Teach Computing: Learn Computing

Your Pupils need YOU not just a Tutorial!

teaching computing not tutorialsComputing has been statutory for pupils from the age of five since 2014 and many schools have risen to the challenge and are teaching some excellent computing.  We’ve seen the emergence of some amazing pedagogies, tools and technologies.  Many companies, myself included with iCompute, have produced a plethora of resources to help schools teach computing creatively and well.  There are dozens of great software and apps that support teaching and learning – see my Periodic Table of Computing Resources for an idea of what’s out there.

I advocate the use of some coding apps; however I’m becoming increasingly concerned as I’ve noticed a worrying trend in primary schools for ‘teaching’ computing primarily through the use of software and services that are tutorial driven. I’m talking about the kind of app, software or service where children work independently through challenges or levels with on-screen prompts.  I spoke to one teacher recently who went from Scratch Jr (aimed at KS1) straight on to Swift Playgrounds (aimed at Year 7, but my able UKS2’s use it) without anything between because they were the only apps she could find that didn’t need her input!  Aside from the fact that there are apps that could fill that gap, it doesn’t mean they should.

There is, of course, a place for these kinds of activities in computing lessons – I produce some myself – but I fear that many teachers are adopting this as their only teaching approach and that’s bad.  Why?  Because they focus on one aspect of the curriculum only and teachers are using it due to a lack of confidence and subject knowledge, not because they’re enabling true self-directed learning.

In Roger Hiemstra’s (Bull, 2013) essay about self-directed learning, he proposes six roles for the teacher attempting to adopt self-directed learning approaches:

  • content resource
  • resource locator
  • interest stimulator
  • positive attitude generator
  • creativity and critical thinking stimulator
  • evaluation stimulator

Using mainly tutorial driven tools for computing lessons means the role of the teacher is often reduced to little more than a resource locator. A teacher’s pedagogical subject knowledge is about having a range of teaching approaches and strategies that enable them to transfer specific subject knowledge to their pupils, which includes knowledge of how to make that understandable.  In other words, they still need subject knowledge.  Often I’ve heard members of grass-roots organisations, who aim to encourage and support schools in computing, suggest to inexperienced teachers that it’s absolutely fine to ‘let the children get on with it’.  It’s not.  As with any subject we are paid to teach, we teachers need to acquire subject knowledge and, especially in the case of computing, keep it up to date.  Then teach it, properly, using a range of approaches and strategies.

Teacher apathy and lack of confidence is a problem in primary computing that we need to start seriously addressing.  It’s not okay to opt out or only cover aspects of it.  As I’ve said before, opting out of teaching computing is like not bothering much with Maths because you find it hard.  Just because some teachers do not find embracing technology an important part of their everyday lives and/or find it challenging does not mean that it can be ignored.  It’s vital for the children they are legally obliged to educate.

Of course I fully understand that many primary teachers feel as if they have been dropped in it, with little in the way of training on offer.  I run regular CPD in my voluntary role as a Primary Computer Science Master Teacher.  Time and time again, I’m training the same passionate, enthusiastic, teachers who are (crucially) released by their schools to attend sessions.  I specifically developed iCompute for inexperienced teachers – to teach the teacher as well as pupils – well in advance of the introduction of the National Curriculum in 2014, as I anticipated that this was going to be a huge leap for most and I’m passionate about my subject being taught with enthusiasm, creatively and well.

We need a shift in attitudes about teaching primary computing.  It is fundamental to the lives of our children and we owe it to them to prepare them to understand and be able to fully participate in the modern digital world.  Instead of searching for apps or subscribing to services that provide tutorial based lessons, we need to encourage teachers to focus on improving their subject knowledge and push for training.  Only then will they have the ability to know whether those apps and services offer any value in terms of learning and progression.  They will be opting in, not out.


Charlotte Dignath-van Ewijk and Greetje van der Werf, “What Teachers Think about Self-Regulated Learning: Investigating Teacher Beliefs and Teacher Behavior of Enhancing Students’ Self-Regulation,” Education Research International, vol. 2012, Article ID 741713, 10 pages, 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/741713

Bull, Bernard, “What Is The Role Of A Teacher In A Self-Directed Learning Environment? – Etale – Ideas That Matter”. Etale – Ideas that Matter. N.p., 2017. Web. 4 Apr. 2017.









Computing with LEGO™ WeDo – Classroom Tips

Physical Programming

I recently published two new 4-6 week physical programming units to iCompute’s Key Stage 2 scheme of work; which I blogged about in my post Teach Programming with LEGO™ WeDo

I admit to a rising sense of panic as I approached my first session: young children, small LEGO parts, computers and stuff that moves!  However, we’ve been having a great time and thought I’d share some of the practises I’ve found necessary to manage these very active learning lessons.

