Computing – moving forward

The new National Curriculum Programme of Study for Computing is currently in draft. The following is a starting point to discuss how this quite brief document can be turned into a full scheme of work across all Key Stages. It cannot be emphasised too greatly that the PoS is currently subject to consultation so readers must recognise that anything in this post could change. However, given the degree of change involved here the sooner we start the better. If there are changes to the detail in the PoS then we can adjust along the way.

There are certain difficulties with this, particularly at KS4 where the PoS is very limited in its detail. Only when specifications for qualifications are available will some gaps be able to be filled in. A starting point for KS4 will be to look at the specifications for the current KS5 qualifications, making the assumption that students taking a KS4 qualification would want to progress onto KS5. This might have the effect however of limiting the ambition of the KS4 qualification.

What follows is to some extent an Aunt Sally. I hope that it gets people thinking about the challenges ahead.

At the end of this post is the current draft PoS. It has been broken downs into the Key Stages as it is in the draft and then further into strands (this is additional to the draft).

Strands

For the purposes of this exercise the PoS has been subdivided into 4 strands. These subdivisions are not part of the NC but have been added to provide structure. They have been built around the 4 aims expressed in the draft NC document:

Computational Thinking

Analysis of problems in computational terms, and repeated practical experience of writing computer programs in order to solve such problems

Computer Science

Understanding and application of the fundamental principles of computer science, including logic, algorithms, data representation, and communication

Using & Applying IT

Evaluation and application of information technology, including new or unfamiliar technologies, analytically to solve problems

Digital Literacy

Responsible, competent, confident and creative users of information and communication technology

There are a number of ways of looking at these strands.

Firstly they help to ensure that the correct balance between the parts of the PoS is maintained when developing a scheme of work. It would be easy to devote too much time to one or the other area without some understanding that the four strands exist. Of course, a prerequisite is to come to agreed understanding of the relative importance of each area within the PoS. This may change according to the Key Stage and the progression route. For example, a KS4 student, not studying for a Computing qualification at KS4 would more likely require a curriculum that was lighter in Computer Science and more focussed around Using and Applying IT and Digital Literacy.

Secondly, for those who intend to teach at least part of the PoS across the curriculum would be more able to do that with certain strands and not others. Such a delineation as is shown would help that.

Thirdly the strands can be viewed as falling broadly into the theoretical and the practical. Computer Science and Digital Literacy are broadly theoretical areas, whilst Using & Applying IT and Computational Thinking are more practical. Broadly (very broadly) the practical areas require more computer time than the theoretical. So not all Computing lessons need a computer room (he opines controversially).

Cross Strand Topics

So, having divided the PoS into strands we can then very quickly see that it’s not really as neat and tidy as that! There are many areas that cross two or three strands. This is to be expected. Possibly when the PoS is broken down even further then there will be fewer cross-strand elements but I would expect a significant number to remain.

Breaking down these larger topics into smaller elements is a task that will depend on how and by whom it is intended that the subject will be taught.

Levels

Well, there aren’t any. Just to make life more difficult the assessment/attainment criteria are not being published at the same time as the PoS. Not ideal, but this is where we are. Lets make a virtue out of it and actually consider what we would like to see here.

If we think solely about the Computer Science strand for a moment we have a (current) top end indicator in terms of the Computer Science A-Level.  A lot of the content is different but there are enough similarities to make a comparison. My problem with this is that I’d want an awful lot of the top attainment levels at KS4 to be pretty similar to those in the A-Level. For example (and not trying to be clever) you either understand boolean logic or you don’t. So the fact that it is to be covered here at KS3 presents a bit of a problem for the A-Level.

There is a lot of work to be done here and I really do hope that the DfE/Ofqual consult widely and listen on the issue of levels (whatever they will called)

Content

The missing thing in here is content. How will we teach Boolean logic, or programming? These are the big gaps to be filled in. Filling them in requires a local approach that fits with the resources available. This is particularly true in the Computational Thinking strand.

Draft Programme of Study (re-jigged)

  Computational Thinking Computer Science Using and Applying IT Digital Literacy
Aims Analysis of problems in computational terms, and repeated practical experience of writing computer programs in order to solve such problems Understanding and application of the fundamental principles of computer science, including logic, algorithms, data representation, and communication Evaluation and application of information technology, including new or unfamiliar technologies, analytically to solve problems  Responsible, competent, confident and creative users of information and communication technology 
KS1 use logical reasoning to predict the behavior of simple programs      
understand what algorithms are, how they are implemented as programs on digital devices, and that programs execute by following a sequence of instructions    
  organise, store, manipulate and retrieve data in a range of digital formats  
    communicate safely and respectfully online, keeping personal information private, and recognise common uses of information technology beyond school.
write and test simple programs      
KS2 design and write programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts    
  understand computer networks including the internet; how they can provide multiple services, such as the world-wide web; and the opportunities they offer for communication and collaboration  
  select, use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information.  
    describe how internet search engines find and store data; use search engines effectively; be discerning in evaluating digital content; respect individuals and intellectual property; use technology responsibly, securely and safely
use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output; generate appropriate inputs and predicted outputs to test programs      
use logical reasoning to explain how a simple algorithm works and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs    
KS3 use two or more programming languages, one of which is textual, each used to solve a variety of computational problems; use data structures such as tables or arrays; use procedures to write modular programs; for each procedure, be able to explain how it works and how to test it  
  design, use and evaluate computational abstractions that model the state and behaviour of real-world problems and physical systems    
understand simple Boolean logic (such as AND, OR and NOT) and its use in determining which parts of a program are executed; use Boolean logic and wild- cards in search or database queries; appreciate how search engine results are selected and ranked  
  undertake creative projects that involve selecting, using, and combining multiple applications, preferably across a range of devices, to achieve challenging goals, including collecting and analysing data and meeting the needs of known users    
understand at least two key algorithms for each of sorting and searching; use logical reasoning to evaluate the performance trade-offs of using alternative algorithms to solve the same problem create, reuse, revise and repurpose digital information and content with attention to design, intellectual property and audience.
  understand the hardware and software components that make up networked computer systems, how they interact, and how they affect cost and performance; explain how networks such as the internet work; understand how computers can monitor and control physical systems  
explain how instructions are stored and executed within a computer system    
explain how data of various types can be represented and manipulated in the form of binary digits including numbers, text, sounds and pictures, and be able to carry out some such manipulations by hand    
KS4 develop and apply their analytic, problem-solving, design, and computational thinking skills. develop their capability, creativity and knowledge in computer science, digital media and information technology

I would value any thoughts and comments on the above. There are again, at least as many questions here as there are answers, but I think we are getting closer to a definitive list. Certainly by breaking down the the PoS in this way we can start to see the areas where the CPD need is going to fall.

Some of the questions are:

  • Are the strands used above helpful/appropriate?
  • Are there areas where we can start to fill in content?
  • Pulling some key items out can we start to set some upper and lower limits for attainment we would expect to see at each Key Stage?
  • What is the impact of the above on the starting point for A-Level Computer Science and ICT?
  • At each Key Stage what CPD requirement does this create and how can that be fulfilled?
  • How much of this can be delivered across the curriculum?
  • How/Will it be delivered to all KS4 students?
  • How will this be resourced – does the stranding help reduce the need for computer rooms of just confuse things?

If you have any answers or any more questions to add please use the comments.

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