It’s a new year; time for a new project. I’ve been a member of CAS (Computing at School) for several years. It is a group for teachers, parents, IT professionals, and other education specialists, that came together to advocate for the teaching of computing as a subject. But, in a classic case of be careful what you wish for, our focus has now shifted to supporting teachers with the computing curriculum. I decided to join my local hub.
I recently completed a short online course on teaching computing. Teaching computing is something I already do, formally at London South Bank University, and informally at my code club and in mentoring new programmers at client companies. But I wanted to see what the experts had to say, and maybe pick up some tips. One piece of advice was to join CAS and get involved with my local hub.
CAS runs discussion boards for members and there’s a discussion board for each hub. So I went to my hub board, but my hub board was bare… Well, not entirely bare, but there was a distinct lack of posts on the board. In fact, Sarah (our hub leader) had been trying to get a Croydon group going for a while. So, as I had some free time, I arranged a meeting at the library to see if anybody would show.
Happily, on the day, it worked out quite well. We were a small group, but that was a benefit at this early stage, as we managed to have in depth discussions. I had two rough topics I wanted feedback on: firstly on the details of running events and secondly on the common problems teaching the computing curriculum.
On meeting details, we decided two months was about the right period for events. We also talked about the locations, times, and facilities. For those thinking of running their own hub meetings, I’ll outline some important considerations:
I chose a weekend for this first meeting since I guessed this was the most likely time we’d all be free. But, naturally, that’s also when most of us arrange other outside work activities. So for regular meetings we’re going to aim for weekdays after school. Another consideration is allowing enough time for members to get to the event. Although our members are expected to be local, it’s not always the case that members will live near their work, so we’ll expect some extra travel time for those that work outside of Croydon.
Something I hadn’t considered was parking. My bias, attending events typically in central London, means driving has never been much of an option. But for a group meeting in Croydon, parking, transport links, and so on, are crucial. While there are many benefits to running meetings in the library, parking in central Croydon isn’t one of them.
WiFi access is something I always consider. Given our subject matter, WiFi access has become an essential requirement. While it’s important that we consider unplugged resources in terms of learning activities, I doubt it would be practical to run a group without it.
I expect our future events will be hosted by local schools, probably the schools of group members, as these will be easiest to arrange. And I expect our next meetup to be in March at Edenham school. If you’d like to attend, watch the Croydon hub for announcements, or contact me and I’ll let you know when it’s booked.
The rest of our discussion concerned the practical problems of teaching computing as a subject. Several common problems emerged and I hope to address them in any materials we produce or adapt.
One commonly reported issue was the lack of fundamental computing skills such as web searching, copy and paste, saving work, and navigating folders. This hinders pupils attempting to learn programming and those integrating computer use into other subjects. While CAS has many great resources for computer science topics, there are few resources covering the practical skills pupils need to develop before they can interact with school technology effectively.
Another common problem is the degree to which school computers are locked down. Some schools disable common interface options such as right click menus or keyboard shortcuts. Unfortunately, many resources aren’t designed with these kinds of restrictions in mind.
One problem associated specifically with resources was a lack of included answers. This is easily forgotten when generating resources, but ideally we’d want everything needed for a particular resource bundled into a single package so we wouldn’t have to go hunting for answers separately.
Finally we identified an immediate need for materials and resources introducing the topic of HTML. Our next meet will focus on this topic. If you have any HTML materials you’d like to share, point me to them. Or if you’d like to present something at our next event please get in touch. Those already on CAS can view our hub leader’s excellent HTML resources there.