First of all, get organised before each session.  I’ve found it’s much better to work on the floor to prevent bouncing bricks, so book out the school hall if you can or clear your classroom of desks.  I’ve assigned each pair of pupils a LEGO WeDo Construction kit and a labelled basket for their models.  I also arranged space in the classroom for a ‘robot parking lot’.  Whenever I need everyone’s attention, or if we’ll be working on the same model a few weeks in a row, we park the robots in their baskets on top of the construction kit boxes.  This helps keep the kits organised so that, combined, the model and the kit = a full construction kit.

You need to be really firm about pupil movement around the space you’re using with LEGO parts!  I use hula-hoops placed around the hall with big gaps between them.  I explain the necessity of keeping the models and construction kits within hoops to that we don’t lose the parts.  The children have been great, understanding the clear rules and why we have them.


Organisation is key!

In order to work on the floor, you’ll need either laptops or tablets.  If you don’t have either, the children can transport their models in their baskets (always with their kits) to the desktops; but make sure they have plenty of space between them to program and operate the models.

I used the amazing LEGO Digital Designer to put together building instructions as a basis for each of the models the children would be making and programming.  Don’t worry, you won’t have to if you are an iCompute school because I’ve done all that for you.  Simply print and hand out to the children.  If you fancy having a go yourself, you can virtually construct a model of your choosing and then opt to create the build instructions which your can display in a web browser or print.  Love it!

LEGO Build Instructions

Build Instructions for LEGO WeDo

Whilst build instructions can be vital for some pupils, there are still plenty of opportunities for creativity  for others and I allow those the freedom to design, create and program their own models with only a rough guide.

I’ve been really impressed with how well the children have responded to physical programming and how smoothly the lessons have gone.  I hope some of you find my tips useful and please let me know how your lessons go.



Developing Computational Thinking

Preparing The Next Generation of Problem Solvers

computational thinking puzzles

Computational Thinking Puzzles

iCompute’s computational thinking puzzles for primary pupils are a ground-breaking new development in primary education. In the digital age, the benefits of computational thinking throughout education are increasingly being highlighted. Our, colourful, engaging and challenging puzzles are designed for children aged 7-11 to independently practise and develop the fundamental computational thinking skills that lie at the heart of the National Curriculum for Computing:

A high quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the World” (DfE)

Computational Thinking is about transforming a seemingly complex problem into a simple one that we know how to solve.  This involves the use of abstraction, decomposition and generalisation when approaching tasks to remove unnecessary detail, split it into manageable parts and build on solutions we have used before.  Finding solutions involves spotting patterns and using logical reasoning – applying rules to find solutions, eg. if this happens then I need to do that, otherwise I need to do this…  Once we have a working solution, we then use evaluation to analyse it and ask – Is it any good ? Can it be improved? How?

Teaching computational thinking is not teaching children how to think like a computer.  Computers cannot think.  Computers are stupid.  Everything computers do, people make happen.  It’s also not teaching children how to compute.  It’s developing the knowledge, skills and understanding of how people solve problems.  As such, it absolutely should not be confined to computing lessons and should be used throughout the curriculum to approach and solve problems and communicate and collaborate with others.

Our puzzles help develop the fundamental computational thinking skills of decomposition, abstraction, generalisation and developing algorithms. This means children can find solutions and apply those already found to different problems, in different contexts. All of this helps lay the foundations for them to become effective problem solvers.

Solving puzzles leads to important outcomes including challenge, a sense of satisfaction, achievement and enjoyment. Puzzles rouse curiosity and hone intuition. Our carefully constructed computational thinking puzzles – designed by a computer scientist, software engineer and computer science master teacher – provide challenge, insight and entertainment all of which increase pupil engagement and promote independent learning.

Puzzles help children develop general problem-solving and independent learning skills.  Engaging in puzzles means that pupils:

  • use creative approaches
  • make choices;
  • develop modelling skills;
  • develop persistence and resilience;
  • practice recognition of patterns and similarities, reducing the complexity of problems

 Pupils use, applying and develop the following aspects of the National Curriculum for Computing:
* Logical reasoning
* Decomposition – splitting problems down into smaller problems to make them easier to solve
* Abstraction – taking the detail out of a problem to make it easier to solve
* Generalisation – adapting solutions to other problems to solve new ones
* Pattern recognition – spotting patterns and relationships
* Algorithms – finding the steps that solve a problem
* Evaluation – looking critically at a solution to determine if there’s a better way to solve it
* Testing – checking whether a possible solution works
* Debugging – finding problems with a solution and fixing them

Our puzzles are designed for independent pupil work and provide pupils with handy tips on how to approach the problems and challenges. They also make clear links between the puzzles being approached, the skills being developed and the relevance of both not just in computing but the wider world. This enables pupils to make clear links between subjects and helps pupils make meaning of their learning.

