Making the Computing curriculum interesting

It takes quite some doing, I think, to take a vibrant, exciting subject like ICT and Computing and reduce it in many people's minds to a male-oriented, geeky and basically boring coding-fest. But that's what some people in England managed to achieve.

Please note: I said "in many people's minds". I still think the subject can be very interesting, gender-neutral and not just about coding, it's just that you have to work at it, and be a heck of a good marketer.

Some years ago I wrote an article called Shock Tactics, which was about how to make ICT more interesting. I think many if not all of the suggestions would work today, not least because what I was advocating was a different sort of approach to the subject.

At the EduTech Show in October I'll be talking about ten ways to jazz up your Computing curriculum. I've given talks with the same title before, but I tend to change most of the ten things each time.

Andrew Morrish has written an impassioned and brilliant, and worrying, article about curriculum in general, called Why I fear for our curriculum. Unfortunately, the article is marred in my opinion by the dig at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) right at the end. I worked for that organisation, as a Principal Officer in ICT, and the curriculum we promoted was interesting, exciting, broad and balanced. (The fact that some schools decided that what it all boiled down to was teaching Microsoft Office could hardly be blamed on us; we couldn't have dished out more guidance if we'd tried.)

But what I noticed was that in every government or Ofsted document I came across that featured examples of schools doing great things, those examples were almost always more daring and, in a sense, outlandish than anything in official guidelines. In fact I commented once at a conference that it seemed to me that the schools the government held up as beacons of excellent practice were the ones who were complete mavericks and ignored all the rules. This was met with a deafening silence, of course. And if that wasn't enough to assure me that I was right, the decision, many years later, to allow academies and free schools to abandon the National Curriculum altogether certainly was.

When I was Head of Department, I took the view that I wanted my students to be excited, intrigued, not merely interested, and I wanted them to feel impelled to explore the  subject further. I thought that if the scheme of work was broad and deep, the students would do well in their exams without any need to teach to the test or even to restrict my teaching to what was on the syllabus.

This is probably wishful thinking, but I like to think that the same is true even now.