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"ICT in Education" - 5 new articles

  1. Project-based learning in the Computing curriculum
  2. Preparing to teach the new Computing curriculum
  3. Digital Education latest edition!
  4. Should we welcome the nanocams?
  5. Awarding Levels in Computing for the purpose of number-crunching
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search ICT in Education
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

Project-based learning in the Computing curriculum

John Partridge, Assistant Head for eLearning, explains how Computing is taught through a project-based learning approach at his school.

I remember clearly looking at the first draft of the new curriculum and just being totally shocked by the degree of change. It had been clearly signalled that the new draft would be a step-change, but I didn’t appreciate the shift which was about to take place. Almost nothing remained from the previous programme, save a few references to digital resources and, in a later draft, safe use of technology. So it was clear that some serious work was going to be needed to make sure our school adapted.

Thankfully, we had already begun the process of moving our curriculum towards computing. I have been in the fortunate position of leading a team of very capable and highly skilled teachers, all with computing backgrounds. In addition, I’ve long felt that a good ‘ICT’ curriculum needed to include elements of computing to equip learners with the broadest skill set possible and also give my students a fighting chance at Computing A level.

The approach I’ve taken for some time in ICT (now Computing) is that it works best when students see the relevance to their real life. For me, that doesn’t just mean making a spreadsheet about a disco model. It’s going further than that. I believe that students really engage in projects where they see technology working in different ways and are given some element of control over how that happens.

To explain my approach to project-based learning I’ll use an example from my year 9[i] curriculum. I’ve found that age group to find real world projects particularly engaging. They’re at a point when career advice is coming in, GCSE[ii] decisions are being made and long term futures talked about. Therefore showing them how technology is going to be part of that really hits home.

A unit which has been particularly successful in that respect is our ‘You’re the Boss’ unit. A short summary is that students are given a picture of an empty shop (chosen from a small selection) and given the chance to setup a business in it. The unit then goes through a number of different tools using technology they would use. For example; graphics editing to change the empty shop into a thriving business, modelling to predict cash flows, databases to manage customer mailing, computer programming and interface design to create a working EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale ) and safe use of technology in discussing the business data protection policy. Some of these activities take just a lesson, others up to three but none any longer. All of the knowledge and skills covered are then returned to and developed later in other projects later in the year.

The last part of the previous paragraph is the other crucial part of project learning and why it works for me. It allows you to revisit prior learning and consolidate it before building on it. When I first came into teaching I taught a traditional ICT model of a DTP unit, a spreadsheet unit, a database unit, a presentation unit etc. The difficulty I found was that returning to spreadsheets in the next year, so little knowledge and skills had been retained. I strongly believe, as advocated by Bruner’s spiral curriculum and Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve, in small and regular visits to both knowledge and skills if they are going to retained and embedded.

A Representation of the project-based learning approach taken by the Minster School

All of the above makes real sense with the new curriculum. After reading the draft I wrote a Computing focused unit for year 8. It was successful but student voice told me it just hadn’t been as engaging as the other work in the year. The reason consistently was, they didn’t see how it fitted the bigger picture. That surprised and to some degree frustrated me, as a real focus in the planning had been just that. Most lessons had video introductions of computing in action, each lesson had a ‘how this is used in the real world’ discussion or activity. Even so, students couldn’t make the connection. Projects do that. They put knowledge and skills in context, they support pace and challenge as well as extension.

Sometimes making a particular skill or knowledge gain part of the project can be a challenge, but I find it’s always possible and always worth it.

About John Partridge

John PartridgeJohn Partridge is Assistant Head for eLearning at the Minster School in Southwell. He has ten years experience as a subject leader for Computing/ICT and has spoken at a number of events across the country about the new curriculum changes. His wider work in the subject area was recognised through a Naace Impact award in 2013.

[i] Year 9 is the third year of secondary (high) school in England; pupils are 13-14 years of age.

[ii] GCSE is the General Certificate of Education in England, taken (usually) at 16 years of age.

This article first appeared in Digital Education, the free newsletter for those with a professional interest in educational ICT and Computing. To sign up, please complete the short form on our newsletter page. We use a double opt-in system, and you won’t get spammed.


Preparing to teach the new Computing curriculum

I've been giving talks on preparing for the new Computing curriculum, and as well as waxing lyrical that also involves listening to others' concerns. It also means hearing about some innovative approaches that colleagues have adopted.

At the same time, I have been conducting a survey of what people have been doing to prepare for the new curriculum. I'll be publishing the results in due course. In fact, some of the resources mentioned in the collection of coding resources in the early July 2014 edition of Digital Education  came to my attention from that survey.

