How can computing be taught in the most evidence-based effective way? In this episode James Robinson answers this question and offers advice to teachers on the best way to engage with pupils on the subject.
📎 Promoting Effective Pedagogy in Computing
How The National Centre for Computing Education is supporting front line teachers
What does effective teaching in Computing look like?
Where can teachers learn more and get involved
💡 James Robinson, Senior Learning Manager (Pedagogy & Training), Raspberry Pi Foundation
Good morning, everybody and welcome to the Technology Education Resources Zone. My name is James Robinson and I'm going to be talking to you this morning about promoting effective pedagogy in computing and something that I'm particularly passionate about and is part of my role at the Raspberry Pi Foundation working on the National Centre for Computing Education project.
I'm going to start my talk by just apologising, technically, I'm on paternity leave at the moment. I have a 12 day old and so if I, if I kind of pause and look a bit vacant is just the lack of sleep that I've had over the past few evenings, so apologies in advance for that. This is what we're talking about today. If you have any questions after this talk, you can get hold of me at @LegoJames Twitter I want to talk to you a bit about how the National Centre are working to promote effective pedagogy in computing. So I'm going to briefly talk about a few different areas and for those that aren't familiar with computing, and what we mean by that term, I'm going to really briefly touch upon that, and why that's so important. I'm going to talk a little bit about the National Centre for Computing Education that's just over a year old now has got three years left and its current funding and talk about some of the work they're doing to support teachers. I'm going to talk a little bit about what effective teaching of computing looks like or what we think it looks like currently based upon the evidence we have, how the National Centre is supporting frontline teachers in delivering effective teaching of computing. And finally, where can teachers learn more and get involved in in this sort grand project.
I'm particularly passionate, my background is as a teacher, I'm a computing teacher by training. I left a classroom three or four years ago and now I'm super interested in, in supporting other teachers to deliver computing in their classroom. So we recently did a podcast episode where we talked about this very question, why computing? Why do we care so much about computing as a school subject, as a discipline, as something that teachers and students should be engaging in? And we there was a few different reasons that we came up with, and I've got, this is my kind of priority order. First and foremost, I think the computing is one of the most fun, most engaging and most creative disciplines. You know, we can allow students to create things with just pure thought stuff. They don't need to have materials, they just need the ideas and they can bring them to life through computing. Exposing students to computing skills and concepts is empowering, okay. It shows them what is going on under this under the hood of the technology enables them to create and make and generate new things with, with computing. It's a broad, rich and deep subject. Okay? It has something for everybody in this. In a later episode of our podcast, we talked a little bit about the three different perspectives that you might come computing from, mathematics, engineering and science and that sort of encompassing term of computing really capitalised words, different subjects, has lots of things for everybody.
It's academically rigorous, computing is rich with abstract concepts, challenges, processes that students have to get to grips with. It promotes math, logic, creativity and problem solving skills. And finally, and this is important, but this is not necessarily the reason why I care so passionately about computing, but our workforce of tomorrow is going to need that a solid level of computing literacy in order to go into working whatever fields, whether they're going into the IT industry and becoming programmers themselves, or whether they're going into education or health or any other industry, computing is pervasive and they're going to need some degree of literacy in computing, and the chair of the National Centre, and this podcast interview gave me this lovely quote, I love this, "computing is one of the richest, deepest, most fascinating, most creative, most ingenious playgrounds of the mind" and that really, I think, sums up and encapsulates what computing is and why we care so much about it.
So for those that aren't familiar with the National Centre for Computing Education, it is a four year project that has been funded by the DfE to the tune of about 80 million depending on which bits of the project include and don't. Over the next four years, we're going to be offering high quality CPD that's already happening. We've got hundreds of teachers engaging in that CPD and professional certification, which is all available at low cost or free depending on the teacher circumstances. This is I'm particularly excited about over the next four years, but in the next year in fact, the National Centre will be released a set of teaching materials to cover the whole of key stage 1-4, all aspects of computing that will be available for free to download to use, they're completely open and teachers can just take those and use those. Having seen some of the early units, I think I'm really excited about the, the sort of the level of thoughts and design that's gone into those units. They truly are world class teaching resources. I'll share some more information on where you can get hold of those later on. The area that I'm particularly interested in is guidance for teachers about how to effectively teach it and not just like based upon anecdotal evidence, but what does the research side about how we should be teaching computing. Through this programme there's also a series of communities of practice led by 40 school based hubs, tailored support for both GCSE and a level teachers. And finally, some that was announced a little bit earlier in the year is a really exciting project looking at interventions to encourage girls into computing. What are the challenges that face girls how do we raise the number of girls taking apart in computing, and there's a series of trials and experiments taking place to help see what are the most effective strategies. All of this work is being undertaken by a consortium of three large partners. So STEM learning who are based up in York have offices in London, have done lots of this training in the past the Raspberry Pi Foundation, which is the organisation that I work for, and the BCS, the British Computing Society on behalf of a group called computing at school, a grassroots movement. And this all this organisation is delivering this ambitious programme.
