My journey from discrete computing to tech integration

By Emily Jones. Posted

Students walk their parents through their augmented reality timelines during a recent expo

Originally published in Hello World 20: Systems and networks, Jan 2023. All information true at the time of original publishing.

Emily Jones shares her experience of leading ICT and computing in both the UK and Thailand, and how her practice has almost come full circle

Towards the end of my teacher training, I attended my first job interview. I was extremely nervous, especially as I realised that one candidate was already on placement at the school and it looked like he was lined up for the job. However, the head teacher recalled me to his office as soon as the interview had finished. He had heard that I knew how to copy and paste an image from the internet and asked if I could show him how to do it. Back in 1999, it wasn’t quite as simple as right-click/copy, and he seemed to think I was some kind of genius! It was this skill that gave me the edge over the placement candidate and led to me being appointed as ICT coordinator, a role that would remain with me, in its various forms, throughout my career.

My computing journey

Over the past 23 years, I have led on a range of initiatives, from the installation of the first networked computer suites, to the roll-out of England’s 2014 computing curriculum. Prior to 2014, I worked as both a primary-class teacher and a subject coordinator (and, in many ways, as a technician too!). Much of my role involved advising other teachers on how to embed ICT across the curriculum via staff training, modelled lessons, and team teaching. However, with the introduction of the new curriculum, many staff started to shy away from the subject, as it became yet another thing to learn on top of all the other initiatives, such as teaching French and the ukulele (not together, but it felt at the time as if this might be next!). I therefore stopped being a class teacher and taught computing discretely as a specialist, while also travelling around my local area, advising other schools on how to implement the new curriculum.

During this time, I was fortunate enough to be appointed as the first female Computing at School master teacher in my region, and it was here that my passion for the subject grew. Fast-forward to the present day, and I am now working at Harrow International School Bangkok, alongside my husband, the aforementioned placement student! As head of lower-school digital technologies, I have a fantastic job and feel privileged to lead this ever-evolving subject in a school with amazing facilities, students, and resources.

Discrete versus integrated approaches

Historically, computing at Harrow has been taught discretely across the lower school, with students aged four to ten attending a one-hour lesson each week. Curriculum content has covered a mixture of computer science, digital literacy, and information technology. Although the discrete model appeared to work well, I always had an underlying concern that pupils might not be applying their learning across the wider curriculum. Feedback from staff reflected this, and the situation was further exacerbated by the deskilling of teachers, who weren’t keeping up with technology changes as computing continued to be taught in a bubble.

In 2021, I was granted the opportunity to explore a model of greater tech integration. We are currently rewriting the entire lower-school curriculum, so this has provided the perfect opportunity for embedding computing objectives in a meaningful way. For example, Year 2 (aged 6–7)’s topic was ‘Food for thought’, which lent itself well to recipes, instructions, and algorithms, while over in Year 4 (aged 8–9), their enquiry question was ‘How can we be responsible consumers?’ which linked nicely to building and coding a sustainable house in CoSpaces.

I have also continued to teach computer science discretely, but instead of my lessons being used to release teachers for planning and preparation purposes, they are now an opportunity for staff to observe, team-teach, and upskill. Although most teachers are not yet ready to go it alone, many have commented on the applicability of computer science across other curriculum areas. For example, one colleague told me they will never teach angles in the same way again after witnessing how quickly students gain an understanding of this concept when learning via robots and sprites.

In terms of the digital literacy and IT strands of the curriculum, these are now integrated into other subjects. Each week, I attend year group planning meetings where we discuss ideas for tech integration. For example, Year 4 were recently researching the Romans and were planning to make a timeline. Rather than using traditional cutting and sticking methods, the pupils instead created timelines in Keynote and projected them in augmented reality via AR Makr. To teach students and teachers these skills, we booked a large auditorium, and I provided a demo. I also created how-to guides and made myself available so that staff could book me for the first lesson if they needed additional support. A highlight of this project was a parent expo where the students physically walked their family members through the timelines, while providing a narrative. It was such an effective way to embed their understanding of chronology and the passing of time.


If you are thinking of moving towards greater tech integration in your setting, there are several core elements that have been instrumental to the project’s success: support from the school leadership; a clear vision; robust subject leadership; good resourcing (1:1 availability of iPads has been key); an IT advocate in each year; protected time for regular training (all staff are currently working towards their Apple Teacher badges); a supportive environment in which to try out new techniques; and staff buy-in (which comes once all the previous elements are in place). It’s also a good idea to appoint student leaders, who can support the community with tech integration, and can themselves become catalysts for change.

As I reflect upon my career so far, it’s almost as if my job has come full circle. I’m back to advising on tech integration, while also training staff on the more subject-specific elements of the curriculum. It would have been easy to continue with the discrete model at Harrow, rolling out the same tried-and-tested curriculum week after week. But, in the words of the educator John Dewey, over a century ago, “If we teach today, as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”


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