So, given that at the time of writing there's about 2 or 3 days to go till the end of term, what can you realistically do at this stage to prepare for September?

No need to panic -- yet!

The obvious answer is “not a lot”. But hopefully you will have already started to do something, even if you are yet to be able to convince yourself that you are ready to tackle the subject.

However, what you can do is to draw up a list of a few things that you will consider or do. Hopefully, the list below will give you some ideas and make the whole thing seem more doable.

Make connections

If you don't know how to do computer programming, it is imperative to find someone who does. There used to be an advert on British TV for the Automobile Association's roadside rescue service.

“Do you know how to fix this?”, the hapless passenger would ask when the driver announced that the car had broken down.

“No”, came the reply. “But I know a man who can!”

Where will you find someone who “can”? I suggest the following”:

  • Join Computing at Schools (CAS) if you have not already done so. Incidentally, I recommend CAS a lot because I think it does a good job of connecting people and facilitating the exchange of ideas and resources. I'm not on the Board of Management or anything like that.

  • Once you've joined CAS find out where your nearest Hub is and go to meetings and events. There probably won't be anything going on now, but see if your hub has a calendar of events coming up in the new term.

  • While you're there, make a note of the name of the Master teacher in your area. He or she should be able to give you some useful pointers or help you find out about training going on in your area.

  • And also while you're there, see which other local schools are listed, and then make a note to connect up with one or two of them next term. It may be possible, for instance, to arrange some mutual in-service training. Or another possibility: what if you divided up the next couple of terms' work between you, so that you share the preparation?

  • If you work with colleagues in the same school, you can do that in-house. By dividing up the units of work between you, covering the curriculum becomes much easier. It also becomes more enjoyable, because if each person in the team takes responsibility for particular units, they can approach each one in a way that they will find most engaging for themselves. By “taking responsibility” I mean ensuring that the curriculum objectives are met for that unit (eg an understanding of loops, cyberbullying, networking, or whatever), devising the materials and other resources, coming up with suitable assessment tasks, and training the rest of the team in how to teach it.

  • Contact your local college if there is one. You may be able to take on a student to help train you, hold your hand in the classroom, or help you deal with issues of understanding arising in the classroom.

Introduce a project-based learning approach, if you have not already done so

In the early July 2014 edition of Digital Education, John Partridge extolled the virtues of project-based learning (PBL). Interestingly, the survey I've conducted revealed that it's not just secondary (high) schools that have been adopting PBL, but primary (elementary) schools too. So what's the attraction?

  • For a start, it makes it easier to cover the different elements of the Computing Programme of Study – Computer Science, Digital Literacy, Information Technology and e-Safety – in a meaningful way. Breaking up the subject into strands may make it easier for those who know about Computer Science to keep track of what they've taught, but it doesn't make much sense in the real world, and it's hard to make the subject interesting by doing it that way: who wants to do a module on loops, or one on e-safety?

  • Almost any real-world problem can be a PBL starter: how can we make the roads around our school safer? How can we make the next Open Day run more smoothly?

  • A huge benefit, both for pupils and their less-than-confident teacher is that they only have to learn coding on a need to know basis. That is to say, they can learn the aspects of it that will be useful for this particular project, and ignore the rest of it. That in itself makes teaching the subject as an expert much more doable. (Don't take any notice of anyone who tells you it's OK just to be a facilitator and not know anyhting, for reasons given below.)

Learn to code

Unfortunately, there's no avoiding this, for three main reasons:

Firstly, you'll feel a lot more confident in the classroom and in planning, not to mention assessing.

Secondly, unless you are able to delegate the teaching of coding entirely, I don't see how you can avoid it. Ofsted looks for subject expertise in teachers, and so they should: would you want to be taught by someone who is one lesson ahead – if you're lucky?

Thirdly, I don't see how you can confidently and competently move pupils on to their next step, or to clear up their misconceptions, if you don't know really know the subject.

So what can you do?

  • Forget all the nonsense you hear about being able to learn coding in a day. Computer programmers, like experts in any other field, spend years honing and expanding their skills. You may be able to learn the principles in a day (I don't know: I think even that is a stretch), but not much more. In any case, learning how to code isn't the same as learning how teach others how to code. In my opinion, all that making pronouncements about “you can learn to code in a day” does is make people feel inadequate. To my mind, it's the equivalent of someone who knows how to draw announcing that anyone can learn to sketch in a day. Baloney.

  • Try out one or two of the online resources given in the early July 2014 edition of Digital Education, which had a focus on coding. I'm reluctant to suggest this, because teachers are tired, and have a six week summer break for a reason. But if you can bring yourself to spend 20 or 30 minutes a day teaching yourself some coding I think you'll feel a lot more confident about it all come September.

