Before my I specialised in computing I was a year 4 teacher for 3 years, initially as an NQT. The 2014 computing curriculum emerged towards the end of my final year teaching year 4, shortly before I was to specialise. I don’t mind admitting that, at the time words like algorithm, debug and computational thinking intimidated me, a technology enthusiast. I imagine therefore, that to a huge number of teachers with interests and specialisms in other areas, these terms must have filled them with dread, and probably still do. I am also fully aware of the timetable pressures and how difficult it can be to fit in non-core subjects, when teachers’ accountability is based almost solely on progress in English and Maths. I lost count of the times something ‘more important’ cropped up than art, RE or MFL (other non-core subjects are available).
Since 2014 I have been lucky enough to teach computing as a dedicated subject. Consequently I have had the freedom and time to develop my own version of the curriculum and experiment with many of the great tools available to support the teaching and learning of computing. I have a passion for computing, and I like taking risks when teaching it. Sometimes these come off with great results, at other times it’s a case of moving on and reflecting on how it could be better next time.
Having learnt from these experiences, I would like to pass on some guidance for non-specialist teachers to help break down the barriers to accessing the computing curriculum, and in particular Scratch, with which you can deliver huge elements of the KS2 curriculum. The good news is there are loads of resources and there is lots of help out there.
Here are a few easy ways for you to get started…
1. Demystify the language
These are all the terms you need to get started:
algorithm = instructions for a computer
debugging = finding and fixing errors
computational thinking = problem solving
2. Try Scratch for yourself
Go to the first tutorial and follow the instructions. In a few minutes you will have coded your first Scratch project, and probably outlined a plan for your first lesson. This will teach you movement, repeats and sounds. if you’re still unsure, have a go at the iPad app aimed at KS1 children as a gateway to Scratch – Scratch Jr.
3. Use resources freely available to help with planning
Have a look at Phil Bagge’s resources on code-it.co.uk They are all fully planned and resourced and very easy to follow. For beginners, the smoking car project is a good place to start. There are also great resources on Simon Haughton’s website, Twinkl and many more.
4. Start with an unplugged activity
A great place to start is Phil Bagge’s sandwich bot lesson (there won’t be many primary computing teachers who have not taught this lesson)… It introduces lots of the core concepts of coding and is a good way to familiarise children with the vocabulary they will need.
5. Remix it!
If your nervous about starting a project from scratch(!) then take something someone else has done and adapt it. You could deliberately break it, and challenge children to fix it. Virtually no knowledge of Scratch or programming is required.
6. Use digital leaders to help you
There will always be children who are one step ahead of you. This is an opportunity, not a threat. If you haven’t got any, google the term and see what you’re missing.
7. Embrace failure
You will get more wrong than you do right, but in coding more than any other area, every failure is a learning point. This is a great attitude and message to pass on to children.
8. Look for cross-curricular opportunities
Use two characters in Scratch to code a conversation between historical figures, create a quiz to fit in with your topic at the time or plan a game to help learn times tables. There are lots of easy way to fit computing into a busy timetable.
9. Evidence is easier than you think
It’s easy to evidence Scratch lessons. With a teacher account you can save all class work in one place and access it from one link. You can take quick photos or videos of screens, or use print screen. If you have a blog you can easily link to or embed projects.
10. Relate programming to the wider curriculum
This is easier than you think. The principal behind any programming or coding is a cycle of plan, code, test, improve. Does that sound familiar? You can easily relate this to the process of drafting in writing or problem solving in maths.