Four weeks and four events later and the first strand of the PLAN C (Professional Learning And Networking for Computing) programme has officially begun. After two events in the University of Glasgow, one in Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and two afternoons at Craigmount High School in Edinburgh teachers from across Scotland have had a chance to experience professional learning specifically designed for Computing Science.
The PLAN C team opened with an exploration of our current methods of teaching programming and then an overview of research that helps us to understand why certain aspects of Computing can be difficult for some of our pupils to understand. At its heart, we’d like to develop pupils understanding of the hidden machine so that they become more confident forming and testing predictions about the behaviour of digital devices rather than just becoming programmers and Computer Scientists.
Encouraging discussion about what we think is happening and, most importantly, why came to the fore when Peer Instruction was introduced next. This technique has successfully been used in Physics and Computer Science to strengthen students’ conceptual understanding with it proving to be twice as effective as a more lecture based format. In Peer Instruction, pupils are asked a series of challenging multiple choice questions based around common misconceptions and through a process of discussion explore their reasoning.
Slowing things down and exploring useful information processes and structures away from the computer formed the basis of the session on Kinaesthetic Learning Activities. Many teachers in their careers have tried to illustrate some Computing ideas in one form or another but in this session they had a chance to examine how effective this approach is compared to the alternatives; KLA’s develop the same level of factual knowledge but are better at developing deeper levels of understanding and, in general, are more motivating so they’re worth the extra time and effort they sometimes need. The session also looked at particular activities from CS Unplugged, CS4Fn and CSInside that could be adapted for National 5 Computing Science and some design tips for teachers looking to create their own.
The last session looked at how we could use lots of small worked examples to help pupils develop their ability to trace and explain code, a critical skill if you want pupils to be able to write their own code later. Teachers were transported back to experience this from a pupils eye view through the use of an unfamiliar language, Python. Key to this exercise is encouraging pupils to take a more exploratory approach to understanding code by trying out particular functions in the example to see what they do. After a group of programming concepts and ideas have been taught, exploring worked examples in this way really encourages students to verbalise their understanding, or lack of it!
At its heart, this strand of the PLAN C programme is about teachers having time to come together and explore new ways of thinking about and teaching Computing. From the majority of the feedback we received, attendees really appreciated the sense of community and common purpose at the launch events and we’re hoping to continue that trend when we develop the broader programme for local hubs around the country.
Quintin, Peter and Kate
National Project Officers PLAN C