  • If that last suggestion sounds awful, try reading the free book I mentioned in that issue, Computing Without Computers, by Professor Paul Curzon. It doesn't sound much like holiday reading, but it is quite entertaining, with puzzles to try and examples from the world of magic and everyday life. It's a huge tome, but you can download individual chapters if you prefer. Here's the link:

  • Get some training when you get back. Yes, easier said than done, I know. I'm quite appalled at the number of times courses have had to be cancelled because headteachers won't let their staff out on courses. Short-sighted doesn't even come into it. But as a teacher said to me last year, it's like asking a teacher of French to teach Russian from next September. I don't think it's quite that bad – at least, if you were following the last (ICT) Programme of Study properly it shouldn't be – but I think she had a point. Maybe that's the argument to use if you are unfortunate enough to work for a headteacher who thinks you don't need to go on any training.

Well, I hope that some of those suggestions are useful, and give you some ideas about things can you can do to make the whole thing less daunting.

This is a slightly modified version of an article that was published in the late July 2014 edition of Digital Education, the free newsletter for those with a professional interest in educational ICT and Computing. You can see the full table of contents here: To sign up for the newsletter, please complete the form at 


Digital Education latest edition!

For the final edition of this free newsletter, we have a great line-up of experts and articles:

The quest to modernise the UK classroom, by Suzanne Tidmas-Cole. Suzanne discusses the benefits of collaborative technology in the classroom.

Preparing to teach the new Computing curriculum, by Terry Freedman.  Are you feeling inadequate because you didn’t learn to code in a day? Well don’t, because the very idea is nonsense. In this article I look at some practical ways of getting to grips with the new Computing curriculum.

Review of SMART Amp, by student Ellie Gregson. Ellie extols the benefits of this free collaborative software — but is very candid about the problems encountered when it was first introduced into her classroom.

Neurodeterminism as an antidote to common sense? I doubt it!, by Mel Thompson. Mel’s area of expertise is philosophy. A far cry from educational technology you might think — but he finds the same blindness to everyday experience and common sense as I’ve tended to bemoan over the years!

Assessing Project-Based Learning, by John Partridge. John is the first to admit that, while project-based learning is a good approach for several reasons, it makes assessment more difficult. In this article he considers a few practical ways to make it less burdensome.

To acquire this wonderful publication, all you have to do is sign up for it at



Should we welcome the nanocams?

I’m reading a short story by Ian Creasey called “The Edge of the Map”. In the world depicted by Creasey, automated cameras called “nanocams” take photos and newspapers (and other media, presumably) source their illustrations from the pool created by them. In other words, there is no need for specialist photographers.

This raises a number of interesting questions.

1. Is this sort of technical development likely? How feasible is it? (I’d say yes, and very.)

2. Is it desirable? I suppose your answer may depend to some extent on whether you make your living from photography.

3. Is it inevitable? 

4. What happens to the specialist jobs associated with photography once nano cams, or something like them, become ubiquitous?

5. What happens to the notion of privacy once there are nano cams everywhere? Would we even notice a difference, given how much CCTV surveillance goes on already?

I think it’s important to discuss these sorts of issues with students. If you’re worried that it has nothing to do with “Computing”, think “digital literacy”, “cyberwisdom”, “e-safety”. And in any case, these sorts of things are interesting to discuss regardless of whether they feature explicitly in the curriculum.


Awarding Levels in Computing for the purpose of number-crunching

It’s all very well coming up with weird and wonderful ways of acknowledging students’ achievement, but at some point somebody, unfortunately, is going to ask you for a number. The number is important to them because they can enter it into  spreadsheet and show, hopefully, that the numbers go up over time.

It may be, of course, that the number doesn’t mean very much in itself. But in the words of a teacher who showed me two graphs of his students’ achievement, as measured at the start and the end of a term, “See? The numbers have gone up!”.

“Yes”, I said, “But what do the numbers actually mean?”

He looked incredulous that someone could actually ask such a stupid question. “Who cares?” They’re higher, aren’t they?”

Well, a few days ago I was running a course on assessing Computing and ICT (comments such as “wonderful”, “stupendous”, “the best thing I’ve done in years” were being voiced, but as it was I who was voicing them I’m not sure that counts, but anyway), and we established that, at some point, someone in school is going to say something like:

“These badges/coloured zones/skills passports/whatever are all very well, but I need a number!”

We discussed that, but I remembered afterwards that I wrote an article about how to handle that sort of request. I’ve read it again, and I believe that my preferred solution still stands up. See what you think. You can read the article here:

6 Ways to respond to requests for pointless data


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