It is an extremely exciting if challenging time for schools in Wales with the dawn of the new curriculum, to be used in all schools from September 2022. It is exciting because it offers the opportunity for teachers and schools to develop and implement a curriculum tailored to their pupils, but could be challenging as cross-disciplinary Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLEs) are introduced, as well as new topics such as computation.
Technocamps’ mission has always been to inspire, motivate and engage people with computational thinking. We will be continuing this mission by helping teachers and their schools to develop effective and engaging teaching practices around the computation statement of What Matters in the Science and Technology AoLE.
The computation statement of What Matters states:
‘Computation is the foundation for our digital world:
Computation involves algorithms processing data to solve a wide range of real-world problems. Computational processes have changed the way we live, work, study and interact with each other and our environment. They provide the foundation for all software and hardware systems, but learners should also be aware of the limitations of what computers can achieve. To create and use digital technologies to their full potential, learners need to know how they work. They also need to understand that there are broad legal, social and ethical consequences to the use of technology. This can help learners to make informed decisions about the future development and application of technology.’
When thinking about developing resources for this, it is important first to establish what is meant by computational thinking and how it differs to problem solving in general. Definitions of computational thinking typically focus on the processes of decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction and algorithms. It is perhaps easier to understand what it is and its importance through an example:
Imagine you are given a whiteboard which has six different randomly chosen numbers on it. You are asked to shout out the biggest number as fast as you can, and for many you do this almost instantaneously. However, the interesting part of this exercise is not the answer but rather the question of how you work out the answer. Most people will say “I just knew” or “It’s obvious” or “I know how numbers work so I could work it out”. As it’s a small set of numbers, it is likely they did not consciously work out the answer.
Computers cannot just ‘do’ things; they need to be told (programmed, coded) how to solve the problem; and this process of creating and describing a procedure for determining the solution to a problem is precisely computational thinking. For a computer to solve this problem, we must break it down into a set of simple, repeatable instructions. We can break down the problem above by first considering just two numbers: you compare them and discard the smaller of the two. You then just repeat this over and over until you are left with only one number which must be the answer.
To enhance the understanding of computation across Wales, Technocamps provides a variety of engagements to schools, working with teachers and pupils from both Primary and Secondary schools as well as businesses. In the spirit of the new curriculum, all of our workshops engage people in an inter-disciplinary way by applying computation to a diverse range of topics. One example of this is our Greenfoot Eco Systems workshop – part of our C3 STEM Enrichment Programme – which explores the concepts of eco-systems and enables pupils to develop a computational model of an eco-system using Greenfoot – an education-based computing platform – giving them an improved understanding of how organisms interact with each other.
In the coming months we will be working closely with a number of stakeholders to develop and deliver an innovative Professional Learning package. Targeted at teachers who are responsible for curriculum development within science and technology, this will provide up-skilling within the area of computation and support their curriculum development.
We are also working closely with Qualifications Wales and the WJEC to support the introduction of the new GCSE in Digital Technology which will be available to schools for teaching from September 2021. This is a brand-new qualification which will challenge learners to think about the ways in which we use technology and how it affects our daily lives. Learners will be expected to explore this in a number of contexts including the role of being an influencer on social media.
To support this, Technocamps will be providing free Professional Learning opportunities to teachers across Wales through a Digital Technology for Teachers qualification, modelled on our successful accredited Computer Science for Teachers qualification, which will prepare current ICT and Computer Science teachers to deliver this new GCSE. More information about this course will be released in the Summer.
You can find out more about the Technocamps Programme and how to get involved at www.technocamps.com or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Faron Moller, Director of Technocamps
Professor of Computer Science at Swansea University.