Monthly Archives: November 2014

Informatics in Flemish schools (Belgium)

(1) What is your name? What do you do? Where are you from?
My name is Annick Van Daele. I am a member of the Flemish “Forum voor Informaticawetenschappen” (http://i22n.org) aiming to support and develop computer science teaching in Flemish primary and secondary schools and starting up 2LinK2, the Flemish informatics teacher association (not yet online).
I teach informaticawetenschappen (computer science) in a secondary school in Ghent. My pupils are between 16 and 18 years old (level: General Education, grades 11-12)
Part of my job is at the University of Ghent. I give seminars in programming (Java and Python) and am in teachter training: our students are mostly masters in computer science and/or engineering.
(2) Is there an informatics teaching at K-12 level in Flanders? If so, at which level and is it mandatory or optional? How many students take these courses? What does the curriculum look like? Who teaches it? Do you have informatics teachers in Flanders or is it taught by teachers of other disciplines?

Although officially there is no informatics curriculum, some informatics is taught in schools however:

  • to many pupils in a course called “Informatica” in grades 9 and 10 (which includes 10 to 15 hours of “algorithmic thinking and programming” and about an equal amount of stuff on computer systems and networks).
  • to some pupils in specialized programs in “technical” schools (grades 11 and 12) on application and software development in a business setting on the one hand, and system administration on the other. These pupils get up to 5 to 10 hours of class a week which can be more or less classified as informatics (though the focus, certainly in the latter program is more on “information systems” than on “computer science”). In these study profiles, informatics is a mandatory, and even a main, subject.
  • to some, but very few, pupils in “general” education: they get informatics in grades 11 and 12; schools have the freedom to teach the subject for up to 2 hours a week, but there are no official requirements or curricula, so whether something is offered, and if so, of what quality, depends on individual teachers and teacher teams.
    Recently, since last year, some secondary schools are introducing programming classes and courses at the age of 12 (grade 7). Even some primary school are doing similar things.

We have informatics teachers at the bachelor level: they can teach in grades 7 to 10. Informatics is for them one of 2 subjects they choose in their teacher training.
Informatics teachers in grades 10 to 12 mostly have a master degree (occasionally in computer science, but most of the time in math, economics or still something else).

(3) Is there any computer literacy teaching at K-12 level in Flanders? If so, at which level and is it mandatory or optional? How many students take this courses? What does the curriculum look like?

The Flemish government has issued, in 2007, “ICT educational standards”, which should be achieved at the age of 14 (at the end of grade 8). Schools and school networks build on that in many different ways, both integrated across topics and in specialized courses or course parts. Also part of the Informatica course in grades 9 and 10 currently focusses on enhancing digital literacy, e.g. through classes on Office use.

(4) Is there an informatics teacher society in Flanders?
The association has just been founded. I am co-founder. In a few weeks, our website will be online.

(5) How has the situation evolved in recent years?

Since more than 20 years, we have a course called ‘informatica’ in grades 9 and 10, which was not officially compulsory, but highly recommended in most study profiles. Originally, it focused on programming, but over the years, it has shifted to digital literacy. Nowadays, about half of the content is on digital literacy, while the other half could be characterized as IT and CS. Due to the uncertain “recommended” status of this course, there is little if any quality control, resulting in a rather cursory treatment of the IT and CS parts by many teachers without CS background teaching the course.

Since last year, the course is no longer “recommended” by the major Flemish school networks in many study profiles. As a result, it is being suppressed in those contexts by rather a lot of schools.

Since last year, children in primary schools should get an integrated course of science and technology, which contains elements of computational thinking.

By the end of grade 8, pupils should have achieved the ICT educational standards. In the recent curricula of other courses (like languages,..) ICT use and digital literacy has been integrated. (Leading to the abolishment of the now “superfluous” Informatics course in grades 9 and 10.)

(6) What are the main successes and failures of K-12 informatics teaching in Flanders?

Although it has not been an official government policy, we do (or did) have in Flemish schools an Informatics course (with at least some IT and CS) for almost all pupils in grades 9 and 10 since more than 20 years. And teachers have been educated to teach this (and similar) course(s) since 1997.

As can be gathered from the above, the current situation of K-12 CS education in Flanders is very chaotic, with as yet little or no official steering, but many interesting (for better or worse) developments. There are e.g., in the last 2 years, a lot of initiatives outside school to bring young children in contact with computational thinking and programming (ex. Fyxilab, Coderdojo, …) A few schools have started to offer a “STEM” profile (in grades 7-8), focusing on engineering at an abstract level. These schools have taken “programming and modelling” as one of three central learning lines to be developed over the 6 years of secondary education. Some other schools have introduced computer science courses which they want to develop into a curriculum for grades 7 to 12. Several interesting initiatives aim at bringing computational thinking and programming in primary schools.

