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Thursday, 2 February 2017

The Primary Computing Currciulum

Part 1 - The Challenge

Primary schools have had many challenges to overcome in the last few years one of which has been the implementation of a new subject when ICT was replaced by Computing. A subject which Britain's newspapers inaccurately inform us that requires all children to be coding from the age of 5: the term coding isn't mentioned once in the primary Computing curriculum.
Schools seem to have faced the challenge in one of four ways
  • The school has invested in up-skilling their staff to meet the requirements of the Computing curriculum
  • The school has used outside support to deliver Computing lessons
  • The school has taken a copy my code approach to teaching Computing
  • The school has yet to address the issue of the Computing curriculum.
Obviously, the initial response is the most desired, if not the most common, but all the responses are, to some degree, understandable.
Take the final option: with the demands of a more challenging Maths and English curriculum, it makes sense that the school would put Computing on the back burner. This is, after all, a new subject requiring new skills as opposed to History where the subject content may have changed by the use of historical enquiry remains the same. However, I would like to think that had such a school ever seen a lesson in which children are engaged in computational thinking and the subsequent promotion of soft-skills like collaboration, resilience and risk-taking, then they would be prioritising its implementation.
The copy-my-copy solution refers to those lessons where pupils are given a program on a worksheet and asked to replicate this on the device they are using. While this can be of value, when it is the only method employed to teach children about programming it limits children’s understanding of the computer science concepts set out in the curriculum. Instead of offering pupils the opportunity to apply their knowledge by planning and writing programs to solve problems, we are offering them a computing lesson that resembles digital handwriting.
My enquiries of schools using external support to teach computing as to why they have taken such an option have, more often than not, returned the same reply: ‘We are teachers, not coders; we don't know how to code.’ While I understand where such statements are coming from, I stress that they are teachers, and while they may not yet know how to write programs, they do understand how children learn. They know how to structure lessons to allow pupils to acquire, test, rehearse and apply skills in a safe learning environment - something the local volunteer who ‘codes for a living’ probably doesn't do.
So perhaps the first challenge is not implementing the new computing curriculum. Perhaps the first challenges are making sure that pedagogy is a central factor when the decisions about how to implement the Computing curriculum and c primary teachers that they are in the perfect position to introduce and enthuse pupils about computational thinking and programming.