19 Aug '13

News Computing curriculum FAQs: from starting out to programming languages

If you have no experience teaching computing and are wondering how to get started, Alan O'Donohoe tackles the most common questions for beginners

In the summer of 2011, I was planning to start teaching GCSE computing at my school in September and I knew I also needed computing science to feature more prominently in our school's curriculum.

Two years later my role has changed so significantly that I am now supporting other schools to do the same. This year alone, 140 teachers have attended computer science training days at our school and I have visited many other schools around the UK to support the introduction of computing into their curriculum.

This last year, as we have seen the national curriculum proposals develop and more schools introduce GCSE computing, the demand for me to train and support teachers has increased significantly.

Seeing the demeanor of teachers change throughout the day, from anxiousness to the realisation that they can teach computing after all, is immensely rewarding. I almost feel like I've helped to relieve their phobias or nagging back pain.

There are some common themes that prevail through this 'phobia' and I thought it would be useful to share the most commonly asked questions.

I've no background in computer science, where do I start?

Join the club. I didn't have a background in computing either until a couple of years ago but I quickly developed my confidence by joining up with a very supportive community online called Computing At School.

This community site is the first place you should head to. It's been set up specifically to support teachers to introduce and teach computing. It's free to join and you may even be lucky enough to live close to a CAS hub and get along to the face-to-face meetings.

Which programming language do I use?

When it comes to choosing a language, it's very much down to which works best for you. You could have already tried using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed language, Scratch. This language is based on moving a series of command boxes and organising them in a logical pattern of instructions. This is a nice language to use to introduce programming concepts to students due to its visual appeal. However, once you have developed your confidence using Scratch, it's best that you look into a textual programming language such as Java, JavaScript or Python.

The Python programming language has become very popular, especially for GCSE. The language is very flexible and accessible. Creating basic programs is easy and they are written in a logical way. Programming basics such as sequence, selection and iteration can be taught in a very straightforward way too. I started learning to program with Python using this free book Invent With Python (http://inventwithpython.com/) and then I wrote some materials to teach Python from year 7 that you can download for free from CAS.

Which GCSE specification should I choose?

When I started teaching GCSE computing in 2011, it was an easier choice as there was only one specification – OCR GCSE computing. Now the choice is more difficult as many other awarding bodies offer qualifications too. One advantage of the OCR spec is that because the course has been around for longer, many teachers have created resources for it that they share through CAS community site and the forums are more active. I expect that as more teachers choose the other exam boards this situation will change. I strongly suggest you try to choose the same one as colleagues in schools near to you, so you can support each other.

What about children who seem to know much more than I do?

Since there are so many online tutorials and resources to learn how to program, it's not rare to encounter children who are already at a very advanced level of understanding – or those who profess to be at a high level but who maybe not be. It certainly does force you to change from more traditional methods of teaching where the teacher was expected to know more than the pupils. This is a challenge but one that can be met by assessing students regularly, planning carefully and differentiating accordingly.

Alan O'Donohoe is the principal teacher of computing at Our Lady's High School, Preston and a CAS master teacher. He has been teaching for just short of 20 years. He is the founder of Raspberry Jam and Hack To The Future. He blogs at teachcomputing and tweets as @teknoteacher.

This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. Looking for your next role? Take a look at Guardian jobs for schools for thousands of the latest teaching, leadership and support jobs.

theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Read the full story in Guardian Education
Log in Join