10 ideas for Computing or ICT lesson routines

Things may be going great, so why change them? You know the old saying: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

But there's another point of view too: who wants to become ossified? The biggest nightmare for me would have been to end up like the teacher described to me by someone I know. He said he obtained a job as a teacher in the school he attended as a child, and in the classroom next door he could hear his old history teacher dictating the same set of notes as he'd done 20 years before.

If that strikes as much dread in you as it did me, then read on for a few simple ideas to try now.

Start testing...

Start the lesson with a five minute quick-fire oral test. It’s a really good way of getting the adrenalin flowing. In the students I mean!

... and checking

Check understanding. There really is no point in hurtling headlong in a desperate rush to “deliver” the curriculum on time. Indeed, the very expression “deliver the curriculum” epitomises what’s wrong with that approach. Teachers aren’t postmen; they’re not supposed to “deliver” anything. If you take the analogy further, the postman may deliver something to me, but I don’t have to open it: “delivery” is a very one-sided process. You will only know if you’ve taught something (as opposed to merely “delivered” it) by checking whether students have understood it. Sorry if that is too obvious for words, but often because of (misguided) pressure that part of the equation gets left out. You could build this in to the 5 minute test idea, or something similar, as long as you make sure that every student answers.

Relinquish control

Hand part of the lesson to the students. For instance, have students work in pairs to research an ICT-related issue outside lesson time, and then give a five minute presentation on it in a lesson. For younger pupils, you might ask them to find examples of technology in everyday life, and then talk about them.

Introduce a new resource

Spend a few minutes introducing the students to a new website, eg a safe place where they can obtain clip art to use in their work, or from which they can download ready-made code.

Revise, review and recap

Spend a few minutes going over what was covered in the previous lesson (time pressures mean that this is not always done). You might want to ask a student or two to take the lead – especially if you have a system of classroom scribes in place, whereby a student blogs what was covered in the lesson, on a rota basis.

Use students' blogs, if they have one

If students have their own blog, then each lesson one of them could read out their latest post and invite discussion or comment.

Set homework early

If you set homework, set it at the beginning of the lesson rather than the end. Not only will that give you time to make sure everyone understands what they have to do, it will also help the students to understand what they need to do in the lesson in order to be able to do the homework.

Use a different technology

I believe in shaking it up a bit to see what happens, and to keep kids flexible. If they're used to using a laptop, get them to see what they can get out of a tablet. Or ask them to do a different sort of work altogether and use a camera.

This needs to be done in a way that doesn't jeopardise their chances of completing their work on time, but sometimes students refrain from using different technologies because of a lack of self-confidence, and that's what needs to be addressed.

Use no technology

Speaking as one who was once timetabled for half of my Computer Science timetable in a room with no computers, I can say with authority that not using technology can be extremely worthwhile. It enables you to focus on the theory rather than get distracted by trying things out or testing whether or not they work. Those things can be done later.

Writers often do this sort of thing, or a variation of it. By disconnecting from the internet, or having the willpower to ignore it, you can get a lot of writing done. Facts and quotes can be checked later.

Discuss the news

Allocate the first 10 or 15 minutes of the lesson to a discussion involving current affairs. Wait! I know what you’re going to say: there’s no time! Well, I subscribe to several news compilers, such as Flipboard and Scoopit, and I read newspapers too, and there is a relevant news item in at least one of those sources every day. If you want to make sure that students can see the relevance of what you’re teaching them, and what they’re having to learn, you can’t do much better than incorporating current news into your lessons.

On this subject, I've started to introduce a new occasional series of articles called Computing Discussion Topics, each of which centres on a recent news item. There are several of these in the forthcoming issue of Digital Education.

This is by no means a definitive list, just a few suggestions to think about. I hope you find them useful. You can always ask your students to come up with a few ideas too!