What would your curriculum look like?4 min read

W

Since September, I have been living & working on the beautiful island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. St Helena is roughly 4,500 miles from the UK,  3,000 miles from South Africa, and as such has a valid claim to the title of ‘remotest island in the world’. Geographically isolated though it is, the island is home to around 4,000 extraordinary people – 600 of whom are in full-time education, either at the high school or one of the three primary schools. My title is Advisory Teacher of ICT, with the following remit:

  • Teaching ICT & Enterprise across key stages 3 to 5
  • Leading the ICT department
  • One day’s outreach per week in the primary schools to advise on ICT curriculum
  • Training & mentoring for trainee teachers
  • Teaching & learning coaching for colleagues

Anyone who knows me will understand when reading that list just how much of a ball I’m having here, but this is just context for the crux of this blog post. ICT on St Helena is focused entirely on computer skills, with little focus beyond that on application, evaluation (or any other higher-order thinking skills) until students reach A level. The primary school curriculum is outdated, isolates ICT rather than encouraging cross-curricular links, and doesn’t make assessing progress easy. There are no ICT specialists in the primary schools, but those teaching ICT are keen to improve the subject.

At Key Stage 3, we follow the traditional model of a unit on spreadsheets, followed by one on databases, followed by another on Scratch, yet APP has been introduced as a method of assessment. This is a nigh on impossible fit when entire terms can be spent in one Assessment Focus, and has led to some peculiar blips on tracking spreadsheets, where in term 1 a student achieved a level 4b, then in term 2 the student achieved a level 3a – he happened to be very comfortable with the desktop publishing unit in term 1, but struggled with the database unit in term 2. As a result, I’m going to be leading a curriculum review from Key Stage 1 right the way through to introducing new qualifications at GCSE & A level, where currently the only options are IGCSE ICT and AQA A level ICT – both tough options for students with low literacy, as many have. So at the moment I have a blank sheet of paper and a mountain of background reading, including the fine work of people like Brian Sharland & Chris Leach.

Having sat down with the department we decided we like APP, and will likely use that format as our rubric for assessment, but I like others in the #ictcurric movement feel the three existing strands don’t encourage creation of content, rather than mere consumption. Fundamentals of any curriculum are likely to be literacy and critical thinking, and these are desperately needed here on St Helena, as the students though exceptionally quick-witted struggle to work through a problem independently, or apply their own knowledge beyond the confines of that lesson in order to progress.

I recently enjoyed reading Computing At School’s computing curriculum, and fully intend to apply some of the concepts in the primary schools, eventually working up through to KS3. Anything we develop here hasto be a curriculum that fits for St Helena – dropping in the National Curriculum and expecting it to work has been tried before, and I feel confident in saying part of the failure was a complete lack of ownership on the part of the teachers then asked to deliver it. I hope through a series of INSET sessions with the high school and primary staff to develop our own assessment rubric – tentatively with the four strands being:

  1. Finding
  2. Using
  3. Presenting
  4. Creating

Heavy emphasis will be placed on critical thinking throughout, not just from level 4 up (being wary of bias in strand 1, considering target audience in strand 3, etc). Projects will be designed around a central theme with enough breadth to cover 3 strands on average, with each project having a selection of level descriptors included in the teaching materials to allow for easy assessment & negating the need for baseline testing in year 7 as we will feel far more confident in levels given at primary school.

Transition should not be an exercise that straddles years 6 & 7, but should start in year 1 with sights set firmly on year 11.

Stay tuned for more updates!

About the author

jpgreenwood

6 comments

Leave a Reply to Zoe Ross Cancel reply

  • Hi James,

    I like your approach a lot and can see how it is necessary within the context you are working in. I would like to ask though if your assessment strands are also going to form the basis of possible content strands and whether you reckon there could be some separation between the two? The strands which I have written about (and I think Chris’s strands as well) could be described as content strands into which one could apply the assessment points you have listed above.

    cheers
    brian

  • Great ideas James. What a great opportunity to go right through from KS1 – that has the potential to have a huge impact on both student and staff learning. I’m not sure I’d be so keen to keep APP, but look forward to hearing the impact of you doing so. Good luck with it all. BTW, loving the new look blog 🙂

  • I think it all sounds fantastically exciting – and one of the things I find frustrating is that while I can exercise some control over the curriculum from Y7 up, the areas studied before that are both beyond my influence and massively varied.

    One thing that does worry me slightly with the integrated project approach is that you don’t have as much time to focus on one area. I do think that putting tools together is vital, but if students only use a model or a database for 2 lessons out of a 12 week project, for example, then you’re going to struggle to build any rigour into it and it becomes easy to gloss over.

    Please don’t get me wrong – I think the integration of strands is very much the way forward, I’m just interested to see how you deal with the above issue, and to see whether you even agree that it is an issue.

  • Thanks, all, for the comments – I’ll go through one by one:

    @Brian: My plan is to start with the assessment strands by having all involved parties contribute to level descriptors that fit them. This will then be our starting point for writing projects – as all primary school ICT is to be taught by non-specialists, I want to try remove as much of the confusion that has reigned with current assessment methods as possible. It should be absolutely clear from the outset that “in this project, we’ll be largely looking at strands 1, 2 & 3, so the descriptors you need to be looking out for evidence of are…” – I’m not sure it’ll work, but this is the starting point. It could evolve into something entirely different by the time we’re through.

    @ Zoe: Would you stick to level descriptors, or go with something else entirely? Right now nothing is out entirely, but I see the value of APP as a planning tool, to ensure we aren’t overly heavy in one particular strand… any thoughts you have would be appreciated!

    @ Mark: I do agree – by breaking it down into chunks over a year you may not be able to cover those skills in as much detail as you would in one large project, but if students have to wait a year between looking at spreadsheets (or databases, etc) they’re unlikely to remember much from first time around. I think a potential solution to this is to drop the idea of one project per half-term, and have larger projects – one per term. The only risk there with 14-16 lessons on average is choosing projects with longevity, that are suitably different from each other to ensure we aren’t simply repeating the same stuff in different contexts.

By jpgreenwood

Recent Posts

Tags

Meta