Finally, it is expected that the Flemish Academy of Arts and Sciences (http://www.kvab.be) will publish a report with ambitious policy recommendations on Informatics education in Flemish K-12 in January 2015.

Computing at School Scotland

Introduction

Computing At School Scotland is the teacher organisation that advocates Computing Science and Informatics teaching in Scotland’s schools.  I am Mark Tennant, one of the national committee members with Computing at School Scotland.  I can be contacted by email: mark@cas.scot and twitter: @markjtennant.

Computing at School Scotland can be found on the web at http://www.cas.scot, on twitter @casscotland, and facebook.

Computing at School Scotland is part of the UK-wide Computing at School group, and is part of the British Computer Society (BCS), the chartered institute for IT in the UK.

Scottish Education

Education in Scotland is currently going through the final phase of a long-term redesign process called “Curriculum for Excellence” – CfE for short.  Part of the new curriculum includes specific outcomes for Computing Science which should be delivered to all students in the first three years of secondary education, with more advanced outcomes that can be studied by the most able students.

After the “S3″ (third year of secondary) stage, students can study Computing Science on an optional basis: National certificates administered by the Scottish Qualifications Authority are available covering a wide range of attainment levels from basic “National 3″ up to pre-university – called “Higher” in Scotland.  An “Advanced Higher” is also on offer in some schools, which roughly equates to first year of University in terms of difficulty.

As part of CfE, the certificate level courses from National 3 to Advanced Higher are in the process of being redesigned, with significant emphasis on Computational Thinking skills, as well as practical elements based around programming, web development and multimedia.

Computer Literacy

IT literacy – in terms of using computers for everyday tasks – is supposed to be embedded across all subject areas.  In practice, many schools still offer specific courses in IT literacy at all stages of the curriculum.  Teaching of IT literacy varies massively from school to school currently, and is known to be an ongoing issue in Scotland.  On the whole, most staff are IT literate and can use technology in their lessons.  Pupils and Staff are increasingly being given access to mobile technologies like Tablets to use in class.

Successes and Challenges in Scotland

The new CfE has been a boost overall for Computing Science; it is now explicitly in the Pre-S3 curriculum and the certificate courses in senior school are getting a much-needed update.  This has not been without problems though:

  • not all schools fully understand the need to deliver the Computing Science outcomes in the lower phases;
  • some schools lack the subject experts to do this, or to deliver certificate level courses;
  • there is still a lack of understanding about the subject, and it is often confused with IT literacy by senior levels of management;
  • Only 2 of Scotland’s 6 Teacher Education Institutions are training Computing Science teachers, and those are small numbers when compared to retirements and those leaving.  This has caused a drop in the number of suitably qualified teachers;
  • Student numbers electing to study at senior level were in decline until recently.  The introduction of CfE makes it hard to draw conclusions as to whether this has been reversed, as we have gone from two certificate subjects (Computing, Information Systems) to one (Computing Science);
  • Staff often do not have confidence in newer areas of the curriculum such as Web Development to teach it effectively;

Computing at School Scotland has only been in existence for three years.  In that time a lot of progress has been made.  We received funding in 2013 from the Scottish Government to run a Professional Learning programme – PLAN C – that aims to update the pedagogy used in classrooms to deliver the subject based on known areas of success in teaching Computing Science.  We have established a national conference focusing on new skills and ideas for the classroom.  We have built links with Higher Education, Government and Education Authorities to advocate Computing Science education in schools.  We have used a combination of approaches to gauge the Professional Learning requirements of teachers at both Primary and Secondary, and managed to use Freedom of Information legislation to track teacher numbers.  Lastly, the Scottish Government has launched a Skills Investment Plan for Computing-related careers; CAS Scotland was identified as a key partner in this to continue improving the delivery of Computing Science education in Scotland’s schools.

Exciting times in Scotland, but many challenges remain.

Computing At School – England

(1) What is your name? What do you do? Where are you from?

I’m Simon Humphreys, National coordinator, Computing At School (CAS), which roughly translates to managing the day-to-day activities of the CAS group!  I taught music before a hearing impairment forced a change in direction and went back to university to read Computer Science.  Having graduated I taught in Cambridge.  With colleagues and friends from other schools, academia and industry the Computing At School working group was formed.  The CAS group now has over 15,000 members and recently won the Best Practice in Education Award from Informatics Europe!   In whatever spare time he has left he is writing and arranging music for the nationally regarded Cambridge Touring Theatre Company.
(2) Is there informatics teaching at K-12 level in England?
If so at which level and it is mandatory or optional? How many
students take this courses? What does the curriculum look like? Who
teaches it? Do you have informatics teachers in England or is
it taught by teachers of other disciplines?

