Think Differently about Computing

Having spent the last few months deeply engrossed in all things computing, be that training, workshops, or keynotes, I am pretty impressed by one thing. The sheer volume of resource already available online and through organisations like Rising Stars and CAS. However, the real surprise is in how much genuine content, endorsed by some of the biggest players in the marketplace, Facebook, Google, Rovio etc.is totally FREE.

I really hope that nobody who has been given government funds to spend on preparing teachers for the upcoming changes to the curriculum is producing any new content. If you are, please stop!

Whether it is learning basic programming commands by playing modified versions of Plants vs Zombies, doing an "hour of code" with Khan Academy or learning Python on Tynker, what is crystal clear is that we do not need any more resources. What teachers do need is hand-holding, wayfinding, pointing in the right direction, a bit of nudging and a little empathy.

Just to clarify, the government has not only asked every school to swap the well established (though not necessarily useful) teaching of ICT for Computing, they have also asked every teacher at the primary phase to include the computing programme of study in their planning, delivery and day-to-day teaching. Of course, this is not beyond the means of any primary school teacher, as we all know, they regularly teach across subjects, vertically across age groups and across a wide range of themes.

However, that doesn’t stop it from being a very daunting thought.

The biggest challenge of course is that (and I can say this as a Computer Science graduate) computing and coding, is not particularly interesting to the masses. As inspiring as it is that some of the richest people in the world were once computer programmers, we still need the guys with the creative minds, the story tellers and the ones with good overall digital literacy. After all, imagine playing Assassin's Creed without the amazing gameplay, immersive environments and intense narratives pulled together by some of the most creative minds in the industry. It would be dull indeed.

If we are to succeed in this drive for a new generation of wannabe programmers, what we need to do as educators, consultants, resource makers and trainers, is simple.

  1. Stop trying to sell schools new resources, when there is already so much fantastic free stuff available

  2. Get teachers looking in the right direction, to find resources that are differentiated, readily accessible and engaging

  3. Ensure schools have access to a progressive programme of training rather than a one off, or “an afternoon of computing”. I spent 3 years full time as undergraduate learning how to programme well!

  4. Convince teachers that this should be about more than just ticking boxes, or trying to do the bare minimum. In this kind of scenario, the only losers are the students, and they deserve more effort than that

  5. Work with teachers on how to recognise those students that really want to code. The ones who do sit at home wondering how Minecraft works, or how to plug their Xbox Kinect into their laptop. The ones who master Scratch in a single lesson, or the ones who have the ability to work on solving problems and engage in computational thinking. Like those on any gifted and talented programme, these students need to be supported, their skills nurtured and maybe, just maybe, they’ll go on to become some of the 20% or more coders we need in the future in the UK to remain competitive in the areas of software engineering, programming and games development.

The upcoming curriculum should be embraced, not feared. It should be welcomed not shunned. It should give students something new to do, rather than just replace a course (ICT) many don’t need to do any longer.

Sonny Feb 2014.

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