Computing isn’t just Computing

I know many of you will have got this sorted in your schools already, but for me, in my school, we’ve taken some time to get our heads around the Computing National Curriculum. Part of the reason for this is that English and maths are our top priority – everything else comes second to those two subjects. Children in my school enter the school way below national average and we have our work cut out accelerating progress so that they leave school with the correct standards for English and maths.

But excuses aside, despite being ‘the Computing Co-ordinator’, I am not a natural computer scientist. Yes, I have taught children how to make patterns using logo. Yes we children program roamers in my school. But aside from that, my expertise, and therefore the expertise of the children and teachers in my school is around digital literacy and creating content using different media and technology.

So I was delighted, when I acquired the ‘Switched on Computing‘ scheme (by Rising Stars, written by primary education technology legend and broccoli fanatic, Miles Berry) to see that they have allocated the statements in the 2014 Computing Curriculum into 3 broad sections: Computer Science, Information Technology and Digital Literacy. It meant my school was already quite good at two of the sections – we just had to learn how to do the first.

For me, one way I like to learn things is through re-categorising them. So I took the stuff I knew about and tried to match it up. I know there are lots of great bits of planning out there done by assorted Computing Subject Leaders across the country, with possibly the best being the Google Site produced by the 30 computing experts who first advised the UK government on what should be in the curriculum. However, I found myself going to three main sources:

  1. The Rising Stars ‘Switched on Computing’ scheme of work. This provides six topics per year with suggestions on how to teach them. In Year 6 it becomes quite complex, with a large degree of prior knowledge expected and the implication being that it will become increasingly cross-curricular to find time within the normal school day.
  2. The Computing at School website, which is constantly being updated with handy courses and advice, but also has some simple expectation statements that can be used to define what children should know by the end of each key stage.
  3. Phil Bagge’s website. If you haven’t seen his Jam Sandwich Robot lesson, you really should, especially as it inspired me to make my own version.

I then re-categorised them as follows to make a kind of curriculum planning tool. Paganel Computing Planning (click the link to see the PDF – or you go straight to the Google Drive folder and download it as a docx).

I think it was important to do this, because I have to be realistic about where the children are at – I can’t impose the Switched on Computing lessons immediately on Year 6 as they require a considerable amount of prior knowledge. But if we have those to aim for, with a document that helps teachers identify the prior knowledge required, it should help us get our children to a good standard as soon as we can. After that, what I am excited about is using computing to make our maths standards go through the roof, which is something Conrad Wolfram talks about here.

Gaps in the reading market #2: Less able 10 year-old boys

I wrote about my first gap yesterday. My second gap is not so much a gap anymore, because I think it has been filled. But let me explain anyway.

There are a few boys (and possibly some girls too), who don’t get reading at 6 or 7 when they’re supposed to. I’ve met them over the years and they present with a range of reasons for why they can’t read. Family breakdown is probably the main thing, with medication coming in second – either having too much or not having enough. I suppose it’s difficult to focus on reading a book at home when your father is beating your mother regularly and then leaves you, never to be seen again. Similarly with medication: drugs do work, but if they dosage is wrong they really don’t, and this can have a catastrophic effect on learning.

By the time these children get to books the schemes that exist in the infant part of the school just doesn’t suit. The English may be at the right level for them, but the themes are not. These children are watching drama like Eastenders and have lived through some tough stuff themselves. Reading trite stories about animals that can talk can be a little demotivating.

So there was a gap in the market here. Books with easy texts but an early teenage theme to them. And then Rising Stars made Dockside and the gap was filled.

I have to declare an interest here – we use Dockside at my school and it’s brilliant. For the one or two readers who did miss the reading boat the first time around, Dockside has really helped them catch up. They will be going on to secondary school being able to read, instead of pretending that they can.

Let’s all go to the ICT suite and make posters

Sometimes you’ve got to give credit where it is due. And today’s credit goes to Rising Stars, Miles Berry, Terry Freedman and a load of other ICT specialists. It goes to the Switched On ICT Scheme of Work.

Gone are the days when ICT consisted of going to the ICT suite and making posters. No longer is ‘Knowledge and Understanding of How to Use Publisher’ the pinnacle of ICT excellence. ‘Embedding ICT’ consists no more of allowing pupils to research during lessons, nor playing a game on the interactive whiteboard.

