Writing a complete computing curriculum: Lessons learnt

By Sway Grantham. Posted

Sway Grantham and her colleagues began writing the Teach Computing Curriculum 18 months ago. She shares some insights into what they learnt along the way

Designing curricula is a huge part of education. Whether you’re choosing a scheme of work to buy into, deciding which topics will be covered in which year groups, or considering what learning objectives you need for a certain lesson sequence, you are designing a curriculum. These decisions form the basis of how learners will experience the content you’re delivering, as well as how successfully they will understand it, and, potentially, how successfully other teachers can use it. These are all tasks that our team has undertaken in the last 18 months while designing the Teach Computing Curriculum. Here are some of the things that the team learnt along the way.

Consider the whole picture

When designing a curriculum, it can be tempting to break it into specific parts — either to make it seem less overwhelming or to share the workload more easily. These specific parts could be year groups, topics within the curriculum content, or units within year groups. While it is true that the parts eventually add up to the whole, a huge amount of work has to be done first, to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goal and with the same expectations. This is something that we learnt early on, particularly as so many people were involved in helping us to develop the curriculum.

With the national curriculum as our starting point, we knew what the learners had to achieve by the end of each Key Stage. However, the journey between those points — where they fell and what they looked like — was unknown. Equally, even when we knew the topic or key ideas that needed to be taught, we had to work down to the objective level, ensuring that both teacher and learner were able to measure their success. This journey to a thorough mapping of progress throughout a unit, year group, Key Stage, and school was vital to the work we needed to do. One colleague described the documents we have created as the ‘tip of the iceberg’, because they are actually the output of a large amount of time, work, and effort that had to be put in before anything was created.

Top tip:

Don’t rush the initial stages to get to the main event (creating lesson plans). The more work you do before anyone starts, the stronger your planning will be.

Varied collaboration

There are many proverbs about both the values and challenges of having lots of people involved in one project. The biggest difference between the process of designing the Teach Computing Curriculum and the planning we had worked on previously in our own schools was the ability to work with a range of colleagues. We had colleagues involved from academic backgrounds, practising teachers, former teachers, specialist teachers, non-specialist teachers, and industry connections — all adding to our understanding of the subject, how best to teach it, and sharing a wealth of experience that no one person could possess.

By the time we had finished, this rigorous and collaborative process had ensured that every unit had passed through many hands before it was completed. Each person added their own insight into the topic; they all contributed to the progression, pedagogy, and accessibility of the planning to ensure it was continually improving. 

Top tip:

Work with peers outside of your direct colleagues. Try those in different phases or year groups, or even contacts in different schools, to gain from the experiences they have had.

Read, reflect, revisit

One thing teachers are always short of is time. There’s never enough of it, and sometimes we use this as a reason to accept the first attempt. While this may work for tomorrow’s lesson, lots of teachers out there are always thinking about the next time that content is being taught and how it can be improved. It is through this approach that we have realised that the curriculum we have written will never be ‘finished’. Each time we return to a unit, we have more experience and have had more conversations about it, and so each time we have another perspective.

This approach is particularly important with a subject as young as computing, in which thoughts and understanding about approaches are still evolving. We have worked hard to integrate the most recent research approaches for pedagogy and curriculum content into the resources, but the next time we revisit it, I am sure there will be more understanding still, and extra things we want to include.

Already, at the stage of launching the live curriculum, we have revisited each unit three or four times, making changes based on feedback and the collaborations mentioned previously. However, when teachers use it in their classrooms from September, we look forward to learning exactly how it is being used in settings across the country.

Top tip:

Creating a curriculum should be a process, and not a destination; it will never be ‘finished’.

A toolkit or a script?

The end result — or the tip of the iceberg, as we mentioned earlier — is a huge body of work to create over 500 hours of lessons to meet the needs of the national curriculum from Year 1 to Year 11, including GCSE specifications. It provides all the planning, resources, slide decks, assessment, and homework support that teachers should need. However, it is a toolkit, not a script. 

We needed to design a curriculum that would support teachers of all levels of experience, working in schools with access to various resources, and for learners from a range of different experience levels. To achieve this, we have created a comprehensive curriculum that teachers can either use as it is, or edit and adapt to their needs. It has everything teachers should need; how they use the tools we have provided is entirely up to them.

Whether someone is an experienced specialist who wants to use the learning graphs to reflect on their own approach to progression, or a teacher completely new to computing who wants to use the plans to become more confident, there are tools within the Teach Computing Curriculum to help. Equally, there are tools to support teachers looking to evaluate and enhance their work, and those who are already effective in the classroom but need support with the computing subject matter and how to approach it with learners.

Working on the Teach Computing Curriculum, we have been offered the opportunity to develop a curriculum with a lot more time and resources than the average teacher will have access to. This has allowed us to share this first draft and offer it as a starting point for teachers looking to design a curriculum suited to their school. The first draft incorporates all the things we learnt in creating the curriculum: opportunities for making links across year groups, phases, and schools; collaborating with colleagues from different backgrounds; and content that has already been frequently reviewed. The curriculum is now live and we’re excited to see how teachers and schools adopt it from September 2020. Do leave us feedback on the website to share how you’re finding it, so that we can continue to learn more about what is working and what we could do better. 

What's next for the Teach Computing Curriculum

Now that the Teach Computing Curriculum has officially launched, here are our next steps to ensure that it continues to be as useful as possible to teachers:

  1. Create a curriculum overview document of all the content.

  2. Create teacher guides to support teachers’ understanding of our approaches throughout the curriculum, for example, our approaches to assessment and differentiation.

  3. Review and implement units that were piloted in schools in 2019.


www.twitter.com/swaygrantham

Educator

Free

If you’re a UK-based teacher, volunteer, librarian or something in between, we'll send each issue free to your door.

Digital

Free

Just want to read the free PDF? Get each new issue delivered straight to your inbox. No fuss and no spam.

Buy

From £6

If you are UK-based but not involved in education, you can get hard copies by buying back issues or subscribing via our partner service.