Local Hubs – aims and benefits

Aims of the Local Hubs

The emphasis of PLAN C is on computing teachers working together with lead teachers in their local area to help develop long lasting Computational Thinking skills in their pupils using more effective and engaging pedagogies rather than solely focusing on particular technologies that soon change and fall out of favour.

 Lead Teachers were trained by the project officers in Lead Teacher Hubs and then set up Local Hubs with computing teachers in their own areas. The Lead Teachers would then deliver the material in Local Hub sessions spread over the academic year giving the teachers the opportunity to implement the strategies and pedagogies with their own students between meetings.  

Teachers were encouraged to share teaching materials and experiences and the hub meetings were supported online with materials, forums and sharing opportunities.




Benefits of Taking Part

  • Certification by the BCS Academy of Computing for attending over 75% of the local hub sessions. This can also be used as evidence to meet GTCS professional update requirements that came into force in August 2014.
  • Development of a much deeper understanding of what makes some Computing concepts difficult for novices to understand based on the most up to date research in this area and crucially what we can do to improve the situation.
  • Being part of a tightly knit community that is able to discuss and continue to develop effective pedagogy for teaching Computing concepts with access to a rich set of links in HE, FE and industry.
  • Access to a range of example N4, 5 and Higher Computing Science activities that you can immediately use or adapt for your own classroom.


Local Hub Experience

Participating in a PLAN C local hub involves a mixture of

  •       Reflecting on our existing experience of pupil difficulties and misconceptions.
  •       Exploring new types of activities and techniques that can make a significant difference to a pupil’s level of understanding in CS.
  •       Applying the techniques in the classroom using some of the N4, 5 and Higher specific activities with pupils.
  •       Discussing and building on the experience and how pupils have responded.
  •       Supporting each other by sharing pedagogy, wisdom and materials.

Main Themes 

  •         Why do novices struggle? Fundamental threshold concepts for CS success.
  •         Developing understanding of computational constructs with the TRACS tracing method.
  •         More effective worked examples with sub-goal labelling.
  •         Fixing faulty understanding with peer instruction.
  •         Developmental stages and necessary foundational skills for Computing novices.
  •         Using pupil mistakes and misconceptions to create more powerful questions.
  •         Pooling the wisdom of teaching CS concepts to foster effective teaching.
  •         Improving code comprehension with cooperative code review.
  •         Supporting code writing with patterns and variable roles.

Example First Session 

Local hub sessions usually last 2 hours and 30 minutes and consist of two main activities and related ideas, with a refreshment break in the middle.

Before the session

There is a preparation task to do before each session, for example reading an article, bringing along examples of work or writing a multiple choice question.  For the first session, participants was sent a discussion paper on “Why is it hard to teach programming and CS to everyone?” to read and then reflect on what they currently did to help novices learn and understand these threshold concepts.

During the session

In the first session, we explored how computing is based on largely hidden mechanisms.  For example, a for loop has a counter and hidden update instructions. We forget this, as teachers, from time to time, because it is quite automatic to us.  For learners, though, it is not.  We must expose these hidden mechanisms and find ways to help the learners memorise them – otherwise they can make little real progress towards understanding programs, a key outcome of the new qualifications.

Activity 1- Identifying mechanisms explicitly

Small Group Exercise

Discuss and identify as many mechanisms in a “simple” piece of code as you can

Reflection and Discussion

What implications does this have for your own teaching? Why might some of your pupils just not get it? What could be done differently?

Activity 2- Helping the learner to understand and remember the mechanisms

Paired Exercise

Use the TRACS exercise to make the data and control flow of a piece of code visible.  This is like the working in long multiplication for tracing through some code!

Reflection and Discussion

How complicated does the hidden machine have to be? What are the benefits for pupils of doing this exercise? What are the benefits for teachers?

After the session

Choose a simple TRACS exercise or code comprehension exercise for pupils and try it out with one or more of the classes you teach. Be prepared to bring samples of what the pupils did to allow you to talk about your experience at the next session.