Computing on a par with maths and English

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Schools are facing up to the new computing curriculum and in case any are dragging their heels, Duncan Maidens and Andrew Csizmadia have some words of encouragement.

The new computing curriculum is now upon schools and they have a responsibility to act. However the challenges appear to be great.

“I know nothing about programming”, “Algorithms sound incredibly complex”, ”Computational thinking? I don’t want to think like a computer” – these are all phrases heard in many school staffrooms over recent months, and many teachers and schools, especially primary, are just waking up to the task ahead.

However, it is not that daunting when you really start to look at it. For a start, programming is only one part of the new computing curriculum. The first myth to dispel is that we are trying to teach all children to become programmers. It is just not the case. We teach maths in schools, but not all our pupils will be mathematicians. 

Maths and English have long been recognised as key skills that we need to acquire early on in our lives to understand the world around us and maximise our opportunities.

In today’s world of the internet, its widespread connectivity, and instant access to more information than we could consume in several lifetimes, the need to understand the digital world is becoming more and more important.

Digital communications now has an impact on all our lives whether we like it or not. Those who choose not to embrace its powers risk being left behind as digital luddites. 

We are teaching our children skills now for jobs of the future that do not even exist today and one thing is for certain – they will require knowledge and skills that require some understanding of the digital world and access to information. The more awareness one has of this technology the better one can embrace and use it across a whole range of different fields.

And yes, there will be those “tech geeks” who will go on to develop and run the networks of the future, programming the latest apps to provide yet more connectivity, and developing solutions for problems that don’t exist yet.

So let’s dispel some myths. Computational thinking is not thinking like a computer. It is a skill that is useful in all walks of life where we analyse a system, process or problem, and decompose it into smaller constituent sections. 

We can then get a grasp of what each individual section does and how they interact with each other. This allows us to better understand the whole problem. This is a skill we use in cooking, manufacturing, solving a maths problem, conducting a science experiment, or choreographing a dance. 

Having broken down the steps we may choose to write them down as a sequence of steps or instructions. These may include concepts such as loops: “Keep beating the cake mixture – until it is blended” or “Repeat the move from a crouch to a star jump 10 times.” The instructions may also introduce the ideas of conditional branching, where depending on some test we follow the path one way or another: “If the litmus paper turns blue do this, otherwise do that.”

Having written down these instruction or steps in a logical sequence and using some notation to show where loops and branches occur, you have written an algorithm and better understood the problem. Finally at this stage we may choose to turn this into a program and have to write the code. So how should teachers get going on this?

  1. Join the Computing at Schools (CAS) organisation. Sign up – it is free!

  2. Look at all the resources online and see what others have done.

  3. Participate in local CAS Hub meetings and share ideas among fellow teachers.

  4. Pick up a book or online resource and start to learn how to code in Scratch, Python or another language that takes your fancy.

  5. Look out for CPD sessions being run by Master Teachers or the Network of Excellence. Talk to the tutors about your needs.

Above all, embrace the new computing curriculum. It is all our futures, especially for the children we teach.

  • Duncan Maidens is a senior lecturer at Birmingham City University’s School of Computing, Telecommunications and Networks, and Andrew Csizmadia is a PGCE secondary computer science subject lead at Newman University.


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