The interactive computing classroom in lockdown and beyond

By Halima Bhayat. Posted

Mrs Bhayat’s avatar in the interactive classroom with a range of resources

Halima Bhayat shares how an interactive classroom can enable pupils, parents, and OFSTED to learn about the full computing curriculum from Key Stages 3 to 5

When lockdown came and schools closed with no certain date of return, I wondered what I could best do to support my students in their remote learning. As head of computing and director of digital learning, I was also aware that I needed to help my colleagues with engaging their students remotely — whatever we established in my faculty could be rolled out across the school. All eyes were on IT and it was an opportunity to showcase how IT can enable learning in this time of pandemic, and how it can be integrated into the school long-term. For staff — and to a lesser extent students — lockdown provided the perfect opportunity to set aside their fears or uncertainties about virtual learning and to gain new skills. An interactive classroom can be an excellent resource, which can be shared on the school website for parents to access and be directed to. In this article, I will share how I created an interactive classroom for my students, and hope it will inspire others to do the same.

What did I envisage for my students?

I wanted to create an engaging resource that provided a sequence of what is offered in my department from Key Stage 3 through to Key Stage 5 and beyond. I planned to try it out first with my students, and then roll it out to the rest of the school so that everyone could thrive during lockdown. 

The interactive classroom was created as a primary resource for parents and students to learn more about the subject and to get support. It is designed to be used independently by students, but can also be used by parents to find various resources to support their child. Students engage with the product by opening it and clicking on the image that best describes their course, or anything else they want to know more about. I built the interactive classroom as a PowerPoint, which I then saved as a slideshow. It requires an internet connection so that images can be found and links made. I recorded and added sound to the presentation to allow anyone interacting with the product to hear my instructions. Similarly, videos can be prerecorded using the same or other devices and then embedded into the presentation. I also created a cartoon image of myself using the Bitmoji app.

For teachers, the advantage of an interactive classroom such as this is that all resources are placed in the same area, and this can be changed or built on over time. Questions on the subject from parents and students can easily be addressed in the shared slideshow. For OFSTED, there is a clear curriculum sequence with the added advantage of enrichment resources and careers information about the subject. 

Designing the interactive classroom

OFSTED has been encouraging us all to consider and know our department’s pedagogy. It was when I was giving thought to this that I came across teachers using Bitmojis (personalised emojis), and this led me to the idea of the interactive computing classroom. 

I started by creating a Bitmoji avatar version of myself. I felt that having ‘me’ in the classroom would reassure students that I am still there for them, and would also add some humour, to support students’ well-being (I also enjoyed creating my rather cool avatar!). 

I then moved on to start designing my classroom, which was really fun. I was able to search and add a background, as well as furniture, carefully planning what I would like to have in my classroom. All of this was done using PowerPoint. I moved on to find images of items that students can recognise, such as books they are studying, and added images with links.

One of the big features of my interactive classroom has been the use of everyday objects to make the classroom as realistic and alive as possible. This was achieved by putting on my creative hat and thinking about all the things you may see lurking in the classroom. I wanted the room to be not just a place to find answers, support, and links from lessons, but also a place for students to explore and see what they can find. I added items such as a sandwich, a handbag, and a cupcake. 

Since its launch with students, I have found that the virtual classroom is the first place students want to explore. It has allowed them to be independent and take responsibility for their own learning. It has also been popular with parents, who have told us that it is easy to navigate and makes them more inclined to engage with their child’s education and support them in it. If parents are talking to their children about their learning, this in turn helps to reinforce what the students are learning. In this way, the interactive platform helps to enhance the student–school–parent triangle of communication. Comments from students have included, “This is so helpful”; “I now know I want to do Computer Science at GCSE”; “You look so real, Miss, and it’s nice to see you”; and “It’s funny but I think it’s useful.”

New opportunities for students

Before the coronavirus pandemic, our school’s Computing department had always offered students opportunities for enrichment, such as trips, workshops, competitions, and wider reading lists. I wanted to keep this momentum up. I was also aware that many opportunities came about during lockdown that were not previously available. For example, many learning establishments, museums, and places of education opened up and shared their expertise in new ways, which they would previously not have had such an incentive to do. That meant that our students could now attend lectures live-streamed from other towns, cities, and countries. They could ‘visit’ museums and art galleries, and engage with a whole host of new ideas as everyone adapted to a digital way of learning. I didn’t just want our students to stay on top of things during lockdown; I wanted them to get ahead and seize the opportunities that now presented themselves!

