Being in someone else's shoes

On Tuesday this week, I made an unscheduled visit to a shoe museum in Northampton. Speaking as someone who prefers being unshod, shoes are low down my list of interests – you could say they’re at the foot. All the same, I was curious to see what stories a shoe museum might reveal. Until my visit, I knew little of Northampton’s shoe-making heritage, less still that in 1859 shoe workers took strike action to protest against the introduction of technology to improve the quality, speed and cost of manufacture. The workers’ protests against mechanisation were doomed and led to the subsequent demise of this local cottage industry and the rise of shoe factories. This was my second visit to Northampton in my new role.

I’ve previously published blog posts describing how I’ve now left teaching and joined Exa Education, an Internet Service Provider based in Bradford. My work currently revolves around developing ‘Exa Foundation’ which seeks to inspire and engage digital makers, support the teaching of Computing in school and promote safe, secure and appropriate use of technology. I feel incredibly privileged to be able to work the way I am without having to become overly commercial in my approach. While I don’t hide the fact that I work for a for-profit organisation, in some ways it enables me to work in a more open way than when I was previously employed in a school.

images from an Exa Foundation event

Getting into teaching Computing

Over the last year or so, I’ve witnessed an increasingly high volume of teachers expressing their concerns and anxieties about lack of confidence and skills when forced to convert to teach Computing in their schools. While other commentators have speculated on the history and politics of this particular situation, I feel my knowledge and expertise is better deployed supporting those teachers facing this challenge.

Early in 2011, when I was the Curriculum Leader for ICT, I was informed by our Deputy Head Teacher about proposals to remove ICT from our school timetable. Partly out of self-preservation, my response was to introduce Computing into our school curriculum. This was both an incredibly stupid and brave move, since I had no previous background or experience in Computer Science or of teaching Computing. In the ensuing months and years, I made this my number one priority – which means I have a huge amount of empathy for teaching colleagues across the country who now find themselves in a similar situation due to someone else’s decision making.

Thankfully, there is now an abundance of active channels, resources, services and excellent initiatives to support teachers who lack the necessary confidence to teach the Computing curriculum. Even still, many of the teachers that I encounter feel so poorly resourced and heavily pressured to deliver excellent results on a short timescale that they find themselves unable to take full advantage of this support. Their professional development is more akin to fire-fighting than the long term strategic development that it should be.

Teachers currently seeking to develop their knowledge, experience and confidence may elect to:

Read newsletters, books and articles written by other practitioners

Listen to podcasts and watch webinars and online video content

Discuss the issues they face in forums and social media channels

Subscribe to MOOCs and other online courses

Attend a hub meeting, conference or training day

This is certainly not an exhaustive list by any means; I believe that the purchase cost, level of engagement and impact on teachers are lowest toward the top end of this list. While attending face-to-face training events can be the most expensive in terms of purchase cost, teacher cover, time and travel expenses – I believe them to be the most effective in terms of supporting teacher development. Unfortunately, increased financial pressure on schools has curtailed the amount of these opportunities that teachers can avail of.

Computing events from Exa Education

Thanks to the support of Exa Education, I’ve been able to offer a roadshow of free Computing CPD events for teachers around the country and the feedback from these has been very encouraging. In no way is this meant to compete with or replace all of the other initiatives currently taking place. In fact, I’ve been championing for example, the resources already freely available from Computing At School, CAS Barefoot, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, Phil Bagge’s Code-It and Code Club. Teachers attending the roadshow events have found these events more accessible than the alternatives on offer.

The real purpose of my visit to Northampton was to run a roadshow event on Wednesday at the invitation of Kay Sawbridge, the teacher who has successfully managed to petition parliament over the removal of the GCSE in ICT.

In the morning session, primary school delegates were able to experience a CAS Barefoot lesson suitable for KS1/KS2 and then a CodeClub activity which was presented by Katharine Childs, Code Club East Midlands Regional Co-ordinator.

Katharine Childs at an Exa Event

Then after lunch, a mixture of primary & secondary teachers explored the educational potential of Python and Minecraft with a hands-on session using Raspberry Pi computers. During the after school twilight session, secondary teachers were presented with approaches for teaching and then assessing the knowledge and understanding part of the Computing curriculum in Key Stage 3 and GCSE. Each session included many reflective opportunities for teachers to share with each other the challenges they face, the solutions they’ve been using and how they might apply the content we explored in the session.

Computing teaching from Exa Education

I would like to thank Kay Sawbridge and Caroline Chisholm School for hosting the roadshow, as well as sponsors Exa Education and EasiPC Computer Services. I hope to return to Northampton again in the Summer Term.

Resources shared:

Photos from the event: [https://goo.gl/photos/19C6gon4M7cvsHUf6]

Slides from the Primary Computing session: [http://exa.im/3feb16.am]

Resources from the Minecraft, Python and Raspberry Pi session: [notes]

Resources from the Secondary Computing session: [notes]

A list of Exa Foundation events: [http://exa.foundation/events]

More about Exa Foundation Roadshow: [http://exa.foundation/roadshow]