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Friday, 1 March 2013

Westminster Forum - Thoughts of an ICT Teacher on implementing the Computing Program of Study

The Westminster Forum met at Whitehall on Thursday 28th February to mark the day that the Pope retired review the new computing curriculum, and amongst the delegates consisting of Teachers, Borough Advisors, Industry Representatives, Ofsted, MP's, and (I only counted one) Lord, was little Miss Philbin, ICT Teacher. When I started my teaching journey, I did not expect to end up speaking at Westminster along side my heroes @IanAddison, Genevieve Smith-Nunes @Pegleggen and Miles Berry @Mberry.

It was with a sense of bewilderment that I made my way to Whitehall yesterday, and was instantly relieved to be see Genevieve in the foyer when I arrived, shortly followed by Ian Addison. The keynote was given by Ian Livingstone, Co-founder of Games Workshop and advocate for the Games Industry. I'd never heard Ian speak before and as I have no real knowledge of the games industry (apart from playing games and attending LAN parties when I was younger).

I still question the real value of learning through games in some instances. From my own experience when teenagers play games to learn, I find they are impatient and will always to try to cheat the system or skip a question/activity. They may be engaged, but learning is not always taking place. Creating their own computer games using Scratch, Pygame or even now programming Minecraft Pi seems to have more value on multiple levels as literacy and creativity are involved.

Anyway I was surprised to see my Geek Gurl Diaries logo appear on a slide towards the end of Ian's keynote and then hear him reference the good work I have done trying to engage girls. Achievement unlocked:  recognition of my work by leading expert.

Next up, Miles Berry, Chair Naace and Subject Leader ICT Education at University of Roehampton and all round super trooper for my subject, and Phil Bannister, Team Leader for Computing at the Department for Education spoke together and independently of each other, on the draft programme of study and the process involved in its development. I still think it is sad that so much is missing on the new Computing program of study in comparison to the draft programme produced by the working party.

Following the well planned and executed agenda, the first panel assembled to give 5 minutes each on their take on the content of the programme of study. Ian Addison was the first to speak, and I'm so glad he did. Finally a teacher got their say. He made it very clear that the interpretation of Key stage 1 and 2 could be the downfall of creativity with tech in primary schools, and that the word 'data' should have a footnote to explain that data can be video, images, and so on. The teacher delegates attending the review were clearly delighted to have Ian voice their own fears and concerns, as they applauded his every slide. I think the teachers on this panel, both Ian and Genevieve did a great job representing our profession and could really speak from experience. Genevieve in her talk, explained that she had offered a training course for primary teachers before November and had no one sign up. She offered the course again after the Computing programme of study went online, and now has two sessions of 40 teachers fully booked out. She went on to remind people that the 'fear factor' will see people leaping onto courses and looking for resources so as a community we teachers need to make sure that we work together.

After a break, David Brown HMI, National Adviser for ICT, Ofsted, gave a talk on what he advises school inspection teams to be looking for in terms of ICT. He described an outstanding lessons at all key stages and said something which I've been fighting for, that school networks should allow students freedom of the internet and freedom to create programs. I really want sites unblocked at my school. E-safety is about teaching students to be responsible, so that they can make informed choices. It is not stopping them from using youtube which if used correctly can be such a great tool.

A new panel was assembled where by every speaker was female, including yours truly. The speakers before me all talked about schemes being created and run. By talk number three I was beginning to feel like I was definitely in the wrong place. I was pleased to finally meet Clare Sutcliffe from Code Club however who spoke so well about Code Club and the fantastic work they are doing to encourage children between the ages of 9 - 11 to code. I think if primary teachers need a place to start, getting involved with Code Club is a great place. I winced when she said that "ICT lessons are boring" because I knew this was coming up in my talk.

So finally I could not escape the inevitable, and I stood up to speak. I started with "Hi I'm a teacher" and in my head said "just to remind you what one looks like". Ian gave me a cheer. I realised it was going to be one of those talks where tumble weeds were going to roll past. I've put my presentation here if you are interested in the points I touched on. Remember I only had 5 minutes, so I had to focus on implementing the programme of study and not what is actually on it.

I think Genevieve raised a really important point, that the fear factor will see teachers signing up for all types of courses based, in some cases on a poor interpretation of the programme of study. I think a 'Python 101' half day course is not going to help any teacher develop their subject knowledge. I think it is really important that teachers look to the CAS Master Teachers for guidance as they are best suited to train teachers how to understand and deliver schemes of work that will engage and further students. It's more important that computational thinking, and concepts of programming are understood by teachers before tackling any kind of major programming language. Teachers should also be working with developer communities who have helped me develop my poor skills over this last year as I teach myself. I think we as computing teachers should also have to demonstrate our engagement with coding communities by having en e-portfolio or blog to demonstrate CPD and development of new schemes of work and good practice. Perhaps even a git-hub repository which was suggested to me recently. Finally a new wave of computer science trainee teachers who are enthusiastic and innovative need to work with existing communities like CAS, BCS, and Rethinking ICT to share skills.

Of course time is a major issue in all this. Teachers need time on their timetable to be able to dedicate to continued professional development. Very few teachers (no work life balance people like me) will spend all their free time continuing their development.

Time is also a concern when we are consistently told that Computing is the 4th Science. I heard that expression used in multiple talks that very morning. If it is the fourth science, then why do I only have 1 lesson a week at KS3, when science and maths have 5? If this new programme of study is important to the future of our children and out country then perhaps more weight needs to be given to it on timetables.

Lastly in my talk, I had to speak on the topic closest to my heart, that of engaging girls in computing. I spoke about Geek Gurl Diaries of course, but also Computing At School's sub group of which I vice chair along with Laura Dixon @CodeBoom Master Computing Teacher extraordinaire as projects that prove that you do not need to make every device pink, or fluffy, with rainbows glitter and eye shadow for girls to want to engage in ICT class. Role models, and schemes of work that give children the freedom to use their imagination and creativity are the best way to engaged students of both genders.

When I sat down, I noticed that the chair of my panel, Lord Lucas of Crudwell and Dingwall had the Geek Gurl Diaries website open on his ipad, so I feel I had some success.

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