Tag Archives: education

Moving to Computing

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.

scratch                     python

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.

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Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3.

The past few weeks have been very hectic in the Crooke household.  Two teachers, both at their wits end with marking and revision sessions, one child in Year 11, about to do exams, one child in Year 10, up to his eyeballs in coursework and one child in Year 6, about to do SATs, and more stressed than the rest of us put together!

The balance of stress is somewhat out of proportion.  My daughter, aged 11 has spent every day revising.  She has had extra sessions for English in the Easter holidays, Maths boosters on Saturdays, and has worked most evenings until her eyes are red and sore and she is crying because the teacher has told her “If you do badly in your SATs, you will not get into good sets in your high school, then you won’t do well in your GCSEs, you won’t get into university and you won’t get a good job”.  But will the ‘hot housing’ or ‘roasting’(!) work to help her?  

As a teacher, I understand why the staff at her school are putting so much pressure on the children.  As a mother however, I find the whole system of SATs an unnecessary burden.  I don’t think I felt that level of stress until I entered teaching!

I questioned my 86 year old Grandmother about her experience of the 11 plus.  I assumed that as Gove wants to go back to a system of education, akin to when Gran was at school, that she might have felt the same level of pressure as my daughter.  Her answer surprised me.  ­She said that she had no idea that she was going to sit the exam until she was sitting it, and that it wasn’t a “big deal”. 

Why then, does the current system keep piling on the pressure?  

As a high school teacher I know of the importance of SATs scores.  My success or failure as a teacher is assessed by the amount of progress students make from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 4, irrespective of how much of that time students are actually taught by me.  A child who joined the school late and is placed in my class at the end of Year 10 is still expected to make above the national level of progress in my subject.

So, what about the students?  I’ve watched my daughter turn down play dates in favour of more maths questions.  I’ve seen her new roller blades neatly in their box in the hallway because she hasn’t got time to go out and play on the warmest day of the year.  I’ve had to take her to the doctors because her cough just won’t go away and she isn’t sleeping because she feels so stressed.

There has to be a better way. 

Gove’s love of testing and linear courses with final exams makes no sense to me.  Yes qualifications are important.  They are needed to gain employment.  Everybody accepts this.  But are exams the best way?  Once you have gained employment you are not generally set a test in order to obtain a promotion.  All the skills and experience you have gained in your present role are evaluated as a whole.  So why remove coursework elements from qualifications? Coursework is a way of demonstrating skills, experience and progress.  Students who don’t perform well in exams aren’t failures. 

I’m not suggesting that Key Stage 2 assessment should be based solely on teacher assessment.  The removal of Key Stage 3 SATs has demonstrated how unreliable teacher assessment can be. 

Why not have a series of small externally marked tests and teacher assessed projects throughout the year, which build to create a portfolio?  The portfolio could be sent to high schools to demonstrate clearly, the level students have achieved and could be a basis for conversation during the transition period between Year 6 in Primary and Year 7 in Secondary school.  Just a thought.