See this post for an example of the puzzles.  You can also download samples and order class packs from our main website.

All four books are now also available in one complete workbook, on Amazon:

Computational Thinking Puzzle Workbook: Ages 7-11

Click for Amazon Complete Workbooks











Periodic Table of Primary Computing Resources

New Year, New Tech

Computing Resources

Some schools have been teaching primary computing since its introduction into the National Curriculum since 2014 and some have yet to really get going.  Either way, the very nature of Computing is that things change rapidly and it’s time to start doing something new.

One of the things I like best about Computing is that you can’t churn out the same old lessons year on year.  Technology’s rapid development demands we pay attention to change; that we learn; that we adapt and, most importantly, that we create.

We owe it to our pupils to keep abreast of pedagogical and technological change.  I’ve put together a selection of the fantastic tools and technologies that I use to teach Computing, some of which you’ll know but lots of which I hope are new and you’ll give a go.  Adapted from a previous post here, I’ve turned it into a periodic table of primary computing resources.  I keep banging on about this but Computing is more than just programming and lots of the resources listed here are for you to use with your pupils to teach the other strands of the curriculum as well as to use with cross curricular approaches.

Periodic Table of Computing Resources

Click to Download this Poster – Now including hyperlinks to the resources

There are many, many, more and I’d love to hear how you have been getting on teaching computing in your classrooms as well as hearing about the resources you’ve been using.

Full, progressive step-by-step, lesson plans and all associated lesson resources and worksheets are available for the tools and resources included in the table.  Visit our website for more information.










Primary Computing with Sphero

Controlling Physical Systems – Robotics

As part of my role with Computing At Schools (CAS) as a Primary Computer Science Master Teacher,  I have recently been fortunate enough to teach using Sphero, having been lent a set by @cas_lancaster.  The task was to produce a set of step-by-step Sphero lesson plans and associated teacher and pupil support materials for primary teachers to use.  That is all now done and I’ve had great fun creating our new robotics unit – iCompute with Sphero – which forms part of our iPad pack , as well as being available separately.  It will be lent out to other local schools by @cas_lancaster.  Teaching progressive lessons using Spheros enables primary schools to meet a number of the objectives of the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 2 Specifically:

  1. design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts
  2. use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output
  3. use logical reasoning to explain how some simple algorithms work and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs
  4. select, use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to design and create a range of programs, systems and content that accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information
iCompute Lesson Plans with Sphero Cover

iCompute with Sphero

iCompute Features Flowchart

iCompute – Features Flowchart

Here, I share my experiences of using Spheros with primary pupils and give some general advice and classroom tips about how to use them effectively, engage and challenge your pupils.

What is Sphero?

Sphero is a robot ball with several features that can be controlled though apps and also includes the facility for pupils to create their own computer programs. The main features are:

  • Rolling – Sphero can roll at specified speeds and directions
  • Colours – Sphero can light up to a specified colour
  • Bluetooth – Sphero connects to mobile devices through wireless Bluetooth


As Spheros are connected to iPads via Bluetooth, preparing to use them in your classroom before your roll up brandishing them and creating general hysteria is vital!  Make sure all are fully charged and that your have paired each to a particular tablet in advance.  Each Sphero flashes a unique sequence of colours when they are ‘woken’ which can be used to identify them.  A Sphero will appear on your tablet’s Bluetooth list using the initials of the three colours it flashes in order, Eg. Sphero-RGB for a colour sequence of Red, Green and Blue.

I added stickers to each of the Spheros with their unique name, as ‘YGO’, ‘RGW’ etc., and also to the corresponding tablet I’d paired it to. This made distributing them and the iPads much easier when in class.


You need lots of space to use these.  I used the school hall.  I refer back to ‘Preparation’ for this as it may be something you need to organise. I forgot on my first session and arrived with a very excitable class to a hall full of lunch tables. The first half of my lesson therefore involved getting those out of the way.

You can also buy covers called a ‘Nubby’ for outside use.

Sphero Nubby Cover

Sphero Cover

I tried this with one of my classes and we had to come back inside as it was sunny and therefore impossible to see Sphero’s tail-light: essential to be able to aim it to move in the direction you want it to go.  Also, we had iPads and the children couldn’t see the screens.

 Lesson Ideas

Now on to the good stuff.   My specialism is teaching primary pupils aged 5-11.  I think Spheros are suitable for Key Stage 2 pupils, children aged 7-11.

