Computing is the outsider, the elephant in the room

As I talk to more and more teachers, it is clear that foundation subjects (everything other than English, Maths and Science) are becoming ever more marginalised.  They are squeezed from the curriculum, because of the emphasis being placed (quite rightly) on Reading, Writing and Maths.  It is important that our pupils have these core skills, but are we teaching them to develop them as a person or is it more to meet the standards needed for the SATs tests?

Realistically, as a teacher I know that the other subjects can and often have to take a back seat.  My worry as a computing coordinator is that my subject will become ever more side-lined.

Coding is just not that cool. Traditionally described as the preserve of geeks and hackers, it is something that most staff have a limited interest in teaching.

Match this with the incredibly steep learning curve faced by staff in learning the new subject knowledge, and we could be facing the perfect storm.  If we do no address this, we could make the teaching of coding limited and boring, which historically led to it being removedfrom the curriculum in favour of the more accessible ICT.

How then do we avoid this apathy being transferred to the children?

The American Psychologist Martin Seligman talks about a state of “learned helplessness” in humans, where they decide they cannot complete a task without external intervention.  This has always been present in schools when it comes to ICT.  A couple of tech friendly staff tend to become inundated with requests to ‘get it working’.

Children often display the same sorts of behaviours. Rather than having a go at working it out for themselves, they prefer to ask for help straight away.  This is a self-fulfilling prophecy where children begin to doubt their own ability and become over reliant on support from adults.

The solution?  We need to build a culture of resilience among staff and pupils. Carol Dweck wrote about fixed and growth mind-sets.  You can read more about it here.  We need to encourage pupils to adopt the growth mind-set.  In other words…We may not understand, but will have a go at it anyway.   Schools are striving to build resilience in their pupils across all subjects.

Secondly, the profile of computing needs to be addressed within school settings.  We need more specialist teachers, who can evangelise about the subject.  They can also demystify and show the subject need not be overly complicated.

There are some excellent resources available out there, from the Barefoot computing resources looking at the computational thinking behind coding to the fun hour of code site.   Groups such as CAS offer FREE courses that cover all aspects of Computing.  Top that of with numerous ‘experts’ on Twitter and you have an excellent support network on offer.

Thirdly, industry needs to play a role in promoting and supporting coding.  The Code Club model matches up industry experts and children’s code clubs where they can share their expertise with the next generation.  This is an excellent opportunity for schools and community groups where subject knowledge is limited.

The Hour of Code has also been good at using high profile individuals like Malala Yousafzai, Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg to talk up the benefits of coding.  The more that we can bust the Hollywood myth of the geeky coder sat alone in a dark room the better.

Finally, we need to engage with parents to show them that coding is important.  Many of the pupil’s parents will never have experienced this type of computing during their own school careers.  Our current parents and grandparents form generation IT/ICT.  They may not have the skills to engage with their children at home in coding.

Initiatives such as the BBC ‘make it digital’ festivals are beginning to help this but we have much more work to do.

I make no secret of the fact I love all things computing and tech.  I want all pupils to share my love of the subject.  If all else fails I need to go and buy a bigger drum and keep banging it until everyone joins the parade or surrenders.  Computer Science, E-Safety and Digital literacy are all key life skills.  In an ever more computer driven world, our children need to embrace it.  We as adults need to embrace it and not fear change.

It is time to welcome the outsider in.

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