Something that occupies a lot of my time and all of the conversations I have where the team around me is what does effective computing pedagogy look like? Over the last few years as teachers have got upskilled in the areas of computing, a lot of the focus has been on content, subject knowledge, the skills that they need in order to have the skills that they're trying to teach the students and less time has been focused on actually how do we teach it, what's the best way of engaging our students? So the sort of the questions that I'm often sort of wrangling with are what are the favourite techniques and approaches? When should each approach be used? Some approaches are great in circumstances but not in others. What makes them effective? And what is our evidence base for that? I think it's fair to say in computing at the moment, like in a lot of other subjects, there's a mixture of evidence, some of its very academic and very based upon research, and some of it's much more empirical kind of, you know, based upon our experiences in the classroom. Finding that balance is is tricky, but we're really interested in what the evidence is for some of these different techniques.
Actually, it was a report a couple of years ago now that identified some issues in this area. Pedagogies of computing are much less well developed, but in other areas were relatively new discipline are and the technology we use for delivering the subject changes the core concepts, and ideas do not, but our pedagogy has not evolved yet. There's not a lot of effective sharing of pedagogical understanding. Both between members of the teaching profession, but also between teachers, researchers and teacher trainers. And that's something we're hoping to tackle over the next few years. And also, having spent a lot of time looking at all of the research. A lot of the existing research is quite fractured and fragmented, and is either based upon sort of higher education level, you know, sort of graduates and undergraduates, all those folks who studies that do focus on primary education are perhaps a little bit too sparse, very small scale. So it's very hard to get a sort of coherent picture of what the evidence is saying. So a lot more work needs to be done in building the evidence base, but also communicating it to teachers and embedding it in the classroom. What we've done as the National Centre is we've conducted an audit of the research that's out there and we've established our pedagogical principles are the things that underpin everything we do. And I'm not going to talk about all of these but I am going to pick out a few key words within there. So first of all, progress is something that's really important for us and our teachers to understand. We can't just teach kids these ideas of computing in any old order, we have to understand what are the dependencies within the content? How do we, what do we start with? Where do we end up? What's the progression look like? This conceptual understanding point is really important. And we have to be using the key, right? Correct key vocabulary and making sure students understand that I'm going to talk a little bit later about varying scaffolding. But we need to have a variety of approaches being used to engage our students.
This is one this is one of my bugbears, when I go to other shows, quite often when we talk about computing, we often focus on the technology. The tool, I asked some teachers recently what tools they use for teaching computing, meaning pedagogical approaches, and I got one note, and this the list of all these different sort of tools. I think maybe my question was wrong, but it's interesting how we gravitate towards the tools and the devices and the technology, rather than the approach and the concepts. I think people are talking To me is really important we meet need to make sure our students are able to go away and create and generate new ideas. Something that's becoming increasingly focused on is understanding the misconceptions that students grasp hold of foster, and can impact upon their future learning and how do we intervene and tackle those misconceptions early enough, and challenge them and make sure that students don't harbour those misconceptions about particular concepts.
I'm not gonna go into loads of detail on that but we've sort of turned that into, we've identified a series of different approaches and pedagogies that can be used within the classroom. We have a set over here, which are sort of general approaches for maybe we'll theoretical sort of areas of the subject. And these are over here for programming, which is kind of like a lab work, our practical side of computing. So there's a few there's lots in here, but I'm going to pick out a couple of we're going to talk in a moment about pair programming and peer instruction. Physical computing is something that I'm particularly passionate about the Raspberry Pi Foundation, getting students to have electronics and programme them. Doing things that are tangible and physical. Here is a model which stands for predict, run, investigate, modifying, make. And that's an approach which is proving not only popular, but also effective in getting students to spend time reading and tracing code, comprehending it before running it and that's, that's really great. We're going to talk a little bit later on about some of these other things but unplugged is a great sort of strategy for engaging students in conceptual understanding. We spend time away from the computer, we understand the concept without the need for a computer and then we take that conceptual understanding and we apply it within the realm of the computer. We separate the practical from the conceptual understanding, and we start with the concept and then we go and apply it. And then we're going to talk a bit more about guided exploration, exploratory learning and a few other things later on.
I'd like to start with one this is one of my favourite practices. It's really, really simple and it's it's been shown to work effectively in science and lots of other disciplines is called peer instruction now peer instruction is really simple at heart. But the idea is that we start with a carefully designed multiple choice question. Okay. Each multiple choice answer is designed to reveal a specific misconception. The idea is we might start with that and setas our students as a class as a whole. Here's your question, here are your four options, okay? All I need to do is have a think about it, don't talk to anybody else, just hold up one finger for a two for B, three, four, C and four for D. What I would do at this point is you've all kind of privately shared your answer with me, I would then get you should talk to the person next to you have a conversation with them come to a consensus and through that conversation, if one of you thinks A one of the things B, you're going to argue your case, so the peers are doing the instruction about whether this is right, because no this is right, because and then you might go to a group of four and then gradually you'll get to a class consensus and over over that sort of short question. You're sort of I totally like identifying the correct answer but also exploring the different misconceptions that you have and there's a whole one of the the gender study things that I talked about. There's a whole experiment being done intervention around peer instruction.