I suggest your first session focus on teaching the children how to wake Sphero, Orient (aim) it and control it using the standard Sphero app. Each Sphero comes with, amongst other things, a pair of ramps and once the children have got used to moving Sphero forward and backward with reasonable accuracy, add the ramps and other obstacles to make things interesting and develop accuracy further.

Sphero App icon

Sphero App

A lesson, including step-by-step instructions for both teacher and pupil for this are available in our robotics pack.

iCompute with Sphero Lesson Plan

iCompute with Sphero




The following lessons progresses to using the Sphero Draw N’ Drive app enabling the children to gain greater control and begin to understand that Sphero can be controlled to perform specific actions.

I then move things on for the rest of the unit to programming Sphero using Tickle.

Tickle App Icon


We created quizzes that the children programmed Sphero to move and change colour to answer.  This presents great cross-curricular opportunities.  We create algorithms and program Sphero to be our dance partners for Physical Education. Also, mazes to navigate with excellent links to Mathematics for distance, direction and angle work.  The children also program Sphero to travel the globe, linking to Geography, using a free floor map from National Geographic.

Using robotics in the primary classroom presents creative and engaging opportunities for the children to extend what they have learned about algorithms and programming in Computing by understanding that physical systems can be controlled too.  With the right blend planning and imaginative resources, using Sphero’s in your classroom has the potential to inspire the next generation of software designers and systems engineers!  The possibilities are exciting…

Visit icompute-uk.com for primary computing lesson plans.

Primary Computing Assessment

Assessing Primary Computing

Assessment presents particular challenges for computing and many schools have not yet addressed how to accurately assess pupil progress and provide evidence of it.  Let’s see what David Brown, HMI Ofsted’s National Lead for Computing, has to say about computing in schools.

Mr Brown’s message is overwhelmingly that of outcomes with no specific advice about how to achieve them.  Having taught Computing in primary schools since 2013, I have found that the time required to cover the programmes of study for Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 is one hour of computing each week for Years 1-6, coupled with cross-curricular work to practise and consolidate skills in other subjects.

Assessment can be particularly daunting for teachers of computing as traditional methods of marking and feedback are a challenge given its digital nature. A range of assessment strategies are therefore necessary, with discussion and questioning being key.  To support evidence of progression, I use a variety of methods and tools.  I maintain an e-Portfolio for each of my pupils on the school network where they store digital work using version numbering and dating, this allows me (and anyone else) to track the progress they have made more easily.  I also update iCompute’s pupil progress trackers (forming part of our assessment toolkit) after each unit of work.  Feedback is face-to-face, in writing for worksheet activities and by video or online where appropriate in the form of commenting.  Examples of this are with Scratch where I insert comments next to the children’s blocks of code and in Microsoft Kodu where I edit the project descriptions to provide feedback and suggest next steps.

Self and peer assessment is hugely beneficial to pupils providing an opportunity to reflect on work, learn from mistakes and evaluate for improvement.   Recording audio can be particularly good for these forms of assessment where projects can be described in detail in terms of their design, functionality, problem solving and potential future improvements as they are being developed and/or used.   The audio can be embedded within the project and ‘hidden’ so as not to interfere or distract from the core project by programming playback to happen on a given key stroke or button press which is commented in to the code – see screenshot.

computing assessment

Record audio or video screencasts for self-assessment in computing

Potentially one of the most powerful tools for assessment in computing is engaging our modern digital citizens in creating screencasts –  combining images, audio and text into video.

Research indicates that by making learning visual and documenting thinking through screencasting pupils more naturally engage in self-assessment.

Even when recordings are made without any intended audience and in the absence of any prompting, pupils automatically listen back to themselves, reflect, assess and adjust.

This promising tool could be used to further develop IT and digital literacy skills whilst also engaging pupils in the assessment process by editing screencasts for an intended audience with audio and creating visual effects such as captioning.  They could then be uploaded to individual or class blogs, using categories and tags mapped to the appropriate strand of the National Curriculum for Computing, as evidence of learning or saved as a video file for storage on file servers either at school or in the Cloud.  Similarly, teachers could use screencasts to provide audio/visual pupil feedback by recording when reviewing work.  The screencasts could be cross-referenced against a project and uploaded into the pupil’s e-Portfolio.  Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) is the best free screencasting software currently available.

Whilst evidence of progression and attainment can be more of a challenge for computing than for some other subjects, addressing how it can be achieved presents an excellent opportunity to rethink how we assess our pupils.  We teachers can use what we learn about assessing children’s learning in technology to move our assessment strategies forward and fully embrace the advantages assessing with technology offer.

Find out more about iCompute’s comprehensive primary computing assessment toolkit.