First steps in primary computing: my BETT 2014 session

BETT 2014 was quite a different experience for me: as the author of ‘Switched on Computing: take your first easy steps with Microsoft‘, I was there for all four days as part of the Microsoft team – red t-shirt and all. Each day, I ran two sessions in the Microsoft theatre on my first steps into primary computing. Essentially, I shared what I’ve learned through beginning to roll out computing so far in my own school and writing the book. Here’s a summary:

Presenting and, uh, posing with the book.

Presenting and, uh, posing with the book at BETT 2014

  • Don’t be too put off by the vocabulary. I’ll openly admit that my first impression of the new programme of study wasn’t exactly a positive one: I spotted ‘algorithms’ in the key stage 1 section and a mild panic set in. Algorithms, sequencing, input, output, variables, networks, programming – how could I teach these in an engaging way when I wasn’t enitrely sure I knew exactly what they meant in terms of computing? Luckily, when I started to unpick the definitions and relate them to what I already knew, the concepts didn’t seem so bad – or alien. After all, algorithms are really just instructions and give me a primary teacher who hasn’t taught instructional writing of some kind.
  • Step away from the computer. Just like you might take a class out into the playground to simulate how the Earth orbits the Sun and the intricacies of the solar system (we’ve all been there, right?), be open to teaching computing concepts in practical ways. A computer isn’t always necessary as Phil Bagge’s ‘sandwich bot’ demonstrates perfectly – what a great way to teach children about debugging algorithms. It really inspired me to approach computing from that angle and lead to my class and I ‘programming’ each other to collect different objects around the classroom. Practical ways of teaching children about computing is something I really want to explore further.
  • Use resources that are already out there. Computing is new to many of us, but some folk have been kindly creating resources for quite some time whether it’s walk through videos for Kodu or guides to the subject. I’ve covered some more ideas in this blog post.
  • Keep doing all the great ICT you are already doing. The high profile that coding is currently getting may lead you to believe that ‘computing’ is interchangeable with ‘coding’ – it’s not. The computing programme of study puts a heavier focus on programming, but it is not programming. Both the key stage 1 and 2 programmes of study state that children should be taught to ‘create a range of digital content’. This is great! Just think about what ‘digital content’ covers: blogging, animation, photo editing, podcasting, filming, digital photography, presentations, data handling, quizzes – it’s never ending. Those few words give you the freedom to create a broad and engaging computing curriculum that doesn’t begin and end with coding so make the most of it.


My BETT blog post on the Microsoft UK schools website.

Download Switched on Computing: take your first easy steps with Microsoft.

Photo 25-01-2014 11 09 59

The Microsoft Theatre session line up

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