Inspiring children and giving teachers skills and confidence - is the key to teaching computing to early learners, says Vicky Dodds, CAS community leader and NCCE hub primary lead. We spoke to Vicky about her ‘hands on’ approach;
Vicky is passionate about getting young children engaged in computing education and works with schools across the northeast where she runs her own company, Computing4Kids NE.
She’s also a CAS community leader for CAS Kingston Park and primary leader for the NCCE’s Computing Hub based at Cardinal Hume School and covering the Newcastle, Gateshead and Durham areas.
Vicky taught in Northumbria schools for 18 years where she was ICT and Computing lead.
In January 2017, she left full-time teaching to set up Computing4Kids NE to provide specialist teaching support to schools, and run community sessions to introduce preschool, KS1 and KS2 children to different forms of coding.
“The last three and a half years have been a whirlwind! I saw an opportunity to get children in the early years more involved in computing. They are so up for a challenge and so ready to be engaged,” she said.
“Children are driven by what they are interested in and I wanted to plug the gap and help schools to deliver computing education in an engaging way.”
Vicky works with children aged from nursery through to Year 6 helping to look at the provision of computing education in primary schools and support teachers.
“I work to develop teacher’s skills and guide them ways to set up the classroom and look at how computing can be embedded in the curriculum,” said Vicky.
“When the KS2 New Primary Curriculum for Computing was introduced in 2014 I started looking at computing skills within schools. We mapped out the curriculum and started to deliver the CPD which teachers needed in order to be able to deliver it in a way which meant they weren’t scared of tackling computing and could use tech for effective learning.
“Teachers hadn’t learnt how to teach computer science because they were scared of it. We sought to address that and help them overcome that.”
“We try to demonstrate how computer science can be embedded. I work in the classroom so that they can see me with a group of children.
Vicky’s approach is very much ‘hands on’ and she works in the classroom to inspire staff.
“We use a lot of activities in rotation. We use unplugged activities as well as using tech and can have four or five activities set up which means children can explore the concepts in greater depth.
“It’s an effective way of learning and children are kept engaged because they choose the activity that interests them.
“The children get really into the different activities, which is always the best way of learning and we never have any behaviour problems. We try to show the teachers the variety of resources that are available,” she said.
“We’re also getting more girls engaged, which is great. Variety of activities is key to getting girls involved. Often they like the art activities or something very visual. It’s about finding the thing that interests them.”
Computing skills should be embedded across the curriculum, and Vicky is always looking at ways of linking activities to other aspects of the primary curriculum.
“It’s about being imaginative in your approach. For instance, we talk to a teacher about what they’re focussing on for that half term, so if it’s the Fire of London we will look at ways of embedding computer science too.
“I spent time in a Year 6 class which was focusing on the Second World War. We combined the topic and physical computing to model how to embed computing into the curriculum. Setting up a rotation of activities such as learning to use the Microbit for morse code, the Crumble Controller to make a moving vehicle, and Scratch to develop projects. We used children from one Year 6 class to then act as computing ambassadors and support the other Year 6 class and lead a group. This worked really well.
“We’ve had some brilliant successes working with schools. Headteachers have recognised that they need to get the right CPD provision for their staff, and we’ve worked together to share ideas and develop skills.”
In her role as primary leader at the NCCE’s Computing Hub, she’s been working to upskill teachers across the region.
“We are there to support and give good advice,” she said.
Vicky’s also had a ‘hands on’ approach to her NCCE role and has recently completed its Computer Science Accelerator course.
“If I’m talking to teachers about this qualification, I should also have some experience of it. It was really useful course for me to do.
“I also did the Future Learn Programming course. It gives you a different way of looking at things. I did it for my own personal development and as a way to gauge my knowledge of the subject. Teaching moves so fast you have to keep your skills up-to-date.”
Indeed, many teachers have also shown how keen they are to build on their skills, and the CAS network has been busier than ever.
“It’s been a brilliant network to be part of and the CAS network has really come into its own during the lockdown. We’ve been running meetings with up to 70 or 80 teachers which has been amazing,” she said.
“The NCCE courses have also seen around 30 or 40 people taking part here - the interest is definitely there.”