My teaching journey

Dan Cumberland explains how he moved from BASIC to become a reluctant ICT coordinator. There he discovered a passion for teaching computing which saw him become a CAS master teacher.

I’m often asked about my computing credentials and how I came into the world of computing.

The truth is, I was rather unceremoniously handed the position back in the summer of 2013. The then-departing ICT coordinator, packing up his bags on the last day of the academic year, passed me the subject leader folder, some paperwork mooting the government’s plans for changes to the curriculum and the words, ‘good luck.’

Technology has always been something I’ve been interested in. Back in my childhood days, I loved to dismantle old VCRs, Walkmans and, on the rare occasion, computers just to see to see the innards. I enjoyed partaking in a simple bit of BASIC programming on my Amstrad CPC, copying bits of simple code and changing the odd figure here and there.

However, come KS3, my passion for coding never really took off and my journey with ICT came to an end with a commendable but unremarkable B at the end of my GCSEs.

Moving into teacher training, I pursued a qualification in Primary Education with an add on English specialism as a bonus. As I entered my beginning years as a teacher, I could comfortably teach an ICT lesson. I could teach children how to log on and off (always a major bugbear for the technophobe), was pretty proficient in Office and knew enough LOGO to create the standard shapes and patterns.

Then this new word ‘computing’ started to come about. I heard that ICT was going to be one of the subject with the major shake-up, and looking through the proposed curriculum for KS1 and 2 I found myself being greeted by words I had not come across in a long time, if at all.

The word ‘algorithm’ seemed to be a Pandora’s Box in the Computing words; a word that I struggled to find a precise definition of. As someone who at least knew a little bit about how computers work and coding, this concerned me. How was I to launch this subject to the staff, let alone the children, if I was already struggling with the terminology?

So, I attended some CPD, spoke to some people and read a few bits of literature. By the time we launched computing, I had enough confidence to at least get the gist of what was trying to be achieved and relay this message to staff to equip them to teach this brand new subject.

At first glance, things went well. I saw some amazing Scratch animations, eye catching quizzes and children starting to engage with computing and show a general enjoyment of it. However, there were still concerns in the back of my head. Progression was something I was struggling to show, especially moving from lower to upper Key Stage 2.

Children would create these lovely Scratch projects in Years 3 and 4 but I felt that there was no real advancement of their skills as they moved towards secondary. In addition, children were struggling to explain to me how their programs actually worked. Many objectives were met by tinkering or by finding bits of code and copying it. While I felt that both of these approaches had their place, I felt that there had to be more to teaching the skills required to progress.

Despite all this, I had discovered a real love for teaching computing. I enjoyed discovering with the children the versatility that Scratch offered. I loved seeing children work through problems, trialling things out and having that ‘Eureka!’ moment when they finally pulled it off. It made me long to go back to my school days, to pick up where I left off and develop my proficiency in computing. This is how CAS came into the picture.

I had heard CAS being mentioned before. I had even subscribed to the daily news feed that popped into my inbox to sit and wait patiently to be opened and read. Knowing that CAS may have the solution to my problems, I investigated further. First of all, I discovered the resources. How had I missed these? I now had access to CPD, lessons, research and a community brimming with ideas and knowledge, all at my fingertips. I became a bit of a ‘lurker’, looking through people’s resources and trialling them out in my classroom. I lacked the confidence to put my own ideas out there but loved the fact that there was this fantastic community of people, all finding their way through this transition from ICT to computing, who were offering support, resources and, at times, reassurance.

Late into 2015, I applied to enrol in the BCS Certificate of Computer Science. Having had no real training in computing, but with my enthusiasm and passion for the subject swelling, here was an opportunity to extend my knowledge and answer the big question that still lingered - ‘Am I doing this right?’

The certificate is in three parts; Part 1 was to show evidence of 20 hours of CPD in computing, Part 2 was to program a game or a simulation to be used within the classroom and Part 3 was to undertake a research project linked to the pedagogy of computer science teaching. I chose the guided route, where I would be supported through Parts 2 and 3 through a set of webinars which also contributed to my 20 hours commitment for Part 1.

From my very first webinar, led by the wonderful Jane Waite and based on the concepts and approaches of computational thinking, everything suddenly made sense. Computational thinking was the answer to my problem; the missing piece of the puzzle. From then on, my teaching of computing was revolutionised.

Design became a huge part of my curriculum, where children would plan, evaluate and then code. I could confidently demonstrate to staff and pupils how we create algorithms and transfer them to code (I loved using the formula ‘algorithm + code = program’ to make the distinction clear). Abstraction, a concept I has struggled to teach in the past, became a big focus with my more able students and especially at upper Key Stage 2. It was an area I became so engrossed in that I ended up basing my Part 3 research project in it, using some of the wonderful resources created by Barefoot to teach the concept.

I enjoyed the certificate so much, I gave a small presentation about it at the CAS national conference in June 2016. While trying to avoid waxing lyrical for too long, the certificate gave me the knowledge, the confidence and the skills required to not only teach computing, but to formulate the vision to lead the subject confidently.

The certificate answered many of my questions about teaching computing competently, but a whole new set started popping up in my head. Do we start teaching Python to our Year 6s in preparation for Secondary or de we ensure their knowledge of computational thinking is robust? Why do girls drop computer science as they head towards GCSE and what can we be doing at a primary level to prevent this? Thankfully, I was now part of a network where I could debate these issues with like-minded people.

CAS has played such a huge role in my development as a teacher, a leader and as an individual. The community is its unique selling point; the mantra ‘there’s no them, only us’ rings true and everyone is welcomed with open arms. I have now reached the stage where I have felt I am able to give back to the community that has helped and inspired me so much.

I set up a local hub meeting to share my ideas and new knowledge with a wider audience, while also promoting the work of CAS and making people aware of the fantastic things that it offers. I have also become a CAS Master Teacher, a role which I feel incredibly proud to take on. This is the strength of how CAS operates; everyday people enhancing their own practise by learning from the experience and expertise of others and then giving a little something back of their own. It’s a community I feel so proud to be a part of.

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Supporting the government’s ‘Digital by Default’ strategy we’re keen everyone has the skills and confidence to use IT. Here, we share thoughts on a variety of digital matters.

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September 2017