This article outlines what I have discovered to be effective in primary schools. I often use this flow chart with schools to help them plan a route that works for them. You will notice that there is no online safety mentioned in this article or on the flow chart, as a whole school issue it deserves its own flow chart but that is for another blog post.
Start with computational thinking and computational doing
Computational thinking is nearly always my starting point. Whether it is the first session in introducing computing in an Inset or training day or my first staff meeting with a school or the first hour in a one-to-one session with a new coordinator, this essential understanding needs to be covered. Often the jam sandwich and playground games come out to help teachers understand algorithms alongside a raft of other activities to explain decomposition, generalisation, abstraction and algorithmic evaluation. If teachers don’t understand the thinking behind computing science it is easy to fixate on code rather than problem solving.
Computational doing is the practice of turning algorithms (precise instructions or rules) into real things that work on digital devices (computer, tablet, control board, turtle etc). The twin pillars of computational doing are programming and debugging (finding and fixing errors in code) Teachers need to understand basic programming concepts but even more importantly they need to know how important failure and struggle are in the pedagogy of computing science if their students are to thrive.
Getting over the programming hump
The most common comment I get after any form of programming training is that they are no longer frightened of programming. Make no mistake, there is a lot of fear generated by asking a teacher to teach something that they have no knowledge or experience of. Spending time demonstrating how computational thinking concepts can be turned into exciting programs through the power of computational doing can be a real relief for many teachers.
Increasingly schools ask me to model lessons before leading training. I welcome this development as a chance to enable teachers to see what their pupils can do. I used to allow teachers to just observe but teachers with no programming experience get so much more out of the session if they create the same projects their children do. You don’t learn to program or debug without doing it. Armed with real experiences of struggle, teachers are much more able to support their students because they know what it is like first hand. I always leave the planning and explain the next steps so teachers and students can finish the projects. The only downside to this approach comes if it is not combined with more in depth training as one lesson is not enough time for a full introduction.
Designing a curriculum
Over the last few years I have spent lots of time helping computing managers evaluate where they are as a school, develop ICT into digital literacy and build computing science and information technology into the computing mix. Often, curriculum managers need to be given permission to roll things out gradually, to build up knowledge, understanding and skills over two or three years. Similarly, teachers need time to assimilate what has been learnt and translate it into effective classroom practice.
Monitoring is key
Once staff have had some initial training and your school has designed a new curriculum plan it is important to tell teachers what outcomes you will monitor. I often recommend in the first year that computing managers monitor computing science coverage. Monitoring can take many forms: pupil conferencing, work sampling, lesson observations or learning walks. Often the method is dictated by time and cost considerations. Monitoring lets staff know that you are serious about everyone getting fair access to this new learning. Ideally it is supported or managed by your senior leadership team but I monitored ICT/computing for many years without any SLT support. Monitoring ICT every year taught me that there are always teachers who will not teach a subject if they don’t think anyone cares about it. On occasions, I had to report to the teacher concerned2 that I could find no evidence that something had been taught. These were difficult conversations but also allowed me to offer training and support. In fourteen years I never had to say that to the same teacher the following year.
Both computing and DT include an element of physical computing. One of the quirks of the national curriculum is that in computing you can simulate this but in DT it has to be controlling or monitoring a real creation. When adding the complexity of physical equipment such as lights, buzzers, motors and sensors to trigger them, it helps if pupils have some basic programming experience which is why I often encourage schools to tackle this further in their journey. I really enjoy leading training with LEGO Wedo programmed using Scratch or Crumble controllers as I know how excited pupils are when using this kit. If you are a Hampshire School you can rent sets of Lego Wedo from elearn eteach.
Depth in programming projects
Having taught primary computing science for five years I know that pupils are ready for much more complex independent projects once they have mastered the basics. I offer more advanced programming training in schools but suggest that schools don’t plan this in until a year after they started their computing journey. Some schools only really need this for a couple of teachers so send them on my Teaching primary programming in KS2 course.
Some schools want support in understanding what IT is. Helping teachers to recognise common forms of technology in KS1, understanding how networks & the internet works in KS2 and knowing that when you search the web you are not really searching the web. I really enjoy these sessions as they involve lots of role play and chalk.
Revising digital literacy
I believe that pupils need to be confident users of technology as well as great computer scientists. Digital literacy works best when it is a vehicle for supporting the wider curriculum. Spending time with staff looking at their medium term plans and suggesting ways they can integrate digital literacy works really well.
I hope this explanation of effective CPD in Hampshire helps. If I can support you or your school in Hampshire or beyond please don’t hesitate to contact me. There is also an excellent group of primary master teachers who you can contact via the CAS website. I have also had the pleasure to work with some excellent local support providers in many areas of the country: people like Richard Smith @amazingict working near Telford, Martin Bailey @animate2educate based in the north east and Tim Bleazard @idletim and the team working out of Bradford. Maybe there is a great local support provider near you? 3
1, Computational thinking would be a rarely studied backwater of logic if it didn’t enable humans to create digital artifacts, software on hardware that can be programmed to meet our needs.
2, And SLT
3, Endorsing other great providers doesn’t imply that they would all endorse or agree with everything said in this article or that they are the only people providing great CPD support to schools.