How to future-proof the computing curriculum for your students, from ​primary computing lead, Allen Tsui. 

Whilst some may deride the use of platforms and products which are seen as more “toy” than “tech” or “play” than “learn”, my forty years’ experience of ‘thinkering’ with technology means seeing any engagement with it in whatever form as opportunities for learning, and developing what I have described as the Computer Science Skills Circle.

Future proofing

The call for curriculum reform to future-proof today’s learners is perhaps a sign that policy makers have realised the international performative comparisons which were popular during the ‘noughties’ have lost their shine – particularly as the English school system continues to plummet by all comparative indicators (principally due to lack of funding).

With the right resources, pedagogical approach and subject knowledge, the Computing curriculum is more than capable of pushing the boundaries of understanding and knowledge, taking them to the cutting edge of current technological developments.

This is not to say that teachers of technology can be complacent with the existing structure of the Computing curriculum. Indeed, since becoming subject lead for Computing in summer 2020, a meticulous forensic analysis of the National Curriculum aims and targets revealed serious shortcomings with the three-part structure of Information Technology, Computer Science and Digital Literacy advocated by Ofsted.

Whereas the Primary Computing curriculum I follow is based on a five block structure of Computational Thinking, Digital Citizenship, Coding, Digital Literacy and Information Science.

The ubiquity of digital technology and how intertwined it has become in our lives from before the moment any of us are born to the time beyond our physical existence, means learning about staying safe online and the increasingly subsuming concept of ‘big data’ is critical. Technological advances and the ever-evolving risks from cyberspace make it essential for both digital citizenship and data science to be explicitly taught and given their own sequences of lessons.

Computing competencies

Setting these criticisms aside, both the NCCE and Computing at School have published what can be best described as a framework of competency-based standards. By benchmarking to compare the standards against those set by the US based Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) as well as the globally recognised International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) which are aligned to the UNESCO Competency Framework, means digital literacy needs focus on the ten core standards as essential minimum expectations. These are also directly linked to four of the articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Computer programming or coding

Whilst the introduction of computer programming or coding to the National Curriculum in 2013 was broadly welcomed, it has become contentious and controversial – with some discouraging participation and questioning why we should teach programming to children as young as age four when they may never directly work in the technology industry.

My personal counterargument to this is that through the sequence of programming lessons, learning to code achieves two broader outcomes: Firstly, futureproofing the citizens of tomorrow means enabling them to have these attributes. Secondly, pupils can learn more about the application of what they are working with. For example, the colour-coded sensor system children in Year four explored helped them to understand how an automated robot could be used as a track-based transport or delivery system. Such ideas are not science-fiction for primary schools but about pushing the boundaries to the cutting edge of current technological innovation.

Digital citizenship

The statements listed in the Education for a Connected World 2020 framework have been turned by the South West Grid for Learning ProjectEVOLVE team, into scenarios that are presented to the children as surveys using Kahoot, so teachers can immediately see what the children think. I run the survey twice, between which time the class have time to talk and reflect on their thoughts and experiences. The second time the poll is run is to gauge how the children’s attitudes towards staying safe online might have changed or not.

Computational thinking

During the first half of every Autumn Term, the children are encouraged to reflect on the digital world around us. Here is the sequence of learning that happens across our school.

Pupil voice

In parallel to our school’s core values, pupil voice is a critical component in the cyclical review of the computing curriculum. For example, in the Spring term of 2023, due to overwhelming request, we will be introducing elementary Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) animation techniques as part of the sequence of lessons for computer programming. This will extend into the sequence of digital creativity lessons in the Summer term. Everybody will be learning introductory film making techniques, working with organisations such as ‘Into Film’ and the ‘British Film Institute’ (BFI). There will also be a tie-in to other multimedia and digital creativity opportunities as everybody across the school becomes independent authors and publishers creating our virtual school library through the Book Creator app.

Impact analysis: the cumulative curriculum

Progress is measured by using the framework of ‘I can’ statements produced by the e-Learning and Information Management team at Somerset County Council. However, it is important to adopt a degree of flexibility when taking this competency-based approach. By way of example, in the grid of  ‘I can…’ statements for Information Science, the
framework does not exactly follow a linear structure of learning but a cumulative approach, building on skills, knowledge and understanding from across the curriculum.

Through Google Workspace for Education the children will be able to access these statements and see whether they are ‘working towards’ (red), ‘secure’ (amber) or ‘at greater depth’ (green). To make managing and remembering passwords easier, each child only has one user name and password for most of these online learning platforms with a separate username and password to access Google Drive.

Computing pushes at the boundaries of understanding, knowledge and application (through cross-curricular links with other subjects) to globally recognised standards. We should not want our children to simply be passive consumers of technology. We should want them to be content creators and prepare them to be digital citizens of the future who are able to navigate our ever-evolving online world successfully, safely and securely.

Author

  • Allen Tsui

    Allen is the subject lead for computer science at Willow Brook Primary School Academy in East London. He teaches Year 4 to Year 6 and Reception classes across two primaries within the trust, as well Year 1 classes at his ‘base school.’ He has also worked at one of the trust's secondary schools teaching A-Level computer science.
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