This week saw a move towards Computing for my Year 9 class; and very exciting it was too!
The class is a lively one. I teach in an Upper School, so the students have only been with me since September. We have covered various topics over the course of the year, including web design and HTML, a bit of multimedia and spreadsheets amongst other things. This week I gave them an introduction to programming in Python.
I was expecting a bit of a backlash. Usually when introduced to a new topic, someone complains…”we did this before in Middle School Miss” and “Such and such is boring”. Without waiting to see how I will deliver it or what might be new this time. The reaction to programming was a surprise.
I started the lesson with a video describing the importance of programming from influential people including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Will.i.am, Chris Bosh, Jack Dorsey, Tony Hsieh, Drew Houston, Gabe Newell, Ruchi Sanghvi, Elena Silenok, Vanessa Hurst, and Hadi Partovi http://youtu.be/nKIu9yen5nc Not only did the students enjoy the video, they asked for the lights to go off and for me to show parts of it again.
I displayed ‘Scratch’ on the board (and heard a groan from the kids at the front, “not scratch again Miss”.) I described how the code in Scratch was written for them and they only had to fit it together. This time they were going to write the code themselves.
I introduced them to the’ Idle’ editor and did the obligatory print (“Hello World”). Within ten minutes they were independently researching, how to do ‘If’ and ‘Else’ statements and were teaching each other. I had a fully engaged class. I threw my lesson plan out of the window and went with them. They came to understand the difference between a string and an integer and did ‘if’ and ‘else statements with both.
It wasn’t a perfect lesson, but it was a good one. I came away feeling great. All students had made progress and some students really surprised me. There was a buzz in the classroom and they were disappointed when I asked them to pack up. Fifty minutes was not enough!
So; was Gove right to make the shift from ICT to Computing? Even after that lesson I am not so sure.
Whilst I have a good degree in ‘Computer Applications’, I have never taught programming in this way before. I’ve taught Scratch, but not taught using pure code. It has also been a long time since I did any’proper’ programming at all. Since I did teacher training, I have concentrated very much on pedagogy rather than fundamentals of Computer Science. I have had to do a lot of revision to be ready to teach this unit of work. Which leads me to question how other teachers, without computing degrees, will cope?
There is a huge difference between understanding how to put basic blocks of code together using a programme like Scratch or Alice, and understanding how to use the correct syntax to write functions in Python, Java or C++. Is it enough for teachers to be only one page ahead of the students they are teaching? Maybe for some, but certainly not for me.
There are some great resources for teachers online. People like Sue Sentence have made it fairly straightforward for me to touch up my skills, which is great, but I’ve done programming before. I haven’t seen lots of literature coming from the DFE inviting me to attend training courses that they are funding to cope with the demands of the new POS they’ve put in place. If I didn’t have a subject specific degree, that is what I would be looking for; that is what I would need.
As for whether I agree with a move to Computing in the first place. It is something I struggle with. Yes, my students really enjoyed the lesson, they are looking forward to the rest of the unit, and it may make one or two students think about doing it in the future. The reality is however, that many more will be expected to know how to use spreadsheets in future jobs. There needs to be a balance between aspiration and reality. This is somewhat missing from Gove’s new programme of study.