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Composing or Coding … same and different? October 22, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Musings.
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I suspect like many schools across the country, we’ve been discussing how best to address and accommodate the changes in ICT in the National Curriculum. More specifically, given the shift of emphasis to Computing, how we might implement the computer science aspects of computation, programming and coding. In many schools this may prove a real challenge, not least for the teachers charged with that implementation. It was clear from the outset that there is

a critical shortage of teachers with the right subject matter expertise.1

ICT teachers often came into the subject from a variety of other disciplines to fill a need in their school and because of the skills, knowledge and expertise they had personally developed. It is less common I suspect, to find ICT teachers like this one who come with a computing background.

So either we wait until there are enough people coming out of university with the skills needed to deliver the new aspects of the curriculum, or we expect a good proportion of our workforce to retrain. But is that fair I wonder? How easy will it be for someone with facility in the use of ICT to reskill and become adept with computer science and programming? I’m not at all sure; how would I cope for example. Bear with me a while so I can prepare the ground …

music score

cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo by Enrico Donelli: http://flickr.com/photos/enricod/7328986486/

Running through my mind recently has been the notion that music and computer code have quite a lot in common. They both have specific characters and notation which, to the untutored eye, have little meaning. Stringing them together creates a music score on the one hand and a computer program on the other. Yet you can’t just throw one character after the other in a haphazard fashion and expect to generate anything meaningful. No, it takes a skilled, experienced, talented individual to bring forth order, structure and beauty from those basic building blocks; a composer for one and coder for the other. Code snippets are combined and arranged in sequences and inter-connected with loops; notes are arranged on a stave, grouped in bars, guided by time signatures and also have repeat instructions. The different programming languages have different underlying principles, as do different musical genres. Musical instruments for which music is composed are like the different platforms for which programs are written. A computer user running an application resembles someone listening to a piece of music.

I’m sure there are further and better comparisons, but to return from our metaphorical sojourn then, it’s hardly surprising that

“A large number of ICT teachers feel exceptionally vulnerable after the rapid speed of change that has affected their subject…2

So before we ask a ‘vulnerable’ ICT teacher to consider teaching programming, perhaps we ought to ask whether we would expect the same person to learn to teach musical composition … on little more than a scant few twilight professional development sessions? Is that feasible … or fair?



Computing in School. Is the time nigh? October 20, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Musings, Twitter.
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The other night I attended a local CAS Hub Meeting  at Sheffield Hallam University; the first I’ve been to. Attended by an eclectic mix drawn in the main from ICT teachers and leaders from local schools, but also including colleagues from HE, PGCE students and representatives of companies in the digital sector.

After an introduction from Phil Spencer, Simon Humphreys whisked us through an introduction to the Network of Computer Science Teaching Excellence:

… a closely knit national federation of university-led local school networks … A central goal of the local networks is to build a sufficient capacity of expert schoolteachers with the competencies and capabilities necessary to support the development of other computer science teachers.

Phil then took us through some of the robotics projects the recently established South Yorkshire CAS Hub had undertaken in conjunction with local schools. The evening hospitably drew to a close with a few nibbles and the opportunity to network with other attendees.

What was serendipitous though was when I got home and checked in on Twitter to find an ongoing discussion along the same lines as that which I’d been listening to barely an hour earlier. I think I’m right in saying it started with this from Neil Winton:

and blossomed to include John Johnston, Charlie Love, Rob Hill and Richard Anderson who touched on the value of coding in the curriculum, the skills associated with coding and computing and the dearth of computer scientists in the UK employment market. Although I chipped in briefly, I don’t have an agenda here. As ICT Development Manager in school, my responsibility is to ICT across all subjects (and beyond!) and my disposition towards it stems from the potential it offers to encourage, enhance and extend, promote and enable learning. That said, I’m only too well aware of and sympathetic towards some of the serious issues surrounding Computer Science, like the marked decline in numbers of students studying Computing in school and subsequently in higher education and the shortfall in the numbers of CS graduates available to fill jobs in the IT labour market.