No. Now we have Switched On ICT.

Now I have children in my school who are blogging, creating wikis, making games, drawing, writing and using maps. And I have teachers who are more confident at using these tools to enhance their English and maths teaching.

Blogging, to take one example, is great because it gives children an audience to write for, which is motivational for them, but more importantly demands a precision of language that might be otherwise ignored in ICT. Children can’t spell or punctuate badly in a public space like a blog, so they have to edit and refine their work, improving their writing habits while they do so.

I introduced Switched on ICT to my staff about a year ago and this academic year we have used it in all our topic planning. Well, let me qualify that – we have embedded Switched on ICT units within existing topics as either ‘cart’ or ‘horse’. Here’s the metaphor – when Switched on ICT is the cart it follows the topic as an add-on – it might be vaguely related with the subject matter of the topic – but not wanting to create spurious or tenuous links, it might exist on its own – like a mini-week of ICT within the sweep of the larger topic. Whereas when Switched on ICT is the horse, it leads the rest of the topic – pulling it along with it.

An example of the cart in action is this. Last term Year 4 did ‘We are musicians’ learning various compositional knowledge using ICT. It had a link with the topic, but the teacher taught it as a week on its own. One week in which the children were taught music and ICT – a bit like a cart being pulled along by the ‘horse’ of the main topic.

An example of the horse is again from Year 4. This term they are doing “We are co-authors”. It works really well with their Rainforest topic because they can have a Wiki as the overall outcome of their whole topic, working as co-authors to make it – I think they’ll probably finish up with a kind of A-Z of rainforests. In this example the Switched on ICT unit leads the whole topic.

Not only is Switched on ICT an inspiring way to enliven topics, but it is also really easy to plan and teach from. I’ve had teachers without much confidence in ICT tell me that all they had to do was open up the book, read through the sequence of lessons and begin teaching – which is much preferable to shutting the book and finding excuses for not teaching it – something that I’ve known happen to some other bought-in schemes.

So let’s not go to the ICT suite and make posters. Let’s teach from Switched on ICT instead.

Rising Stars – A company that make me want to get back into the classroom

The amount of my teaching varies. Sometimes I’m in class a lot, sometimes I’m not.

I have a office and a desk. Sometimes I have a classroom and a group of children. The constant is the desk, not the classroom and I often miss the whole teaching a class thing – taking a class of children in September, teaching them a varied and interested curriculum, watching them develop and grow over a year, forging positive bonds with their parents and all that.

However recently the thing that has made me miss teaching more than anything has been Rising Stars, or more specifically, 3 things that Rising Stars sell:

  1. Writing maps – these are the kind of open-ended resource I love. They’re a picture prompts for story writing – full of images that can prompt discussion around vocabulary and story ideas. They’re just the thing for children who are struggling to unleash their imagination or when I’m finding my own imagination is petrifying with tiredness towards the end of each term. You could conceivably base much of a term’s work on one map, depending on how much detail you want to put in to each map.
  2. Challenge Cards – more open ended resources. A picture or a saying on a card to stimulate discussion with guidance and vocabulary on the back to help the teacher. The longer I teach, the more I am convinced that much of education is is giving children more words to describe things with. Some people criticise excessive verbosity, but just because you have a load of words doesn’t mean you need to use them in every situation.
  3. Dockside – Teaching mainly older primary children, I have always struggled with motivating those older children who are behind in their reading. The thing is that many of the books that help them learn to read have concepts and themes that are too infantile to motivate these 9, 10 and 11 year olds. These books are set to the six stages of phonics as decreed by the government as THE WAY THAT CHILDREN LEARN TO READ (which is another debate, for another time). But even better they have the kind of themes that you get in Eastenders – really engaging for older children. We’ve already had great reports coming back from our Year 5 class who are trialling them at the moment.

And guess what. In September I am teaching. 3 days a week. I have a lot of other things to do in the remaining 2 days like being Senco, ICT coordinator, maths leader, performance management responsibilities and all that. But I’m excited about the teaching and it’s partly down to the fact that I’ll finally be able to use these great resources from Rising Stars.