How to manage the workload of teaching Computing?


30 May
30May

It seems that every week there is something new to teach, we still have a life, you know! What can we do to limit the time we spend preparing resources and planning?

For starts, it definitely pays (even if it’s free) to join CAS. Its forums feature a great many resources, so you don’t have to invent a wheel. Then, the events page will point you towards all sorts of fun and useful sessions happening both locally and nationally where you get a chance to meet other teachers and swap resources. There is absolutely no need to try and make all the resources yourself, even if you know everything there is to know about the subject. Even if you are not happy with the quality of a resource, it is much easier to remix it, takes the best parts and add what you think it was missing in the first place.

Some of the most useful things everybody seems to be on a hunt for – complete lessons activities, lesson plans and schemes of work, and syntax cheat sheets. In addition to CAS, Google is obviously, quite handy and we often find first year of uni Computer Science  problem sets and lecture notes that have a lot of useful info to supplement very brief exam board materials, be they from India, US, or University of Kent.

Avoiding stress:

Try putting things in perspective (and communicate this to your management if necessary) – teaching of so much Computing to such wide masses of pupils across the country had never been done! We are a very new science, looking for our place under the sun. Are we to sit with Maths and Physics, as suggested by Dr Kevin Bond and other brilliant people behind the initiative? Or should we be over with Design and Technology, producing artefacts and project managing?

Our textbooks are still being written and rewritten, our IT support mostly don’t code and think of it as a black magic which is to be exorcised, many a SMT think that all computer related teaching is the same, a Business Studies teacher helping out with Excel 2 lessons a week is just perfect for introducing GCSE Computing, especially in year 11!

These are all teething issues. Once we discover more about how to teach this new subject that only recently (and in US still do this day) has been taught in uni and beyond, we will come up with the templates that the rest of the world will use. We have had people from US and other countries come to our events, and one thing I can tell you – right now, we are the trailblazers, we are the future!

On a practical note, I found that getting pupils to prepare resources is great for getting them involved AND taking some load off your shoulders. Make it competitive and let 2 or 3 out of the flow of 30 pupil-designed handouts on say, “nested selections with examples” put their names in glory to be used in the future and lower down the school. Just make sure to teach your pupils these fun skills to make their work look professional. Check our other blog entry for fun capturing videos of the screen. (keywords: clipboard manager, copy/paste, One Note).

On keeping notes.

As a technology-based subject, our artefacts can’t always be printed out or displayed in a linear fashion. I found that in addition to old-fashioned books which they need to prepare for still mostly pen-and-paper exams, all the “reusable” stuff, like code, images, videos, internet links and screenshots is better collected in One Note. You will find A level pupils using One Note and, in fact, from my experience, this made some of them switch from their funky MacBook Airs to Microsoft Surfaces in the last two years of school, what is a Surface but not a hardware embodiment of Microsoft Office?

One Note comes with Windows 8 and later in a light form, and with Microsoft Office in the full form. It is confusing at first because it doesn’t subscribe to the established format of separate documents, pages, slides, sheets… It features folders of notes, called “Notebooks” which are made up of sections, similar to how Moodle VLE is set up. These sections sit beside each other in tabs, so it’s perfectly for organising topics. But the real magic begins when you copy and paste rich text (text with formatting and images) into One Note. You are expecting it to come out broken and missing bits, while overwhelming it does an amazing job of recreating the HTML or whatever format you have on the section’s page. Then there are sharing features which combined with Office 365 allow plenty of cooperation between the pupils.

Of course, One Note’s layout skills are not suitable for anything paper based, so still expect to transfer information to PowerPoint and/or Publisher as per need, but it’s always nice to have it all in a raw format, giving you a choice of formatting and a convenient organisation structure. The copy and paste facilities of One Note (it just has to be open, you don’t even have to be using it), are excellent, allowing a screenshot to be performed with a keyboard shortcut (Windows key + S on Windows 7 and earlier, Windows key + Shift + S on later versions). Watch this short video on the suggested workflow involving One Note to illustrate a programming concept. [e.g. using currency formatting by starting at Python’s manual page].

