Computing: Whole-team schemes of work

Written by: Terry Freedman | Published:
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Involving teachers in creating your computing schemes of work – even those who aren’t computing experts – is something Terry Freedman strongly recommends...

Do you find it hard to delegate the creation of the scheme of work? Or perhaps you’d love to delegate, but doubt it would work because the teachers in your team are not as knowledgeable or as experienced as you. Either way, you could be losing out in a number of ways.

When I was a head of ICT and computing I found that by involving teachers in developing the scheme of work it was much richer as a result – even with teachers who aren’t computing experts.

Workload

Although, why bother? After all, you’re the expert, you can probably write a scheme of work standing on your head, and there’s nothing wrong with one you already have anyway. Nevertheless, there are a number of advantages of getting others involved.

First, let’s start with the least good reason: it can potentially reduce your workload. Of course, delegating should be undertaken in order to create the best possible scheme of work and the people you’re delegating to need to get something from the experience too. It’s not all about your workload.

At any rate, if you do it properly it would be unlikely to reduce your workload, only change its nature a bit. Why? Because you will still have to work with your team to make sure the scheme is as good as it can be.

Innovative approaches

Second, involving your team members by asking them to take responsibility for particular topics or units is likely to result in approaches and examples you may never have thought of. For example, one of the teachers in your team might be a marathon runner in her spare time. She will almost certainly be able to use her knowledge and experience to generate some great activities for students.

Teacher motivation

Third, because of teachers using their own examples rather than ones they have been given, they are likely to have more “buy-in”, and their passion is much more likely to infect the students.

Staff CPD

Fourth, part of your job as head of department is to bring your staff on, so that in time they can gain promotion themselves. Look at any job specification for head of department and you will discover that among the requirements are “write a scheme of work”, “plan lessons”, “run training for other teachers”, and “evaluate resources and how well students are achieving with them”. In fact one teacher in my team went from second year teacher on the lowest pay scale to head of department in one jump, after I pointed out to her that she had already done several of the jobs expected of a department chief!

So how do you go about it?

Start with a broad outline of the scheme of work in terms of which concepts will be covered when, in half-term blocks. You will end up with six topics in year 7, and perhaps five in each of years 8 and 9, allowing for revisiting and revision.

That may not sound like many topics, but bear in mind that we’re talking about broad categories. Thus one “module” might be called “Under the bonnet”, and cover the hardware components in computer systems and how computers store information.

Do this before meeting with your team, unless you wish to become embroiled in lots of discussion about whether module “x” should be taught before module “y”,
and so on. You are head of department, so you are expected to dictate some things!

Next, ask team members to take on responsibility for one or more blocks of work, i.e. six weeks’ worth of lessons. The idea is that, to take the example above, one teacher would take responsibility for everything required to teach the students what goes on “under the bonnet” of a computer.

One of the things you’ll want to think about is whether there is some overlap between different areas. In such cases, two teachers may find it useful to work together. Alternatively, perhaps the teacher in charge of the other module can be asked to sit in on the discussion you will be having with the teacher in charge of the module in question (see below).

Managing the module

Once the areas of responsibility have been organised, each teacher needs to do the following for their module.

First, they need to work out how they want to teach it, what resources they will need, and so on. For example, they might decide to use the open source Arduinos resources, or have the students take some old computers apart and put them together again. Or they might decide it would be great to visit a computer maintenance company. Perhaps it would be possible to get the school’s IT technicians involved too. All this needs to be planned.

What if the teacher who has volunteered to take on a topic isn’t too confident about it themselves? Talk through the issues with them, and teach them what they need to know or make sure they have the resources and the time to teach themselves.

I found this to be a process of iteration: a teacher would come to me with an idea and ask me what I thought. Most of the time I thought their ideas were really refreshing, but sometimes I’d suggest a slight variation. Then a bit later they would come back to me with the revised plan and we’d discuss that.

Because this is a time-consuming process, it makes sense for you to take on the first couple of modules yourself. For a start, it will relieve the pressure on your staff, especially the less experienced or less confident ones. In addition, it will give you the chance to model the kind of thing you’re expecting from them.

The next thing the teacher in charge of the module has to do is create or source the materials needed, such as hand-outs, videos, podcasts, places to visit or visiting speakers. You’re allowed to help, by the way! If, for instance, you know of a fantastic video that explains a particular concept well, share it with the teacher in charge of the module.

Another area that needs to be addressed is assessment. If the teacher in charge of the “Under the bonnet” module believes that the best form of assessment is to get the kids to assemble a computer in an hour or less, that would be pretty impractical, time-consuming, and difficult to mark, especially for a non-specialist.

A better approach is to create a few self-marking tests, perhaps using Google Forms or a similar kind of application. The aim is not to reduce marking and assessment altogether, but to ensure that it is manageable and as consistent between different teachers as possible.

Department training

Once they have prepared their module, the teacher must run a training session for the rest of department, who will be teaching that block of work using that teacher’s approach, examples and resources.

This highlights another advantage of this approach. Rather than have a situation in which every teacher is creating resources and planning lessons for every topic, they share the workload. If you are doing everything required for the module, all I have to do is teach it. So I can focus my creative energies on my chosen module.

The training session could be quite a challenge if the topic is a difficult or unfamiliar one. The training may end up having two aims. Ideally, the only aim would be to become familiar with the materials and the approach. But in a worst-case scenario the team will need to be taught the topic itself. Therefore, allow for more than one training session – a good reason to have everything ready at least half-a-term in advance.

The staff training session may highlight a few glitches. For example, if one of your colleagues cannot understand the instructions on a PowerPoint slide, it’s doubtful the students will. Time has to be allowed for those kind of issues to be addressed, so here’s another good reason to ask the teachers to have their module ready by the half-term before it’s going to be taught. That allows several weeks for changes to be made.

After the module has been covered, it’s important to have an evaluation session. How did it go – what should be tweaked for next time? Did any of the staff discover, perhaps by accident, a slightly better analogy, or come across a source of misunderstanding that none of you had anticipated?

Final thoughts

A couple of things to bear in mind. First, it would be sensible to ask teachers to do three versions of each module, one for each of years 7, 8 and 9. That way they can ensure that the work in each year builds upon the work of the previous year. This is not necessarily as onerous as it sounds, especially if you are introducing topics that the older students won’t have covered. They will also need to build-in strategies for slower students and advanced ones. Second, do hold an end of year review to decide what, if anything, should be changed for next September.

  • Terry Freedman is a freelance ed-tech writer. He publishes the ICT & Computing in Education and Digital Education newsletters at www.ictineducation.org. His books may be found at http://viewAuthor.at/terryfreedman. To read Terry’s previous SecEd articles focused on computing and technology, go to http://bit.ly/2NAtSDX


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