Since its initial announcement in 2012, Computer Science has been at the back of the minds of most teachers that would be affected by the changes to the National Curriculum. However with quite some time until it's official rollout across the country (September 2014), it seemed that there were far more immediate priorities to focus on. Nevertheless 2014 came around and it was discovered that three quarters of school leaders believed that coding and computer programming would be highly relevant to their pupils, but over a third also did not feel confident about implementing coding into the curriculum. (Tablets for schools research released March 2014) The research carried out by Tablets for Schools, (educational not for profit, soon to be charity) surveyed 36 school leaders and 3,500 secondary school boys and girls aged 11-17 in 9 schools across England and Scotland in Jan and Feb 2014. (All the schools had been using one-to-one Tablets for over a year or have introduced them in the current school year and are taking part in the Tablets for Schools research programme.)
Some interesting quotes came from teachers and school leaders part of the research programme:
“We are living in a world where we are educating children for jobs that might not yet exist, so they need the skills of being able to critically analyse processes.”
“The development of sequencing, logic and programming is useful in developing scientific and mathematical skills”.
Taking a few steps back slightly, to January 2014 The BETT show could have been called the Computer Science show. The buzz word on everybody's lips and featured as leading elements on the majority of exhibitor stands, with the Microsoft stand being no exception. Along with Schools publisher Rising Stars and truly innovative educator Claire Lotriet, Switched on Computing was launched and we gave away literally thousands of free computer science programmes at the show which contained learning resources and class projects, following on from this, the materials were distributed to over 17,000 schools nationwide.
When we spoke to Claire, an IT teacher from a South London Primary School, this is what she had to say on tackling terminology of the new computing curriculum:
"The first line of the new PoS states that pupils in KS1 should be taught to ‘understand what algorithms are.’ Algorithms? In KS1? Really? I was shocked. So, I decided my first job would be to unpick this word. A bit of rooting around lead me to a pleasing discovery: an algorithm is a set of instructions that perform a specific task or solve a specific problem. Suddenly, it didn’t sound too bad…" (Read the full blog here)
This is what the last six months for us at Microsoft has really been about, unscrambling some of the complicated jargon and translating it into something that actually all teachers are familiar with in other aspects of their teaching methods and experience. In her blog Claire so cleverly describes the attributes of algorithms to something as familiar as recipes or instructions for games.
Back in February I wrote a blog called Programme or be Programmed, discussing the importance of Computer Science and the impact that it is having and is going to have in the not too distant future, in terms of the UK workforce. Computer Science amalgamates core competencies from technology, mathematics, engineering and of course science. A combination of a skillset deficiency in the UK workforce, especially when compared to EU countries and further afield.
You may also have noticed that if Computer Science is being discussed, the topic of coding or programming doesn't fall too far behind. There are plenty of organisations championing this cause, including UK Hour of Code. In March Microsoft teamed up with Hour of Code and at the launch event showcased a number of coding opportunities available to students.
Children at Westminster City School were involved in the launch were enthused by various coding activities on the day. Activities included 'The Hour of Code live', 'The Kodu Game Lab', 'Computing without computers' and 'The Great British Code Off'. Michel Van der Bel, Managing Director of Microsoft UK spoke on the importance of the Hour of Code and children getting excited about coding, as well as a future career in IT.
As well as taking part in numerous education technology events throughout the year Microsoft wanted to pull together its highest quality digital content in a free ebook format, that could be easily referenced and demonstrate how it's various programs such as Kodu, Project Spark and Touch Develop can be used in computer science as well as discussing in greater detail the evolution of education technology and where we go from here.
The ebook was released ahead of the announcement that Microsoft and Computing at Schools group (CAS) are joining forces to help teachers inspire a new generation of young people. Backed by a £334,000 investment from Microsoft, CAS is holding a series of ‘Back to School’ training sessions to show teachers how they can take the complexity of Coding and Computer Science and make it engaging to the touch screen generation. Read the full blog here.
As an educator we hope that you’ve found value in the work we’ve been doing over the past six months in particular around Computer Science. So much has evolved since Bill Gates fundamental goal of putting a computer on every desk. Microsoft set some of the original foundations for technology and as technology has advanced and consumers have developed their own ideals for the way that technology should look, feel and be used in daily life, Microsoft have needed to realign the ways in which they meet the needs of their customers, but it has always been about the people. We have now more than ever an emphasis on Education, and this means not only preparing children and young adults for the working world but anticipating the organic technological skills that will be necessary to walk confidently through the next digital generation.