There is a push then from organisations like CAS, the BCS, NAACE, from Government and from teachers in field to address the problem. That’s good. I support that and will lend my shoulder where I can. There’s a recognition that the shift of emphasis towards ICT during the past decade has left the teaching workforce denuded in people with expertise and capability to deliver Computer Science. That too is being addressed with Government incentives and through the efforts of CAS.

In support of the case, it’s often rightly argued that studying computing or coding is of value in itself, providing an ideal opportunity through which to develop logical thinking, critical reasoning, problem solving and being creative. These skills can be introduced as early as Key Stage 1 using devices like Bee-Bots and continued through school using applications and initiatives like Scratch, Kodu, Small Basic, Code Academy and more. I wholeheartedly agree with these propositions … yet have a nagging worry at the back of my mind – one of equity. It’s the same one I have when we put on open evenings where departments/faculties showcase their subject in order to help(!) students choose which subjects to study. If you’re a good enough teacher, then you ought to be able to ‘sell’ your subject, highlighting the unique aspects which help it stand out from the crowd and make it worthy of inclusion in a curriculum (whether the narrow one chosen by older students or the broad one imposed(?!) on younger students). I’m certain an equally compelling case could be made whether it’s Psychology, Latin, Economics, Media Studies, Politics, Anthropology or Sociology.

So I guess my point is, are all subjects created equal? Or should some subjects, like Computer Science, be more equal than others?


Levelling up? …. perhaps not. March 12, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in research, TELIC.
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I’m at the point in the research for my dissertation where I’m starting to raise some of the initial codes from pupil feedback to conceptual codes. These initial codes are ‘in vivo’ codes i.e. they are not my interepetations of situations or comments that participants made, they arose from the comments themselves.  My next task is to try to ascribe meaning to what these codes are telling me.  One way to do that is to create lots of sticky notes, pop them on a wall and begin to juggle them around into different configurations until conceptual categories begin to emerge.  Actually since this is a study following a social constructivist grounded theory approach, it might be more appropriate to say that I’m working with those codes to help them tell their story and that of those who produced them.

click on the image to visit the full version

I thought using LinoIt might provide a more efficient way of storing my changing thoughts, adding to them and allow categorising in different ways. (They also might be less likely to get blown off the wall when I open a window!)  Not surprisingly, there’s also a LinoIt app which allows me to download my walls onto my iPod Touch and view and think about them whilst I’m out and about.

Well what have I come up with so far?  My first impressions are that pupils don’t seem to think about learning consciously; there’s little evidence of metacognition. When charged to do so through these interviews, using photographs as stimulus material, they tend to associate learning with other activities i.e. it happens as a result of doing something else … reading, making notes, listening, discussing etc. They also feel they are engaged in those processes whilst involved in a range of tasks which can be practical, physical, interactive etc.  There’s also some recognition of activities which support the learning process and somehow supplement the primary activity.

I wonder to what extent this is indicative of the way we do things in school. We may say we’re going to learn about the different styles of WWI poets for example and then go on to undertake a sequence of activities which will allow our students to do just that.  But maybe we then get so involved in comparing and contrasting, and all the other elements of language and literature, that the act of learning is forgotten; consigned to the ‘Learning to learn’ lessons they had two years ago in Y7.  So when the students are asked to describe the learning they see going on in photographs, they simply see the activities they associate with learning.  There’s no idea what was going on whilst they were ‘discussing’ that resulted in some change or other … or perhaps I simply haven’t dug that deep in the interviews as yet?

The next step for me is to produce a similar pinboard with the codes *I* produced from the interviews, rather than the in vivo codes of the participants. Will I see similar patterns? Am I seeing these things because of my preconceptions?  My grounded theory approach will require me to take these initial concepts back to the data and explore the degree of fit, bearing in mind those concerns. I’ll also be comparing the two sets of codes and whether the conceptual codes apply equally across them all – these are elements of the constant comparative process.  My next interviews will be focused on testing these emergent ideas, exploring their boundaries and seeing whether what hasn’t been said is simply because I haven’t asked the right questions, we don’t have the images to hang explanations on or that my notions of what is missing simply shouldn’t be there anyway.