I had a meeting with the new Computing subject leader at my primary school the other day, and I thought it gave some interesting insights into the new curriculum, so I thought I’d report some of it here. We concentrated on the Computer Science elements of the Computing curriculum, as the staff are already familiar with the other streams of work. I am increasingly convinced that, at primary level, having a single computing expert in the school is counterproductive, because it discourages other teachers from getting involved in the computing curriculum, so our objective was to start structuring a curriculum that all of the teaching staff (techie and self-professed non-techie) could buy into.
We started with these:
- CAS Primary Framework levels, to try to map the progression of skills through the framework
- The Somerset Computing Curriculum, which I think lays things out nice and clearly, and in particular their model of computational thinking to summarise the skills and attitudes that will be developed
- MIT’s list of programming fundamentals summarised here
- Philip Bagge’s excellent resources, to help kick-start thinking about delivery
To start with, the discussion focused on the skills and how these might be developed, and one of our wonderful TA’s was in earshot when we were talking. Mention ‘algorithms’ and a shiver runs down the spine of many staff in primary schools, but discuss the not-remotely-near-a-screen-or-keyboard exercise to ‘program your teacher to make a sandwich’, and the level of enthusiasm switches to maximum. It was quickly realised that, actually, much of the KS1 Computing curriculum is already covered in the curriculum, because it’s all about thinking about problems logically, and defining the steps needed to solve them. Suddenly it doesn’t seem so scary. Ka-ching. Supplement that with activities such as the crane exercise or the supermarket checkout game, and the curriculum’s well on the way for KS1!
Of course, one scan of the CAS levels shows that the children need to start using devices fairly soon, so our next task was to look at which resources to use through the school. Our objective was to ensure that each year built on the previous one, and that we use available resources as much as possible. We have BeeBots which fulfil the need for younger users, but we were looking for ways to bridge the gap between this and Scratch – projects such as this bee-bot project on the Scratch website offer plenty of potential for getting the younger children more comfortable with the Scratch environment before starting to program. We’ll even be able to use a stripped-down version to help them start to write programs rather than just sequencing button commands. It seems that we have a bridge from the programmable toy to the programming! (Watch this space – hopefully more bee-bot Scratch resources to come over the summer…).
One excellent resource which I have used for many years with Year 6 is Flowol. One of it’s great advantages is the simple flowchart representation of programs, and this seemed to be more appealing as a first way to construct programs than Scratch. I suppose the diagram approach is very clear, and can be written on a piece of paper. (Indeed, one of my most successful activities with Year 6 followed on from a D&T/literacy project in which they were designing a Wallace-and-Gromit-style machine to help around the school – in Computing, their task was to write the program for their machine, using Flowol symbols and logic, but their requirements – so, for example the auto-hoover needed instructions to move across the floor, then turn when it bumped into something, etc – all done on a bit of paper, not a computer in sight!). Following this discussion, I think we might use Flowol program-charting techniques (possibly even before the children see the software), simply as a good way for them to write down their logic.
And then the discussion turned to embedding Computing in the wider curriculum, so it just ‘happens’. This Scratch history project provided some inspiration! Clearly, changing the look of a project is as easy as changing the look of Sprites and the Stage – you could be moving Harry Potter around Hogwarts rather than a BeeBot around a garden. Our older children work with the younger ones regularly, so why not get them creating quizzes, spelling tests, maths problems and the like? Coordinates, shapes and angles fit naturally into Scratch projects. Writing clear instructions is a key literacy task. The options are endless.
And actually, if the activity is kept within a defined range (e.g. ‘set up a spelling test for these words’), then the individual teacher running the lesson needs to know some basics, but certainly not ‘everything’ about Scratch. There will be some training needs, but provided they’re structured around the curriculum objectives and the specific tasks that the children will be asked to achieve, they shouldn’t be too onerous. If we can structure the curriculum so that the staff don’t have too wide a requirement for learning too much techie stuff and can focus on the learning objectives, then it shouldn’t be too long before the whole school is enhanced with some cracking off-keyboard and on-keyboard activities – without being dependent on a single ‘expert’.
I liked the attitude of our new subject leader: “If a 5-year-old can do it, I reckon I can do it; and if a Year 6 can do it, then I can probably learn how to.”