Primary Computing: We need Architects and Bricklayers

“Writing code is like bricklaying.  Designing Algorithms is Architecture.  We need a nation able to appreciate and think like Architects, not just bricklayers.”  (Manley 2013)

In the picture above there’s one model here that is a house and does the job, built by someone who understand the function of bricks.  There is another where the colour identity and meaning of each brick has been considered, placed in its most eloquent position and reviewed for its impact upon the whole concept.  If we head for code without appreciating good architecture, we will equip a generation of spaghetti code writers, who do not write scalable, efficient processes and software.

Perhaps we are getting the message all a bit “andre preview”

In other words, we are singing “all the right notes – just not necessarily in the right order”.   The current score for the Computing curriculum is compelling for the cognoscenti, those who have spotted the opportunity, both personally and ideologically,  to create something pretty remarkable.  The problem is that for a large number of the rest of the teaching population looking on with bemusement, this the curriculum equivalent of persuading your grandparents that Nirvana produced some of the best music in the history of Mankind.

The Geeks shall inherit the earth.

It is culturally irrelevant.  They have no contextual hooks anywhere to hang the need for this subject to be taught.

We need a front door.  A welcoming portal into the Computing Curriculm

What is the most palatable front door to the 80% of teachers who are culturally unaware of computer science?

Is it Code?

or is it thinking skills & story?

The 2014 cohort of trainees are the first group who signed up knowing this was coming.  To everyone else this is potentially a horrifying imposition, forcing them to embrace a culture about as attractive as my Auntie Maud.

Why is computing relevant to our culture?

Being a games designer is of little or no value to a large percentage of our colleagues – “games are tools for procrastination and learning how to kill without soiling the carpets”

No! the Computer Science part within the Computing curriculum is part of the fabric of our lives.  It has been since the industrial revolution.  We just need to convince our peers of that.  The other bits of the Computing Curriculum, digital communication and esafety, are also part of life, just a bit more obvious to most.

A note of caution:

We are educating children for jobs which don’t yet exist.

This is always been true. Telephone engineers did not exist in 1800.  Computer Scientists did not exist in 1900 (ish).

A touch of Shed:

Kevin Mcloud produced two series about a man an his shed recently.  This epitomises one of the missing links in the Computing Curriculum:  Design and purpose.  Then find a “man” who can. Kevin couldn’t build a thermic lance, but he knew someone who could build what he had read about.  This is how the average teacher should be considering the Computing Curriculum:  A series of purposeful “making” projects.  DT meets Computing.  Discuss mad cap prototypes with children and then see what comes out of them.

Opportunities in the new C0mputing Curriculum:

1) Computing is about making computers do things, rather than using something already created on a computer.  This is a return to the shed.  To the Heath Robinson shed workshops of engineers and mechanics up and down the country.  It should allow children to engage with the spirit of invention and innovation, to be given permission to think about what’s possible.

2) Computing is about creating a spirit of algorithmic thinking, an appreciation and understanding of the importance of documentation of processes and the expectation that those processes will be efficient and scalable.

3) Its also about managing and appreciating the way data is processed in a world where big data is the new gold to be mined for value.  Therefore, it should also be teaching children about the ethical development of products and ideas to make a positive impact upon society,  not just make money.

Threats to the New Computing Curriculum

1) The barrier to entry for many colleagues is too high.  Using ICT in the classroom, despite huge government investment remains variable and is too often negligible.  We need a route to enable these people to see the beauty and power of algorithmic thinking, the way that those people already think in algorithms.

2) We need to plan manage phobic reactions.  How are we normalising the Computing Curriculum? How is algorithmic thinking shown in early years?

Think about the wet play algorithm, or the “are we nearly there yet algorithm” (I think “The Boy” could fry an i5 processor with his incessant question on nearly every journey.

3) We agree that its not just about code, who is developing the cultural normalisation in this?  We need a story helping teachers to empathise with the nature and value  of being a Computer Scientist.

4) We are in danger of advocating for the teaching spaghetti code as the goal or teaching children that there is the right answer to a coding problem, unless we raise the profile and importance of the algorithmic beauty.

5) We need to encouraging algorithmic thinking as a way of being and a disposition to the world, not just from the children, but the teachers too.  This needs a narrative.

6) Can the profession deliver it without a “phonics check sized stick” to encourage them?  What we assess will dictate what children learn.  Does the “assessment have to be of children?  How else can we assess the efficacy of the computing culture in a school?

Phased approach?

There are two jobs here, – the theoretical and pedagogically correctroute for 5 year olds, but do not forget the bootstrapped approach for a 9+ year old. Their learning curve is significantly more steep.

What’s the point of computing?

Links to resources for Initial Teacher Education – the puprose of primary computing,

Many and varied resources, but nothing really explaining the way computing is part of the fabric and nature of the 21st century lives we lead.

The Raspberry Pi will save us!

Any Raspberry Pi used as a computer to write code is irrelevant.  The Raspberry Pi is a portable, disposable device that should be being deployed in the field.  They should be lost, water logged or broken in 3 years.

The Algorithmic School:

  • Processes matter  – ” How many organisations are there in the UK where the systems and processes exists in one person’s head? What value is there in an algorithmic school?”   Identifying where in any process decisions are binary or involve professional judgement.

Teacher CPD – lowering the barrier to entry to the subject through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.   Translation – normalise it and desensitise it.  Build cultural relevance.

  • Jigsaws – Guess Who – Battleships – Start the day algorithm – “Are we nearly there yet algorithm.”

Then get to grips with the syntax of it all and fiddle – learn in a way where getting it wrong is getting the right answer.  Recognise that iteration doesn’t always lead to the best solution. It sometimes leads to the bin. Translate geek into more accessible terms.

  • Coding by re-purposing (hacking / circuit bending)
  • I can understand more French than I can speak.
  • The Boy can create the most incredible lego models by “pimping” the expensive boxed model.  I used to see this as breaking it, now I see the inspired way he creates his own ideas building upon someone’s ideas, not from an empty table and pile of bricks.

Go all “Heath Robinson”,  Computing is in essence about making.  Children must engage with products with a purpose, requiring code, working alongside experts to build magnificent contraptions.

    • We need to give permission to invent.
    • Recognise invention is ugly – proof of concepts are cranky and beautiful.

Success in geek terms is learning to accept “good enough”

This is brilliant fun – but you need to know  a “person of indeterminate gender who can” – Apply Kevin Mcloud & his SHED principles.   Recycling and repurposing is at the heart of SHED.

” I want to make a bird box and stream video from it”

“I want to make a camera take photos of everyone coming into my room at night so that I can discover who the tooth fairy is”

“how do I count all the people in the playground”

  • Remember people learn when they are hungry.

The result – everyone in the school seeing computing as a thing of beauty and value, winning hearts and minds.  The children will then have a purposeful approach and need to learn code and motivation to overcome difficulties.

  • We need to decode computing in order to teach it.

This thinking is developed by: @oliverquinlan and @lordmanley with bits of @markdorling and @drtomcrick too.

2 thoughts on “Primary Computing: We need Architects and Bricklayers

  1. Pingback: The Westminster Education Forum’s big message: computing is not just coding

  2. Pingback: Naace14 – The algorithmic school and bringing Computing to the “phobes” | The Grinch Manifesto

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