Introducing teachers to computational thinking

The new computing curriculum came into effect in September 2014. ICT, as it was formally known, was replaced by a new ‘computing’ curriculum including coding lessons for children as young as five.
The new curriculum aims to ensure that all pupils can understand and apply the fundamental principles and concepts of computer science, including abstraction, logic, algorithms and data representation. It will enable them to analyse problems in computational terms, and give them practical experience of writing computer programs in order to solve such problems. The new curriculum also aims to enable pupils to evaluate and apply information technology analytically to solve problems.
The education secretary at the time, Michael Gove, outlined the rationale for the changes in a speech last January: “ICT used to focus purely on computer literacy – teaching pupils, over and over again, how to word-process, how to work a spreadsheet, how to use programs already creaking into obsolescence; about as much use as teaching children to send a telex or travel in a zeppelin.
“Our new curriculum teaches children computer science, information technology and digital literacy: teaching them how to code, and how to create their own programs; not just how to work a computer, but how a computer works and how to make it work for you.”

Barefoot Computing
The Barefoot Computing Project began in April 2014 and offers free workshops and downloadable teaching resources to help primary school teachers in England deliver the computer science elements of the new computing curriculum. The project has been incredibly well received and by the end of January already 343 free workshops had been delivered to 5,300 primary school teachers, representing 1,320 schools across England.

Originally funded by the Department for Education until March 2015, the project is being run by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, and supported by Computing at Schools (CAS) and BT. The success of the project has led to BT extending funding until July 2015 to allow more teachers to benefit from the free workshops and resources.
Commenting on the BT funding, Clive Selley, CEO of BT Technology, Services and Operations said: “Computing is a very important skill for BT and through our engagement with schools we’ve seen that children really enjoy it and that it can have a profound impact on other STEM subjects. We’re proud to be partnering with Barefoot Computing and that the workshops BT and other volunteers across England have been involved have been such a success; it’s great to hear from teachers that the programme has boosted their confidence. The programme is due to end in March, but given its popularity to date, BT is pleased to announce it will be working with BCS and Computing At School (CAS) to ensure that it continues to run through the summer term.”

Free workshops for primary teachers
The workshops are coordinated by our 15 regional partners operating throughout England who have been specially trained volunteers to deliver Barefoot workshops to primary school teachers. Volunteers come from varied professional IT backgrounds and give their time to the project for a number of different reasons. Alex Ore, a volunteer from Broadcom Corporation explained his reasons for volunteering: “The Barefoot Computing Project allows me to share my experience and passion with those who can pass it onto children for me.”  
Once trained, the regional partners match volunteers to schools who have expressed an interest in the project and the volunteers deliver the workshop usually in an after-school staff meeting. The practical, hands-on workshops are designed to help teachers understand the changes to the primary computing curriculum, introducing them to computational thinking and getting them started with cross-curricular ideas for teaching computer science.
Computational thinking is a new idea for most teachers and is given great prominence in the new national curriculum which states: “A high-quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world.” The resources teachers receive as part of their workshop help them to understand the concepts and approaches behind computational thinking and what they mean in practice.

Free resources for primary teachers
Computational thinking also lies at the centre of all the free Barefoot resources. The resources have been developed by a team of experienced primary computing specialists and are designed to help teachers develop their subject knowledge and give them practical activities to try with their pupils. The resources are all mapped to the computer science elements of the computing programme of study in order to help teachers to plan their curriculum effectively.
The project provides two main types of resources for teachers. Self-teach concepts explain core computational thinking and computer science topics, including logical reasoning, abstraction and programming concepts such as selection. These materials help teachers to enhance their subject knowledge and are written in an easy to understand format, giving relevant, primary focused examples.

Practical lesson resources
The project also provides fully resourced, practical lesson activities to help teachers start to teach their pupils computer science in cross-curricular ways. These include short, ‘unplugged’ activities that don’t require a computer and introduce pupils to key concepts such as algorithms, decomposition and variables in fun, engaging ways.  
Other, longer activities are fully resourced lesson plans. These activities are focused keenly on helping teachers to meet the requirements of each of the computer science statements of the programme of study. For example, the ‘Modelling the Internet’ activity is a great way to get pupils understanding computer networks, including the internet, which is a requirement of the new curriculum.
There are also a number of programming activities to help teachers start teaching their pupils how to code. Many of these use free software such as the graphical programming language, Scratch, developed by MIT.
So far, over 8,000 people have registered to access the materials on the Barefoot website and the resources are proving very popular with teachers. In a recent survey of teachers registered on the Barefoot website over 93 per cent said they were likely to recommend the resources to a colleague.
Jenna Bates, a lead computing teacher in Islington, London, recently said: “Barefoot is perfect for those who are completely new to computer science. I have been using the resources with key stage 1 and 2 classes in a number of schools that I work with and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Supporting organisations
Computing At School (CAS) is the Subject Association for Computing Teachers, a free membership organisation for those interested in promoting computing in a school environment. CAS offers support, training and resources to help deliver the new curriculum through its nationwide network of teachers and professionals committed to supporting computing and especially computer science in the classroom.  
The Network of Teaching Excellence in Computer Science provides training opportunities for both existing teachers and those training for the profession. The network includes primary and secondary specialist master teachers, who deliver CPD to teachers and schools in their local area, lead schools, which take a lead for computing and computer science education within a local area, and university partners, who support the training of master eachers.
There are currently over 327 CAS master teachers, who, to date have supported more than 14,000 teachers, 400 lead schools and 70+ CAS university partners.
QuickStart Computing has recently been developed as a CPD toolkit to help deliver inspiring computing lessons in primary and secondary schools. The resources can be downloaded from the website and printed packs can be picked up from a number of schools throughout England.

Further information