Whilst many primary pupils may have been spending quite some time using technology during the lockdown period when schools were closed for most pupils, and some will have had the chance to develop or reinforce their skills in using technology in their studies, the evidence we have suggests that relatively few will have been taught much computing during this time. Now that schools are open again, albeit in a COVID-safe way, DfE guidance emphasises that the full breadth of the curriculum should be available, and most schools will thus be eager to get pupils back on track with their learning in computing and the other foundation subjects.
Nevertheless, we know many teachers will be concerned that pupils will have fallen behind in English and Maths during school closure, and catching up here is understandably going to be a priority for many. Fortunately, many of the Switched On Computing units can be used to help support pupils in rebuilding their skills in Reading, Writing and Maths, whilst simultaneously developing their skills, knowledge and understanding in computing.
To support pupils’ reading, the Year 1 unit ‘We Are Detectives’ has pupils reading and making sense of short clues about the identity of a mystery pirate.
In Year 2, ‘We Are Researchers’, introduces pupils to the researching topics on the web in a safe and carefully scaffolded way.
By Year 5, pupils are working with some of the ideas around how written information can be communicated securely in ‘We Are Cryptographers’, building up their thinking about language and words as they try to decrypt secret messages.
In Year 6, pupils develop more critical reading skills as they consider the reliability of online content, and consider how machines can come to understand text in the new ‘We Are AI Developers’ unit.
Many of the Switched On Computing units provide opportunities for pupils to engage in writing, both on paper and on screen. Initially, many of these opportunities focus on clear, precise, simple instructions as pupils start to learn about algorithms in units such as Year 1 ‘We are TV Chefs’ and Year 2 ‘We are Astronauts’, but these are accompanied by units where pupils engage in more personal writing, such as ‘We are Celebrating’ (Year 1) and ‘We are who we are’ (Year 3).
Switched On Computing emphasises the social, collaborative side of learning, and so pupils make use of technology to work on shared writing projects, such as Year 3’s ‘We are co-authors’, Year 4’s ‘We are Bloggers’ and Year 6’s ‘We are publishers'.
In all of these, there’s the chance for pupils to write with an audience in mind, but also built-in opportunities for them to read, critique and edit their own and others’ work.
The Year 6 ‘We are AI Developers’ unit includes some material on how modern speech recognition works, providing pupils with experience in using this technology as well as a chance to think back to how they first learnt to write themselves through coding phonemes as graphemes according to context.
There are deep connections between mathematics and computer science, and several of the Switched on Computing units emphasise this relationship, giving pupils the chance to reinforce their mathematical skills and knowledge or develop their understanding of maths from a fresh perspective.
Pupils think about patterns in Year 1’s ‘We are Rhythmic’, returning to this theme in Year 4’s ‘We are Artists’, in which they also explore the properties of angles and 2-D shapes. They extend this into a third (virtual) dimension in a pair of Year 5 units: ‘We are Architects’ and the new ‘We are VR designers’.
Data science and statistics ideas are introduced in Switched on Computing from an early age in Year 3’s ‘We are Opinion Pollsters’ and Year 4 ‘We are Meteorologists’. Also in Year 4, pupils create their own educational computer games for practising arithmetic skills in ‘We are Software Developers’: with games that could be a great opportunity for younger pupils to get some quick recall practice for mental arithmetic.
The ideas above are just some of the ways in which Switched On Computing means pupils can continue to study computing as part of the broad school or national curriculum whilst providing a timely top up of some of what they might have missed in English and Maths over the last few months.
Miles Berry is the author of the Switched on Computing Teacher Books. He is principal lecturer in Computing Education at the University of Roehampton, and a board member of Computing At School, the BCS Academy of Computing, the National Centre for Computing Education and the CSTA. He is a fellow of the BCS, RSA, HEA and Chartered College of Teaching, and a member of the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
, Computing and ICT