The interactive classroom allows students to find resources easily, for example by clicking on images from books they are reading. There are also some unlabelled objects in the classroom, which allow them to explore what else is available in the presentation. When creating an interactive classroom for students, teachers can easily save videos and talks and embed them in PowerPoint. When viewed as a slideshow, it will automatically have these links, without the need for separate files saved alongside the presentation. One of the links I included in mine is a virtual tour of a computing museum, which students can click on and be routed directly to the website. I have also included links to talks by female Computer Science students at Oxford University, as well as a link to the BBC Technology newspaper. This allows students to read around the subject and encourages them to select the subject at Key Stages 4 and 5.

Access for all

The school where I work is an all-girls school in south London with a diverse range of students. As a BAEM woman, I am particularly conscious of the importance of being a role model to my students. I am especially keen that Computer Science, which is so male-dominated both at school and in the STEM employment sector, is seen by my students as attractive and empowering. Through my face-to-face teaching, and recently through the interactive classroom, I aim to show them the reach of the subject, the huge impact it has, and how far it can take them. IT should no more be seen as a male subject than arts and humanities should be seen as female subjects. But, as they say, “You have to see it to be it”, and I want to show our students that this is as much for them as for anyone — all students should be enabled to achieve their best, and our school has high expectations of all of them.  

The choices the students make about their GCSEs, A levels, BTECs, and T levels, and then their jobs, apprenticeships, or universities, are key as they allow opportunities to open up for them. If you can grab a student’s interest now, you help them on a path of many, increasing opportunities.

The interactive classroom in action

At Key Stage 3, our students usually complete a module on how to create an animation using the Scratch programming language. Using the interactive classroom, pupils can find a Scratch object that then directs them to the actual project page. This helps to minimise questions to the teacher, as students often tend to ask where to find things. Students can also use the interactive classroom to complete tests, as there are direct links to Seneca and to the BBC Bitesize Computing section for example. 

When Key Stage 3 pupils are ready to make option choices for Key Stage 4, they can easily click on Key Stage 4 resources, where there is a direct link to the specification and books that are studied as further development. With permission, students in Key Stage 4 can record a short introduction about what they are studying and why, for Key Stage 3 students to hear.

During the year, we take part in the Hour of Code, Ada Lovelace Day, and Safer Internet Day. Students can easily click on a link that directs them to the page where they can access this information. At Key Stage 5, we offer a range of computing pathway opportunities, such as Level 2 iMedia, BTEC IT, and T levels in Digital Technology. Having such a range of subjects means that students require specific support, and the interactive classroom has been able to provide this. At Key Stage 5, students can not only use the interactive classroom to support their learning, but can also avail themselves of wider reading opportunities whereby specific free books or links to Radio 4 technology talks are shared. Students at this stage can also click on links to find out which universities are rated 1–10 for the computing curriculum, as well as where apprenticeships relating to the subject can be found, and the career fields that are available. This allows a full and wider picture of the computing curriculum.

Looking to the future

In September, all students will have the opportunity to explore the resource and become reacquainted with it. It will be an ideal resource for introducing students in Year 6 to the curriculum. Students in Year 9 will be starting to think about their subject options in September, and by introducing this resource, it will allow them to see what Computing can offer if they select it. From September 2020, we will also be offering a new T level course in Digital Technology, which I will be teaching. The interactive classroom will support students in Key Stage 4 to start thinking about other options that are a direct path from the computing curriculum. Students in Key Stage 5 will be able to find links to YouTube channels where they can be supported on practical IT skills that they may need from September onwards. Over time, the interactive classroom can be expanded to include new links, videos, and messages. Students can be included, too, by creating prerecorded tutorials for others to view. At my school, we look to support students in becoming leaders, and one of the tasks chosen by our digital student leaders was to create video tutorials for the interactive classroom. 

The classroom can also be broken into Key Stage-specific rooms to provide students with the most relevant content. It would be an excellent resource to share with new trainee teachers, or those new to the subject who are not subject-specific teachers. Staff who leave also leave a legacy behind. For schools to expand the interactive classroom to other subjects would be amazing. I have in my own school trained staff on how simple and effective this resource can be, and how to create it. So give it a go and create your own interactive classroom today!  

Creating your own interactive classroom

  1. Open PowerPoint and add a background; you can use the internet to find one. The background should only include a wall and a floor.

  2. Search for and save or copy images of furniture that you would like in your classroom, and position them in your PowerPoint slideshow.

  3. Do the same to add images of items that you would like to have in your classroom.

  4. Select the images you would like to link and add hyperlinks. If you would like to embed anything, use the PowerPoint embed feature.

  5. Create your Bitmoji, send it to yourself, and add it to the classroom.

  6. Check your slideshow to make sure everything is working and you are happy with it.

  7. Save your work as a PowerPoint slideshow and share it with others. This can be through a virtual learning environment/cloud system, or by email.


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