Computing at schools? What about the teachers?

As a workshop developer for a Welsh project called Technocamps, I spend my  working life trying to encourage young people and teachers into computing nad computing careers. So imagine my utter joy when I hear that ICT in schools will be replaced by computer science. My initial reaction: YIPEEEEEEEE.

Then FEAR. Who is going to teach this? A high majority of our future computer science teachers do not come from a computing background, let alone an ICT background.  According to the general teaching council of the 28,000 who became teachers in 2010, only THREE had a computing related degree.

Before I started work on the Technocamps project I did my PhD looking at why there aren’t enough women in computing and then did my postdoc looking at something similar. I published papers, researched and was seen as some sort of expert in the area of getting kids into computing. However, I had only been seeing things from one aspect. I did not realize the amount of support and encouragement that schools will need to teach a computer science curriculum. Schools which I had observed, have issues with the current ICT Curriculum.

In order for this reform to work we need to upskill teachers, not a one day training course or a light evening session, they need consistent support. It takes computer science graduates three years to be experts in the subject computer science, teachers need a similar type of training. We need to remember that computing is not as easy as ICT and therefore need to make sure we do not put young people of by having unskilled teachers.

When computers were first introduced into secondary schools, teachers did not know what to do with them and a lot of money was pumped into teacher training and equipment. This training was a session on computers, however this was not enough to increase their confidence in teaching computers. Young people know more about computers than teachers and are able to tell if the teacher is not confident in teaching a subject, which is why its important the right training and support is given.

I am really glad that we are looking up and taking an interest in IT education, however I hope it isn’t a one off speech and I hope that thought has been given about the consequences in terms of the quality of education out young people receive.

 

[updated 11th January 2013, 16:07 - minor grammar issues!]

Three tools to help teach programming to young people

The tools below are what we use in Technocamps to get young people enthused about computing. So far our feedback has been really positive. For ideas on how to incorporate these into the classroom please go to: http://www.technocamps.com/resources . Do you use other tools? I would love to hear about them. Feel free to comment below.

Scratch

Scratch is aimed at 9-11 year old students, although we also use it for 12-14 year olds. Scratch is a fun program to teach. Its drag and drop and does not expose the user to errors. It does not take much to get things happening. E.g. getting a cat to move forward 10 steps is a case of using two drag and drop boxes and pressing start. This is great for younger pupils who are impatient and looking for results straight away. It is free to download and does not take too long to learn. For my experiences on teaching scratch click here. 

Alice

Alice is very different to Scratch, in that the application deals with concepts such as objects, methods and properties and relies on the user being able to think ‘independently’. It is a drag and drop program, so it’s a good follow on from Scratch. The approach we have used to teach Alice is by getting participants to go through the Alice tutorials before getting them to make their own 3D animation. This is an excellent way of getting participants to get to grips with its concepts and the vocabulary involved in object-orientated design. It is satisfying when 15 year olds are leaving the room discussing objects and methods! Again this is free to download and it helps with concepts. For my experience on teaching Alice, click here. 

Green foot

Greenfoot teaches object orientated design using Java. It is recommended that this is taught to students who have had prior programming experience and/or doing A-level / A/S Level computing. They allow users to create ‘actors’ which are in ‘worlds’ to make games, animations and simulations. Its interactive and interaction tools are built into the Greenfoot environment. Unlike the two above, this introduces students to common syntax errors and is a lot more real than the other two.