Friday, 13 March 2015

Have you cracked the code of the new computing curriculum?

The new computing curriculum came into force back in September, so the pressure is now on to deliver outstanding results. Here, primary deputy head Anthony Sharp explains the steps his school has taken to successfully deliver new terrifying topics such as algorithms, logical reasoning and debugging.

In a recent survey from CPD for Teachers, 52 per cent of headteachers who responded said that they felt their school was not successfully delivering the new computing curriculum.

And it's not surprising. There have been seismic shifts in what we expect from teachers to deliver the new computing curriculum. ICT used to focus purely on computer literacy, teaching pupils how to use software packages - for example, creating PowerPoint presentations or producing documents in Word - and e-safety. With the new curriculum, the focus has changed to understanding how computers work, including how to program them.

We have good teachers here at Midfield Primary who are competent and can teach ICT to a more than acceptable standard. However, when we reviewed the new computing curriculum and compared it with our current teaching programme, clear gaps emerged. Quite quickly for example, we saw that there was a gap in programming skills in our school, as well as a lack of confidence from our teachers who were concerned that they would not be able to deliver parts of the new curriculum.

My suspicions were confirmed by the results of the aforementioned CPD for Teachers survey, which showed that we were in the same boat as many others. Forty-four per cent of schools who felt they were not delivering the new computing curriculum effectively had also not received any face-to-face training.

First steps
It was clear that our teachers needed more guidance. We needed to prioritise computing curriculum training to re-set teachers’ thinking, eradicate the fear of programming and give them further information on how to deliver it effectively. We selected a course that met our needs in terms of being practical and hands-on from the start. It covered the fundamentals of computing programming through exciting tasks such as drawing computer graphics, creating simple games and interfacing with the real world.

Resetting thinking
When you talk to someone who doesn’t like maths, there’s often no particular reason they don’t like it - they just don’t. The same applies to a lot of teachers and adults with computers. The approach taken in the training course really helped to break down those feelings and reset their thinking.

Now, for example, the teachers explore how they can engage the children in programming, rather than the preconceived idea, which was along the lines of opening up a computer and looking at wires. This gave them the confidence to approach it. Now, far less concerned about what they don’t know, they focus on what they do know. The cross curricular content from computing compared to science, English and maths is quite extensive, so using the skills and working with these experts to help deliver programming was a great starting point for our school.

Bringing coding to life
Much to our surprise, we didn’t even go near a computer at first! The course instructors had us push all the tables and chairs to the side of the room and literally walk through a program.

One of the methods we used was to create an obstacle course which was navigated by answering/asking questions. The responses to the questions determined the player's next step. This brought programming to life and helped us to understand the way that coding works. It was a simple way of demonstrating binary logic, and we will use this to introduce basic programming to our primary pupils.

In the afternoon, we applied the knowledge from the activities of the morning to digital situations. Overall, the face-to-face training was great and broke down any aversions teachers may have had about how to engage the children. It was fun, engaging and very motivational.

One tricky area for us in teaching the new curriculum to primary school children was making it engaging and fun for children of a young age. The course gave us some really innovative methods of delivery, which has helped us engage children so that they enjoy it.

Confidence to deliver
The feedback so far has been very positive. We now deliver and prepare for lessons as teams so that we can share the knowledge and use a collaborative approach. It has made our teachers less nervous and has increased confidence in the classroom, as it gives them ways to approach it and they are far less concerned about what they don’t know. The focus now is on what they do know and what other existing skills they can draw on to help them deliver programming.

Embrace the IT geniuses
The fear at our school for many teachers used to be that once you set children on their way, it’s possible that they will steam ahead of the adults. This is natural, as adults are scared to press the wrong button, whereas children don’t have that fear so are free to explore. We’ve learned not to fear this situation - in fact, the opposite! We are embracing the possibility of this as a positive outcome, and we can use those skills and even channel them into our own teaching.

We are still at the start of our journey but, I believe, in a good place to move forward in delivering the new computing curriculum with confidence.

Five top tips for delivering the new computing curriculum:
1. Focus on what the teachers already know.
2. Explore curriculum crossover from maths, English and science.
3. Invest in face-to-face training to give teachers confidence.
4. Team up in a collaborative effort to engage your class.
5. Focus on making it engaging and fun for both teachers and pupils.

Anthony Sharp is deputy headteacher at Midfield Primary School in Bromley, Kent. Midfield chose to prepare their teachers for the new computing curriculum with the CPD for Teachers 'How to teach programming' course. Find out more at:

Looking for a short but thorough introduction to programming? In this free training video and accompanying article, Chris Thomas explores the basics of programming and two tools that will make teaching it a lot simpler.

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