A new national curriculum was introduced in September 2014 for all state maintained schools in England.  This includes a brand new subject – Computing.  This has replaced the pre-existing ICT curriculum. The curriculum starts when pupils enter the school, we call that Key Stage 1, through to the end of Key Stage 3 when pupils elect to follow exam courses taken when they are 16 years old.  It is also expected that pupils at Key Stage 4 schools have the opportunity to study aspects of IT and computer science at sufficient depth to allow them to progress to higher levels of study or to a professional career.

The curriculum includes three strands:

  • Computer Science – the academic discipline encompassing programming languages, data structures, algorithms etc
  • Information Technology – the use of computers including aspects of IT systems architecture, human factors and project management
  • digital literacy – the general ability to use computers, a set of skills rather than a subject in its own right

(3) Is there an informatics teacher society in England?

Yes.  Computing At School!  CAS is a grass roots organisation, whose energy, creativity, and leadership comes from its members. It is now part of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT who have provided much needed support and recognition for CAS.  CAS has additional formal support from major industry partners, including Microsoft Research, Google, Ensoft. Our membership is open to everyone, (teachers, parents,exam boards, industry, professional societies, and universities), which has been hugely significant in our development and success.  We are now recognised as an influential organisation in terms of policy and decision-making at a statutory level.

(4) How has the situation evolved in recent years?

As mentioned earlier, the English National curriculum for ICT (Information and Communication Technology) has been completely reformed, and now explicitly embodies Computer Science as a foundational part of the curriculum, starting from primary school.  This is a very significant change.  In 2008 there were no GCSEs (age-16 national examinations) in Computer Science. Now every awarding body offers such a GCSE.  For CAS, our online community is attracting over 800 new embers each month and we are now running over 130 local “hubs” for teachers.  We are also funded by the government to run a national programme of training for Computing teachers.
(5) What are the main successes and failures of K-12 informatics
teaching in England?

We are the start of our journey!  I could quote statistics illustrating how the previous curriculum did not adequately support the needs of industry, nor did it encourage students to want to study Computer Science at university but I’m not sure how helpful that would be.  One thing does seem to be clear is that in almost every country in the world the realisation has dawned that young people should be educated not only in the application and use of digital technology, but also in how it works, and its foundational principles. Lacking such knowledge renders them powerless in the face of complex and opaque technology, disenfranchises them from making informed decisions about the digital society, and deprives our nations of a well-qualified stream of students enthusiastic and able to envision and design new digital systems.

Here in England we’ve been very clear to:

  • Articulate and define the subject as a discipline, something that ALL children need to learn from the moment they enter the school.  Computer Science is not just a university-level discipline!
  • Trust our innovative teachers.  They are in the vanguard of implementing this change and enabling them to share their experience and passion with their colleague is very powerful.

Computing at School – Northern Ireland

Introduction

My name is Ann O’Neill.  I am a part-time lecturer in Computing at Stranmillis University College, Belfast, Northern Ireland.  I currently teach Scratch programming, the Raspberry Pi (including Python programming) and App Inventor 2 to primary and post-primary BEd and PGCE student teachers.  I also deliver Professional Development training to teachers on each of these.  I have 14 years’ industrial experience (before becoming a teacher) working in software engineering in all stages of the software development life cycle including programming, analysis, design and project management.

 

Background – School in NI

In Northern Ireland, school is compulsory from age 4yrs to 16yrs.  Children attend primary school (age 4 – 11) and post-primary school (age 11-16/18).  The school curriculum applies to all 12 years of compulsory education:

Primary:                 The Foundation Stage (Years 1 & 2)

Key Stage 1 (Years 3 & 4)

Key Stage 2 (Years 5 – 7)

Post-primary:         Key Stage 3 (Years 8 – 10)

Key Stage 4 (Years 11 – 12)

There are approximately 800 primary and 200 post-primary schools in Northern Ireland with a total enrolment of approximately 320,000 pupils.

Although part of the UK, we have our own curriculum which is funded by the NI Executive

http://www.northernireland.gov.uk/

 

The NI Curriculum

The Northern Ireland Curriculum comprises Areas of Learning, Cross-Curricular Skills, and Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities.  Using ICT (Information and Communications Technology) is one of three statutory cross-curricular skills.

There are a variety of Using ICT activities available at Key Stage 1 & 2 including Desktop Publishing, Film and Animation and Interactive Design. At Key Stage 3, Using ICT includes a wide range of activities including: CAD, Data Handling, Desktop Publishing, Exploring Programming, Game Making, Web Design, Working with Moving Images/Animation.  Although programming is not mandatory in the NI curriculum, it is an option.  Scratch and Logo are included in ‘Interactive Design’ at Key Stage 1 & 2 and Scratch, Logo and Game Maker are included in ‘Exploring Programming’ and ‘Game Making’ at Key Stage 3.

New assessment and reporting arrangements for Using ICT became statutory from 2013/2014.  From September 2014 it will become compulsory for schools to assess and report a Level of Progression in Using ICT for each pupil at the end of Key Stages 1, 2 and 3. 

