Worries of a primary computing teacher
In many cases, one of the most daunting feelings associated with taking up the role of computing coordinator seems to be the thought that we as primary teachers don’t know enough about the subject matter. Technology has moved on dramatically since we were at school and many teachers may feel that inevitably, the pupils will know more than us. You may well find this to be the case for some pupils in some topics, but it is unlikely to be the case with all of your pupils in all areas of the curriculum. Even if you do find that pupils’ understanding is more extensive than your own, setting yourself up as a facilitator and promoting learning through exploration, trial and error and independence, you should find that all pupils are able to develop their skills successfully. Even better, if you create an environment where sharing new understanding is given a sense of importance, you may find that you all learn new things together – yourself included!
However, as with any other subject, it is important that we get to grips with what we are teaching and understand it ourselves in order to deliver it effectively. For example, you may not feel that you know everything about the Vikings, or you may lack confidence in certain areas of science, but you wouldn’t dream of teaching these topics to your class without doing something about it; you would read up on these areas before you started teaching them to your primary-age pupils. It is exactly the same with computing. There are so many helpful websites, videos and resources out there just waiting to help you increase confidence in the subject matter. There are many others out there in the same situation as you, and whilst you may feel that you need to ask for extra training courses or opt to buy in a ready-made scheme of work, there are many ways you can help yourself too.
Helping yourself by teaching yourself
Over the last few years, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have increased in number significantly. For those of you as yet unaware of these, they are free courses provided by universities and other institutions from around the world. What is even better is that many of these courses are entirely free. Some of these courses have a fee involved, although there are many great courses that don’t, meaning that you are welcome to sign up for them and dip in and out of them, accessing the fantastic resources they provide without the pressure of feeling you must complete them or assign a considerable period of time to them.
My first piece of advice would be to sign up for the three main websites offering MOOCs:
- FutureLearn www.futurelearn.com
- edX www.edx.org/
- Coursera www.coursera.org/
This will enable you to access their courses and receive emails advising you when courses begin. Some are self-paced and others are archived. This means that you have access to all the video lectures and resources that they have provided without having to wait for the next week for new materials to be released.
In the past, FutureLearn ran a course aimed at teaching computing for KS2 and KS3, which had many valuable resources. It was created by UEA and looks set to run again for a 6 week period from 31st October again this year. It is definitely a course worth signing up for and exploring yourself. The main advantage of completing this course in real-time will be the ability you will have to connect on the discussion boards with other teachers in the same situation as you. As a course aimed at the teaching profession, this course also looks at how to deliver lessons and gives helpful links to other websites.
edX was originally just courses from the American universities, Harvard and MIT, although it has now expanded to the extent that it even has courses from high schools. In the past, they have had courses to teach the programming language, Scratch.
The Harvard course, CS50x covers a variety of different programming languages and is a great course to dip in and out of. Unlike the Teaching Computing course at FutureLearn, CS50x has been archived allowing you instant access to all of their resources including handouts, presentations and video lectures.
A wide variety of computer science courses are available on Coursera and I would definitely recommend taking a look at the courses they currently have to offer.
Computing at School (CAS) www.computingatschool.org.uk/
In addition to the help and support that is available on the TES community, you may want to sign up to the Computing at School (CAS) website, which is split into upcoming events, resources and discussions. Many of the events are free to attend and are specifically aimed at increasing confidence in delivering the new computing curriculum since its introduction. They are run by the CAS Master Teachers – a role you may want to apply to do in the future. These are simply teachers or others (some are from universities) with skills in various areas of computing who are available to help teachers who feel less confident with the subject. Queries are generally answered promptly on discussion boards and free resources are uploaded by teachers for you to download at your leisure. By signing up your school in the Network of Excellence, you will become a ‘member school’. You would then be able to access help and support from ‘lead schools’ within the network. In future, you may want to sign your school up as a ‘lead school’ when you feel that you are in a position where you are promoting computing and are able to help others do the same.
Barefoot Computing www.barefootcas.org.uk/
This is another site from Computing at School specifically aimed at helping primary teachers of computing build their confidence in the subject. Like the CAS website, you become a member for free and then have access to some great resources. They can also provide training for you if this is something that interests you and your school. Additionally, they have many ‘unplugged’ resources, which if you are unfamiliar with the term, simply refers to activities that don’t require the use of a computer to complete. The site also has a helpful search facility including allowing you to search for resources by computational thinking topics, approaches to learning and whether or not you want ‘unplugged’ resources.
Computer Science Unplugged www.csunplugged.org/
This site is a useful one to be aware of and is full of clear and helpful videos which explain computing concepts. It also allows you to download a pdf version of its booklet full of unplugged computing resources for lessons. Whilst many of the concepts it explains may not be essential for primary learners, it is certainly a resource you may find useful to dip in and out of and help to understand the different concepts mentioned within the computing curriculum.
KS2 BBC Bitesize www.bbc.co.uk/education/subjects/zvnrq6f
With learner guides and helpful explanatory videos, this site is an absolute must for your computing lessons. It is an easy way of introducing computing concepts such as debugging or algorithms in an accessible way to pupils. If you, or other staff teaching the subject, are unfamiliar with any of the computing terms, then these helpful videos explain abstract terms clearly.
Code Club www.codeclub.org.uk/
Code Club is a free organisation that asks volunteers to help in schools or the community by creating and running a ‘Code Club’ where primary-age children learn to code. They began by providing resources to teach the programming language, Scratch, but have since added resources to teach HTML+CSS and Python as well. Their teaching resources are clear and self-explanatory for pupils and all come with notes for the teacher or volunteer, and a completed example of how the program should run if the instructions are followed correctly.
Connecting to other educators online
As well as the discussion boards on MOOCs, and community sites such as TES and CAS, Twitter is an extremely valuable resource for teachers. Not only is it a place to connect with other teachers, but it allows you to keep aware of current developments in the subject, whether these are finding out about competitions relevant to computing that you can share with your pupils, or simply a new website that is great for teaching a specific topic.
Consider taking part in scheduled chats and look out for those covering topics that relate to computing. If you aren’t familiar with Twitter, you may want to begin simply by searching for a key word and reading discussions that have already happened. As you feel more confident, you may want to share your own ideas online through Twitter and with so many educators sharing their thoughts, resources and ideas here, it is probably something you can’t afford not to get involved with at some point.
Other experts and sources of help
Many of your schools may already have links to primary advisors in your area, whose help you are able to call upon. Perhaps they are in a position to run INSET or training sessions in school for your staff. Remember that these people are there specifically to help and support you and are often happy to help via email as well as visit you and talk in person. They can be an invaluable source of help and generally have great connections that you can utilise.
Try to meet up with other coordinators in your area to share ideas. Additionally, your area or county may run a website or blog with links to schemes of work or successful ideas that have already been trialled. Try to take advantage of what is at your disposal – particularly if it is available for free!
Where to go from here
Hopefully now, you feel less overwhelmed as you realise how much help there is out there to help you get to grips with the subject. If you have read the first blog in this series, then you will already be in a great place to get started in your new role as computing coordinator. Now that you have audited the hardware, software and units of work at your disposal, you should have a clear idea of your priorities as you begin the new academic year.
My next blog in this series, ‘Part 3: Working with others’ will focus on how you can motivate staff to take the subject seriously and help them by increasing their understanding of the subject.
Siobhán Morgan is a Year 6 teacher at a Somerset middle school, where she is head of computing. She also leads computing across the West Somerset Academies Trust, from Foundation Stage to Key Stage 3.