The ICT curriculum has been a site of considerable interest and change, in recent years, since Eric Schmidt’s (Google’s CEO, click here) high-profile criticism of the previous approach of formulaic and uninteresting training in common software packages in schools. In 2012, The Department for Education (DfE) responded by ‘disapplying’ the national curriculum for ICT until 2014, when a more rigorous programme of study would be put in place. Then, last week, the DfE announced that computer science will be included in the EBacc (click here).
Schools now face an imperative to deliver computer science classes that get the ‘scores on the doors’ yet there are well-reported barriers stopping many schools from doing so. For example, a Royal Society (2012) report ‘Shutdown or Restart’ includes the sobering statistic that only 35% of ICT teachers have what the DfE regards as an appropriate qualification to teach the subject. Furthermore, although as in biology, physics and chemistry the fundamentals of computer science remain the same the languages and applications of computing technology change at a dizzying speed. The challenges for teachers in keeping up-to-date with changes in computing languages etc are therefore considerable over a career.
Helen Manchester and I have been exploring these issues in an unfunded development and research project with Oasis MediaCity Academy in Manchester (click here for an earlier post). We are interested in exploring the opportunities between the maker culture (click here) and schools. The idea is to bring individuals and organisations from the maker movement into schools to share their knowledge, skills and enthusiasm for DIY technology, physical computing, coding, robotics and 3-printing. The maker movement has been described as the next industrial revolution (Anderson, 2012) and there’s a persuasive argument for enabling young people to roll their sleeves up and get involved now.
Last week we observed a pilot project at the school, we helped to broker. Funded by Sony and in partnership with Forum for the Future, representatives from Technology Will Save Us delivered a lesson to 15 pupils on using Arduinos and the Internet of Things. The session was not without one or two bumps around bringing technology into schools but it demonstrated the benefits of such an approach and helped us reflect on our assumptions about what was required.
One finding was that as adults we were so intent on enthusing the pupils about technology that we perhaps forgot that young people are used to using and playing around with technology, and that they just wanted to get their hands on the kit.
An example of this playful approach was when the pupils changed the message to be shown when the code was compiled from ‘START’ to, in one instance, “i DON’T WANT HORSEBURGERS.” Of more interest was one girl’s suggestions that they fit sensors to text all the pupils when the school bus is approaching the stop.
The challenge now is how to go from corporate sponsored one-off workshops to scale-up access to the maker movement in all schools? And, how to reconfigure teaching and learning where teachers facilitate learning and encourage problem-solving rather than knowing the answers themselves.