Primary school pupils are taught Using ICT by their class teacher who up until now will have had little or no specialised training in the subject.  Post-primary pupils may have as little as 35 mins of ICT per week for two of the three school years of Key Stage 3.  This is usually, but not always, taught by an ICT specialist teacher.

All pupils sit GCSE examinations at the end of year 12 (age 16) and many stay on at school to sit GCE A Levels at the end of year 14 (age 18).  Currently pupils can study ICT or Applied ICT at GCSE and A Level.

A new GCE A Level has recently been introduced, Software Systems Development, with the first awards due Summer 2015.  This was introduced as a result of research with the IT industry which indicated a shortfall in programming skills in NI.  Currently 12 schools (approx. 200 pupils) have registered to sit the new A Level in 2015.

There is no computing GCSE, although some schools enter pupils for a Computing GCSE through English examination boards (OCR and AQA).

http://www.nicurriculum.org.uk/

http://www.rewardinglearning.org.uk/microsites/

 

Computing/CS Education for teachers

At present, Stranmillis University College Belfast is the only Teacher Education Institute in Northern Ireland where all (of the 600) Initial Teacher Education (ITE) students, each year,  undergo training in Computing.  This programme is in its second year.  All primary and post-primary ITE students learn the concepts of Computing through Scratch programming.  A course on the Raspberry Pi reinforces this through Python programming and Sonic Pi as well as teaching the fundamentals of Computer Science – from the Linux operating system to physical computing (e.g. creating a Scratch project to simulate traffic lights by illuminating LEDs).  Post-primary ITE students are learning how to create apps for Android phones and tablets using App Inventor 2.

 

Computing / Informatics teacher society

The umbrella computing/informatics teacher society in Northern Ireland is Computing At School (CAS):  http://www.computingatschool.org.uk/.

 

Recent years

Industry has been supportive in sponsoring STEM events including a recent CAS NI conference.  However, there has been a lack of government funding to train teachers in Computing.  With budgets being cut, schools are finding it increasingly difficult to fund Professional Development training in Computing for their teachers. 

 

Ann O’Neill

Informatics in French schools

What is your name? What do you do? Where are you from?

My name is Jean-Pierre Archambault, I am the president of EPI, the
french informatics teacher society. I have taught mathematics all my
career and also informatics for many years. (More in French here http://www.epi.asso.fr/biblio/jpa_biographie_2014-06.htm).

Is there an informatics teaching at K-12 level in France?  If so
at which level and it is mandatory or optional? How many students take
this courses? What does the curriculum look like? Who teaches it? Do
you have informatics teachers in France or is it taught by teachers of
other disciplines?

JPA: Since 2012, there has been an optional course “Informatics and digital
sciences” for twelfth grade students with a major in science. It is
offered in a third of the french high schools and students have a
choice between four courses (advanced mathematics, advanced physics,
advanced biology or introduction to informatics). About 15 000
students have chosen this course this year. The curriculum involves
algorithms, programming languages, information theory, computer
architecture and networks.  The curriculum has been translated to
English there:
http://www.epi.asso.fr/blocnote/OverviewoftheFrenchISNSyllabus.pdf

The high school mathematics curriculum also involves a small part on
mathematical algorithms, with a glimpse of programming (tests and
loops, but neither functions nor arrays, for instance).

Besides that, there is also some informatics contents in technical and
vocational schools, but informatics is not identified as a topic per
se there.

There are no informatics teachers in France, so informatics is always
taught by teachers of others topics.

Is there any computer literacy teaching at K-12 level in France?
If so, at which level and it is mandatory or optional? How many
students take this courses? What does the curriculum look like?

JPA: All middle school students should obtain a certificate called
“Informatics and Internet” at the end of ninth grade. But there are no
courses in schools to prepare this certificate.

Is there an informatics teacher society in France?

JPA: Yes, the EPI (whose name means: Informatics in Public Sector
Education).  It has followed the ups and downs of informatics teaching
in France since 1971. It is presented there
http://www.epi.asso.fr/association/epi_presentation_en.htm

How has the situation evolved in recent years?

JPA: During the eighties, informatics was an optional topic offered in half
of the high schools. It was working very well and about to be
generalized to all schools. But it has been suppressed in 1992, then
recreated in 1995 and suppressed again in 1998.

It has then been replaced by this computer literacy certificate called
“Informatics and Internet”.  But, in my opinion, this approach aiming
at developing computer literacy through the use of computers in other
topics has been a failure.

What are the main successes and failures of K-12 informatics
teaching in France?

JPA: The optional informatics courses of the eighties has been a success,
as well as the introduction of programming in Logo in elementary
schools.  There has been also some positive evolution of technology
classes in middle schools in recent years.