I don’t think rules, as commonly formulated, are very useful in the context of Computing lessons. Rules are usually framed in the negative. For example, in a computer lab I went into a few years ago on one of my school visits, there was a poster on the door listing all the things that people shouldn’t do:
Do not leave the computers on.
Do not leave printing next to the computers.
Do not just switch the computers off.
and so on.
There are two main problems with this sort of thing.
First, it doesn’t tell you what you are supposed to do instead. For example, if I am not allowed to turn the computer off, am I supposed to just leave it on? If I am supposed to log off and shut down properly, it would be better to say exactly that – and tell me how to do so.
Second, it creates such a horrible, negative atmosphere that, in my case at least, made me not want to be there at all. There were so many “Don’ts” that I thought it was probably safer to not do anything, to avoid contravening any rules I didn’t even know about!
In my opinion it is far better to create and establish a set of expectations for Computing lessons. People – even kids! – tend to rise or fall to the level of others’ expectations of them. Here is the set of expectations I established for my own lessons.
Treat everyone in the lesson with respect
That means, no shouting across them, calling someone an idiot or talking while they are talking.
Treat the facilities with respect
One way I was able to achieve this was to always make sure they were in the sort of condition that indicated that someone cared about them. Unfortunately, that sometimes meant clearing up computer rooms in my break after other teachers had allowed their classes to leave them looking like a battlefield. You get through to people in the end what sort of standards you expect, but it can take a long time.
Not in the behaviour sense, but in terms of challenging statements or assumptions. For example, had I started a computing lesson with a statement like “A good example of an algorithm is a recipe”, I’d have been disappointed had my pupils not questioned that. I’d have had to have qualified the statement to some extent.
I expected my pupils to keep up with current affairs as they affected, or could affect, my subject. That was pretty easy when I was teaching economics, but I also expected it when I was teaching Computer Programming and ICT. I thought (and think) it important for pupils to have an awareness of how the stuff they are leaning might be applied in a real world context, and to be aware of instances when things go horribly wrong. Unfortunately, you don’t have to look far for examples (just pick any Government-run IT project if you’re stuck for ideas).
When I was teaching, social media wasn’t available, but had it been I would not have allowed my pupils to acquire all their “knowledge” of the world from social media, any more than I’d have been content for them to read only some ranting tabloid newspaper. I built up a library of magazines, and had a subscription to the Economist. Had I been teaching primary school children then I’d have subscribed to First News. You may not have that newspaper where you live, but the point I’m making is that it’s all about expectations. I would not expect someone to tell me they know something because a friend told them about it on Facebook. At the very least I’d expect them to check the information out in a different sort of media outlet altogether.
I didn’t care whether my pupils used a database, spreadsheet or computer program to achieve a particular goal, as long as they could convince me that their choice was the correct one. And the more outlandish their idea, aka the less likely it was that I’d have thought of doing it that way myself, the more I liked it.
By this I don’t mean not to act like children – why shouldn’t they, given that they are? I mean that when they were working on a long term (6 week) project, I expected them to organise their own time and tasks, be cognisant of when they needed a bit of a break (the lessons were two hours long), and know when it was time to get back to work.
Finally, it’s better to give pupils responsibility rather than a list of rules and regulations, which is why I favour Responsible Use Policies over Acceptable Use Policies. As a general rule, I always found that giving responsibility to pupils worked well, whether it was organising themselves for an IT project, organising a Briefing Evening for parents or preparing a Year assembly.
I do think a key thing though is to remain the teacher. All this nonsense about being a guide on the side or “facilitating” is all very well, but someone in the room has to be the adult and as you’re the teacher it might as well be you. Giving kids responsibility and freedom only works if they know that you are doing so from a position of strength, not because you are unable to impose discipline if needs be, or because you have some half-baked idea about getting down and dirty with the kids.
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