28 October 2021
Supporting students’ mental health in Computing
As teachers of Computing in primary and secondary schools I’m sure that we’ve all read the headlines and heard the horrifying stories of how technology can be misused to the detriment of students’ mental health, especially regarding the impact of social media during formative teenage years.
I’m sure we could also argue the case for how technology can be a force for good and that we regularly remind students how to prevent, report or mitigate the dangers so that our students can stay safe online.
I’ve recently finished writing up an audit of how my school’s Computing curriculum supports or meets statutory guidance on health, relationships and sex education and I was struck by two things:
- How closely many of the requirements from the statutory guidance overlap with the Computing Programme of Study (particularly related to Internet Safety and harms)
- How many opportunities there are within the Computing curriculum for creative projects that build up students’ confidence, self-esteem and mental health.
If you’ve not read it already, there are some excellent articles in this month’s Hello World magazine along the theme of Health and Wellbeing. Catherine Elliott gives some really helpful tips on how to develop confidence, reduce anxiety and enable success within Computing lessons.
Oliver Quinlan’s excellent article in the same issue of Hello World goes on to explain how we can inspire young people with contexts they care about. I think that the combination of both Catherine and Oliver’s approaches makes a powerful mix in Computing lessons. It’s an added bonus that it also ticks many of the boxes defined by the statutory guidance that schools are obliged to meet.
For example, by the end of secondary school, students are required to know how to critically evaluate when something they do or are involved in has a positive or negative effect on their own or others’ mental health. Last year I had the privilege of working with a team of Y9 girls who developed a mental health app for teenagers as part of the Longitude Explorer Prize. Sadly, that competition isn’t running this year but there are plenty of other opportunities to run projects that appeal to students’ empathy and compassion as well as their grow their technical proficiency. Apps for Good offer free creative technology courses to empower a new generation to change their world through technology and the do your:bit competition works really nicely alongside the NCCE Physical Computing resources.
I think teenagers often get a bad reputation for being either apathetic or self-absorbed. I think they do care – often passionately – about the world around them, but they often just feel powerless to do anything about it. Teenagers have a very strong sense of social justice and they often care deeply about the environment, animal welfare, equality and mental health.
The skills students learn in Computing can be life-changingly empowering, enabling them to campaign for and promote causes they believe in and design and create solutions to the problems of today and tomorrow.
The RSE statutory guidelines also state that secondary students are required to cover the benefits and importance of physical exercise, time outdoors, community participation and voluntary and service-based activities on mental wellbeing and happiness.
I know that curriculum time is very limited in most Computing departments at KS3 and many people will see the guidance as the primary (or sole) responsibility of a PSHE / Personal Development department but I’d be really interested to hear from any other schools that have adapted or used the excellent gaining support for a cause KS3 NCCE resources:
- What causes have your students chosen to support?
- How has teaching them to use the computing superpowers to change the world for good affected their motivation and aspirations?
- Has bringing in empathy and compassion into Computing engaged boys and girls in the same way?
- What resources and projects have you found that have engaged students and boosted their mental wellbeing?
- What other competitions have your students entered that empower them to make the world a better place using technology?
The newly redesigned Computing At School Community website is the perfect place to bounce ideas around and discuss teaching and learning opinions in a safe and positive environment. Come and join the discussion!