Meet The Publisher: Teaching Primary Computing with Confidence with Liane O'Kane from iCompute
Updated: Jan 17, 2022
Next in our Meet the Publishers series we talk to Liane O'Kane from iCompute about computing and how schools can improve confidence in teaching it as well as its potential to enhance the whole curriculum. You can find iCompute on our Computing Page.
Hi Liane. Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to start iCompute?
I have a degree in Computer Science and a background of working as a software developer. I retrained to be a primary teacher when my children were small. In 2014 the Government introduced the new National Curriculum for Computing. I was part of the group responsible for drafting it and funded by the DfE as a Computer Science Master Teacher to help prepare teachers in England. The problem was there were hardly any of us and I knew teachers would need more support - they'd need resources. That's why I set up iCompute. To provide a comprehensive computing scheme of work with everything schools would need to teach computing confidently and well.
In my teaching experience, I've found computing falls-off the timetable in far too many schools. Teacher training and confidence is an issue, but I've found access to hardware to be an issue too. Some schools lack enough laptops or a proper computing suite. What advice can you give to schools who have yet to invest in hardware, or may only have limited amounts of laptops? What should schools prioritise first if they are about to embark on getting properly equipped for computing?
Training and confidence is definitely an issue with teachers for computing - also the fear that technology will let them down or lack of it. My advice is not to let lack of tech or old tech hold you back. When I first started developing iCompute I was working in mixed-age setting with a handful of desktops running Windows XP! I was initially horrified but it actually worked out to be a blessing. I needed to develop ways to teach computing not necessarily with computers (unplugged). Teaching this way is, in fact, incredibly important to primary aged pupils as it helps get difficult concepts across. For example, we learn about how networks work using string and post-it notes. Computing can be successfully taught with or without technology and it doesn't need to be expensive to resource. My advice is to invest in a quality scheme of work and one device between two pupils in a class would be good. If you're buying new, then laptops preferably.
That idea about not needed technology to teach computing brings me on to the many opportunities computing gives for cross-curricular learning. Are there any favourite ways schools can bring computing to other subjects, and vice versa?
Cross curricular learning is incredibly important in computing. We need to set it in meaningful contexts. People don't usually use technology for the sake of it. It serves a purpose. We use word processors to write things, we use the web to find things out and we create computer programs to solve problems, be creative or entertain. Every subject (including PE!) can be enhanced and enriched with good computing and computational thinking skills. I created a cross-curricular computing scheme of work with lots of ideas. Some of my favourites are 'programming' each other to move around an obstacle course in PE and, for Music, creating a composition (which shares many similarities with coding). Others include creating algorithms for pieces of poetry, coding a calculator for maths... I could go on and on!
In the same vein, when children come into school in the morning there is often a quick maths or literacy activity to do when they settle before registration. Are there any great computing starters that can be used in the same way, maybe without the use of hardware? I know many teachers are keen to embed computing in the school day but struggle to think of ways of doing it.
Yes. By setting logic puzzles and problems! This helps develop computational thinking skills by splitting problems down into smaller parts (decomposition); stripping the detail out of a problem to make it easier to solve (abstraction) and applying solutions already found to a different problem (pattern recognition). I love them so much I created a set of Computational Thinking Puzzle Books for primary pupils. They were nominated for Education Resource Awards (ERA) for Best Book. I often post puzzles on my blog or on Twitter, and Bebras run an annual computing challenge which have lots of great problems too.
Thanks so much for your time! Is there anything coming up at iCompute you'd like to mention?
As usual we support the Hour of Code each year with free computing activities which are available at code.org and on our website. Each year, in December, the Hour of Code is run around the world to promote engagement in Computer Science. This year the week runs 6-12 December. I also add free themed activities to our website on seasonal themes. I've just added a coding activity for Bonfire Night and keep checking in for more Christmas themed computing lesson plans and resources!