From ‘Blonde’ to ‘Geeky & Proud’

Since Michael Gove’s announcements regarding the curriculum changes for ICT & Computing in the UK, each week I receive email and telephone enquiries from schools wishing to convert from ICT to Computing in their curriculum. The first response to support other teachers was to introduce a range of training courses which have been hugely popular, our next courses are in June & July with Teach Scratch on the 24th June.

My next solution was to recording a weekly Teach Computing podcast, documenting my journey introducing Computing into our school. This attracts between 300-900 listeners a week. However, many schools have asked for me to go in and lead a bespoke training session with them. Some schools have used the bespoke courses to not only provide for their own training needs but have managed to make a profit at the same time, because they sold on places on the training course to teachers from neighbouring schools.

So on Friday 24th May, I found myself at James Brindley School in Birmingham, where I had been invited in to run a training day to help build the confidence of experienced teachers who were new to computing. It was such an amazing day and I had a tremendously rewarding experience working there with 12 wonderful teachers and their team leader Tosin that I wanted to share some of it with you.

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Nine of the twelve teachers there were all colleagues from within the school who knew each other well, while the other 3 were from alliance schools. I tend to find the first hour of a training day the toughest challenge. To ensure that I delivered what was expected, I needed to know exactly what their expectations were, so I asked them to find out from each other and then share these with me. The most common expectations shared were the desire “to feel confident teaching computing and programming, knowing where to look for resources and discovering how they could make their lessons fun, engaging, challenging and exciting”.

“My expectations were surpassed because I was rubbish before I came in today”

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Straight away, we started with a hands-on coding session with one of my favourite tools, Play My Code. It’s an interactive gaming environment with it’s own programming language that enables you to build and hack HTML5 games. It was actually developed in Kings Heath, very close to the school by two young brothers Joe & Seb Lenton. I thought it very apt to be using Play My Code in it’s home city. I demonstrated how it was possible to hack the games to create unexpected and surprising outcomes. I don’t want to give too many secrets away at this stage lest I spoil the surprise, suffice to say it was a resounding success with all of the teachers. Within minutes, we had all 12 teachers delving around in the code hacking the game to give themselves an advantage over other unsuspecting players. We even had a winner Emma, who on receiving her prize, a clockwork robot, declared she was going to name him “Alan”. At the end of this exercise, the teachers refected on what they had learnt and experienced and shared with the rest of the group how they would approach this with their own classes. I’m quite sure that we could have spent the entire day developing confidence with code using Play My Code, but I made the decision to move on to explore some other resources that can be used to teach computing.

“I’ve gone from being ‘blonde’ to being ‘geeky & proud’ in just a few hours”

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Many teachers tell me that they are already using Scratch in their classroom, but feel they haven’t yet managed to get maximum value from it. I take it as a personal challenge to demonstrate just how versatile Scratch is as a thinking tool for learning computing. One motto I apply to Scratch is that it has “ a very low floor and a high ceiling“. Through running a Scratch Dojo session with all of the teachers, I demonstrated a teaching methophor I use where we start with the roots and trunk of a project together, but then imagine what the branches would look like,  share the possibilities with the whole group and then choose which particular route that each team is going to develop.

The final outcome of this Scratch Dojo activity was a show and tell, not in the conventional one-presenter-to-many approach, but a market-stall type approach where one member of each team remained at their ‘stall’ to describe their project while the other team members travelled around the room to discover what other teams had developed. This culminated with the team members returning to their base to explain to the static team member what they had seen on their travels. This offers much higher levels of peer-peer engagement than the conventional approach.

“I had started to become disillusioned with my role as an ICT teacher. I felt as though I was ‘programming’ children to churn out material for GCSEs. Thank you Alan for reminding me how much fun and how rewarding computing can be”

Following our lunch, I demonstrated an example of how Mozilla’s Hackasaurus tool could be used to engage children with coding web pages in HTML and CSS. This particular example I showed raised more than a few eyebrows, leading to mild hysteria, and then laughter when one-by-one it dawned on them what I had done.

I also took an opportunity to share the curriculum model for Key Stage 3 that we are using at our school, Our Lady’s in Preston.

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For the final session of the day, we started by exploring Python, a text-based programming language, within the context of creating an artificially intelligent quiz that would give the user feedback. I provided copies of the Year 7 Python resources available for free on the Computing At School community site and we tried some of the learning activities from the resource. This resource has been extremely popular having 3200 downloads. Had we more time at our disposal, I would have organised a Python Dojo, but we will save that for another day.

“Computing suddenly doesn’t seem that scary anymore. I can’t wait to start.”

I wrapped up the day with some brief demonstrations of Raspberry Pi, Raspberry Jam events and some of my teaching tips for GCSE Computing which will feature in the GCSE Computing training we will be offering soon. Then finally, it was time to complete the evaluation forms. The feedback was outstanding again, with the only negatives being that the day was too short and that they wanted more time to explore the various tools and resources we used throughout the day as well as developing a deeper understanding of Raspberry Pi and GCSE Computing.

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The highlight of my day happened at the very end when one teacher told me that the training day had been totally transformational for her. She had been fed up of year after year of teaching ICT and that she was now confidently looking forward to the challenges and rewards of bringing proper teaching back into her classroom with the introduction of Computing.

Before I left the school, I was asked to agree to return for another training day and to work with the school to help them organise a Hack To The Future event or Raspberry Jam, at a date to be decided. It was an absolute delight to work with such a broad range of individual teachers who were extremely open-minded,  and ready to welcome change in their methods of teaching.  Here is a link to some of the resources we used on the day.

If you would like to discuss hosting a training event at your school or organisation, please contact Our Learning for more details.

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