Another really favourite one of mine, this is one that is so easy to bring into the classroom paired programming. Paired programming is really, really simple. We take two students, we and how we assign those pairs, there's lots of debate about what's effective and what's not. One of them becomes the driver, one of them becomes the navigator. This person drives the computer, they operate the keyboard, the mouse, they write the code, they're doing the programming, the navigator focuses on the task, they focus on making sure that there's no errors in the code, they talk together, and they regularly swap roles. And what's going on here is we are reducing the cognitive load on those two learners by sharing their working memory. We've got an a short summary on this coming out later today. But I'm getting my time signal. So I'm going to move on a little bit. This is so simple to use, and very, very effective. I've used this with my co club, it makes a huge difference, and the kids love it. What's really important with all this space is to talk about this continuum of approaches, there are loads and loads of different approaches. The danger for us as practitioners of any of any subject is that we get into a comfort zone where we stick with one particular approach and too often within computing, we see down this and people saying, here's the code, what the code to see what it does, great, you've done it, this sort of copy code mentality, and sometimes that's really, really useful. But if that's all we're doing with our students, we're not developing a deeper understanding. We want to spend time progressing through these different sort of levels of scaffolding, maybe occasionally going as far as tinkering or the the research term is brick alarge, which basically means given the tools and let them go, okay, no guidance. Just just there's a stuff go and it's been shown that can be effective, but there's not a lot of evidence to say that it is more effective in At any other strategy, my press preferred sort of position on this line is somewhere just here a little bit of guidance but and you know enough free rein to play.
Now, I'm gonna really quick, I'm gonna rattle through this. So one of the things that we've done to try and make sure this is embedded in everything we do, we're writing these schemes of work we're plugging this gap between what the national curriculum says, and schemes of work which exists out there in the world. We've taken that we've turned that into a whole series of schemes of work. All of these have all of these pedagogical approaches embedded within them. They are part and parcel of this, things like this. This is something we're particularly proud. This is our progression graph. For every unit out there, we've identified the concepts and the skills and the dependencies and the flow that you might take through that unit. So that's one place in which you'll see this pedagogy being applied. The second place we get a plug for online courses, is our online courses. Some of them you can very clearly see about pedagogy and focus squarely on using pedagogy effective pedagogy in the classroom, others, you might not see this one here, how to lead classroom discussions, maybe not something we were thinking about when teaching computing. But a really important part of it if we're going to be tackling things like the impact of technology, great pedagogy embedded in woven through all of those core all of those courses. And I'm going to talk about my three things that I work on. So if you signed up to the National Centre, you should be receiving a sort of half termly publication with research bites, which talks about pedagogy and practice it has suggested reading in there, and that comes out every half term. Next, it will be 3rd of December, you need to be signed up to the National Centre for Computing Education. To receive that or I regularly tweet about where you can find them online outside of that subscription. That's research bytes. There's a third one of these coming out today. But these are our short summaries of pedagogy. Our first one was all around cognitive load theory and its relevance to computing. Our second one was on worked examples in computing and the one that's coming out later today is all about paired programming and how we apply that in the classroom and what the benefits are and they're going to be coming out once a month over the next few months, really kind of drilling into what a piece of effective pedagogy looks like, and where you can find out more.
Teach Computing Podcast, we started this in September, so far we're doing it monthly. I think we've sort of gathered enough content, we might start to do it more frequently. Our first episode focused on why teach computing what is the importance of computing in today's education system and then Episode Two, we actually spent a lot of time thinking about what actually is this thing that we call computing? And how might our view of the subject influence how we present it to our students, and what choices they make as they go through their school career. So you can find that at www.blog.teachcomputing.org/tag/podcast/, how to get involved. If you go to www.teachcomputing.org you can receive all the updates, resources and links to CPD, you can download our computing resources. These are all being finished by July 2020. But a good proportion are there and available right now, for you to go and access and download. You can subscribe to research bytes, you can find the latest issue there and find out more information about how to subscribe there. You can read and share our quick reads. If you're a teacher, go away and read it. If you're a head of department, share it with your colleagues if you're a school leader, put it out there amongst your staff to have a look at that. Those quick reads they're really short summaries of research. Somebody said, well, not that quick because the two sides of a for quite dense, it's like yeah, but it's quicker than reading six research papers. So maybe quicker read is a better name but there we go and subscribe to our podcasts. Have a listen, I know all of these outputs. We are super interested in your feedback and your thoughts. We exist to help computing teachers deliver the best computing education, a world class computing education, and really lead the world in this sort of revolution that's happening. So that's everything that I wants to say. Thank you very much for listening.
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