computing curriculum were in fact covered by the previous ICT curriculum. As a foundation, rather than core subject, most schools will spend about one hour a week teaching computing, so making the most of that time should be a high priority.

The best way to tackle the new programme of study is to break it down into its core elements: computer science, information technology and digital literacy for key stages 1 and 2 as recommended by the Computing at School initiative. Below, we have listed the objectives for each and some practical tips on how to meet those objectives in the classroom.

Computer science – objectives

  • Understand what algorithms are, how they are implemented as programs on digital devices, and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions (key stage 1).
  • Create and debug simple programs (key stage 1).
  • Use logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs (key stage 1).
  • Design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts (key stage 2).
  • Use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output (key stage 2).
  • Use logical reasoning to explain how some simple algorithms work and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs (key stage 2).
  • Understand computer networks including the internet, how they can provide multiple services such as the world wide web (key stage 2).
  • Appreciate how (search) results are selected and ranked (key stage 2).

Practical ideas for the classroom

Make it fun: Dress someone up, a teaching assistant or a pupil, as a robot. You can use a cardboard box over the head, or a pair of special robot boots (spray some wellies silver) then give them commands to get them from one place to another. You can add obstacles to make it more complex. You might start with one command at a time before moving on to a sequence of them. Write them on the whiteboard then go through the "program" with each step, debugging by rubbing out and correcting the "code".

Draw parallels from everyday life: Such as making a sandwich, getting dressed in the morning or crossing the road using the Green Cross code. Ask what could happen if you go wrong, if you don't follow the sequence correctly every time. Getting it wrong could see some funny outcomes (your clothes are on wrong) or disasters.

Turtles! You can follow up the "human robot" with a floor turtle, plotting a path around a course, raising the level of challenge and debugging as you go.

Language: Computers are controlled using languages, be that Basic, Java, Python or Scratch. Point out that coding is similar to writing, commands are words, each line of code is a sentence, and a program is the whole story. Just as a sentence will not read properly if you get something wrong, so a program will not run properly. Teach children the vocabulary of the subject. Give them spelling tests and ask them to think about words that are used – such as command, code or program – and whether they have other meanings (point out the different spellings, too).

Online resources: There are some really great online resources for the teaching of programming, but the important thing is that they are intuitive and engaging for pupils, and come with step-by-step guidance for teachers and a comprehensive portfolio of lesson plans.

Digital literacy – objectives

  • Recognise common uses of IT beyond school (key stage 1).
  • Use technology safely and respectfully, keeping personal information private; identify where to go for help and support when they have concerns about content or contact on the internet or other online technologies (key stage 1).
  • Understand the opportunities networks offer for communication and collaboration (key stage 2).
  • Be discerning in evaluating digital content (key stage 2).
  • Use technology safely, respectfully and responsibly; recognise acceptable/unacceptable behaviour; identify a range of ways to report concerns about content and contact (key stage 2).

Practical ideas for the classroom

Illustrations: Collect graphics that illustrate the use of IT in everyday life and explain the story behind them. For example, a mother buying petrol using a credit card – explain how the EPOS system dials the merchant, which checks that there are adequate funds in her account before authorising the payment. A graphic showing goods being scanned at the supermarket is another situation familiar to all primary children – explain how information from the bar code is used to notify the depot that more of product x needs to be shipped to that supermarket.

Server lesson: Take your class along to the ICT suite and the server room – explain how the clients are connected to the server and how the router provides the "route out" to the world wide web.

Searching online: Teach them practical skills to narrow down searches on the internet so they don't get hundreds of sites with tentative links to the topic they are trying to research. For example, if you type in the word "football" you will get millions of sites. If you type in "football + club" (in quotation marks) you can get to the information you require much quicker.

Social conversation: Talk to pupils about the dangers of using social networking sites and being careful about sharing personal details data that could potentially attract predators – eg their age, sex, telephone number and address. Check out the Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre's video Jigsaw. Suitable for key stage 2 children, this short film helps children to understand what constitutes personal information and enables them to understand that they need to be just as protective of their personal information online as they are in the real world. It poses questions like: "Would you leave your front door open?", "Would you hang up photos of yourself in a public place for everyone to see?", "Would you tell any old person where you lived?" It also tells them where to go and what to do if they are worried about any of the issues covered.

Other resources: Check out the BBC Learning website Making it Digital and CBBC's Stay Safe pages to test pupil's knowledge of internet safety with Hacker, listen to some Stay Safe songs with Helen Skelton, News Kids On the Block and Bobby Lockwood and get some tips from the Horrible Histories gang.

Information technology – objectives

  • Use technology purposefully to create, organise, store, manipulate and retrieve digital content (key stage 1).
  • Use search technologies effectively (key stage 2).
  • Select, use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to design and create a range of programs, systems and content that accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information (key stage 2).

Practical ideas for the classroom

Choose an example that is personal to your pupils. For example, ask them what changes they would like to see in school? What would they like to see in a new playground – skipping ropes, a jungle gym, a giant jenga? What are the benefits?

Spend the first lesson discussing the questions – what are they and why do we need surveys? Encourage partner talk and discussion between the pupils. Get them to write the ideas up on a word wall using an iPad. Ask them to identify the most important questions. Create a tally and a bar chart that illustrate responses. What is the most popular response? What is the least popular response? What does this tell us?

Create the same survey on a handheld voting system. Make the lesson a cross-curricular maths and computing lesson: how many more votes did the most popular answer get compared to the least popular? Draw parallels from everyday life – for example, how Radio 1 uses surveys to select the top 100 songs.

And finally...

Don't forget that computing in addition to being a subject in its own right has an impact across the whole curriculum. Be selective in your choice of resources and work with organisations that offer good customer service, blogs, wikis, teacher notes, lesson plans, answer sheets – these will help you make more effective use of your time in front of the children.

  • Patrick Mainprize is a former headteacher who is now education lead at, providers of online educational content for three to 12-year-olds. Gregory Elleston is a year 3 teacher at St Giles CE School in the West Midlands.

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