How to create flowcharts in Ms Office

We suggest Ms PowerPoint for your charting needs. Why? All Office products have access, via their Insert menu, to all of the flowcharting shapes. Out of all Office products, it seems to have the best graphics handling, e.g. selecting multiple shapes, grouping, etc. PowerPoint will also allow you to literally go outside the box – you can have elements outside of the slide which will not show to the viewer but you can keep various building blocks on the margins, ready to construct another flowchart handout or presentation. Speaking of handouts, while it’s tempting to just use PowerPoint’s “print handouts” feature, you can have more control by setting a slide size to A4 (or whatever size you want it on) and then using it as a more intelligent version of Publisher (which is looking very clunky and dated as of October 2017, basically unloved).

What is a good CPD?

We have all had our share of dreadful CPD events, when we come away none the wiser, having suffered, coffee in hand, through an onslaught of alternatively boring/too cutesy slides, with the presenter doing my favourite – “to save time, we just skip this” to about 20 slides in a row. Today’s budgets are tight and going on a CPD seems to be an opportunity of a lifetime ;) So, what do we want from a CPD?

I want…

A friendly presenter (two presenters is even better) who is not condenscending and doesn’t think you are stupid for asking questions they haven’t thought about.

Hands-on activities

Resources to take away!

Food and plenty of caffeine

Plugs and sensible temperatures

Ease of getting to and proximity to major transportation hubs

Networking and forming connections with other attendees

Seeing some easy stuff and some difficult stuff – enough to stretch you but also sufficient to get your brain going about explaining this to your kids.

Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.

It often happens that at some point towards the end of the session, right after lunch when blood flows to your stomach away from your brain, things might get a bit too difficult and you might “lose” the presenter. It is natural, after all, you all come to these with different set of experiences or even travel arrangements. What is important then is to concentrate on planning – if something looks difficult to you when you are starting out – it will be difficult to your pupils when you in turn are explaining to them, so it’s a signal to you to allow more lessons for this topic.

Alternatively, unless your brain is completely fried, try to go back to the material that was more accessible earlier in a session and start developing your lesson plan in a way that makes to you and your pupils. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarifications on that early material if needed, once there are pauses and practical work in a session.

The best way through any CPD is not through passively seating and trying to take stuff in, it is thinking ahead and generating worksheets (in multiple skills levels for AfL) on the topics covered. Bring a laptop with a good keyboard and a proper mouse (rather than the slow touchpads) and translate presenter’s materials into your own resources or at least, resource ideas.

Keyboard is always faster than a mouse, so it makes sense to know these shortcuts, so you don’t have to fish around for a mouse and take your hands off the keyboard.

Some of the very useful shortcuts for this:

Ctrl+m inserts a new slide

Ctrl+a selects all text/elements if one is already selected

Ctrl+] increases selected font, Ctrl+[ decreases it

Ctrl+y repeats the last command, e.g. inserting a slide

Ctrl+drag – with proper aiming allows duplications of objects and words even without copy and paste operations.

More information on shortcuts can be found here (http://www.createthefuture.com/pdf_files/PowerPoint%20Keyboard%20Shortcuts.pdf) and here (http://www.customguide.com/cheat_sheets/powerpoint-2013-quick-reference.pdf)

Have a template file ready with all generic worksheet elements like name, topic, etc, already on it and a reusable area for any screenshots and space to write the answers in. Here is an example of such a template used to generate worksheets based on the presenter’s PowerPoint slides. Note the use of the Master Layout page that allows certain generic elements to appear on every page automatically. Incindentally, you can find Publisher cheat sheets here (https://www.cevmultimedia.com/atomsville/cityofatomsville/CheatSheetPDFs/Publisher%2013%20Cheat%20Sheet.pdf)  and here (http://www.nmsbvi.k12.nm.us/WEB/ATRC/Instruction/Keyboard%20Shortcuts/Office/Microsoft%20Publisher%20shortcut%20and%20function%20keys.doc).

We always try to make sure that our CPD are useful and empowering. Our goal is to save you months of work but not to bury you with a rigid structure. Things change, that’s one thing that remains constant in this game.

Use PowerPoint to show random cue cards

We love this trick from PowerPoint Alchemy (http://www.pptalchemy.co.uk/random.html) that can be used to introduce random numbers (and the tricks we have to go through when we can’t generate them)


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