Teaching Computing Unplugged in Primary Schools: Exploring Primary Computing through Practical Activities Away from the Computer


Helen Caldwell & Neil Smith

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    About the Authors and Contributors


    Helen Caldwell is a Senior Lecturer in the Teacher Education Division at the University of Northampton, where she is curriculum lead for Primary Computing and programme lead for the Postgraduate Certificate in Primary Computing. Her teaching covers the use of technology across primary subjects, implementing the computing curriculum and assistive technologies for SEND. She offers CPD for teachers and Initial Teacher Training across these areas. Her PhD research focuses on the transfer of innovative pedagogies in technology education within professional learning communities.

    Neil Smith is a Senior Lecturer in the Computing and Communications department of The Open University and leads the department's school outreach activity. His research is mainly on computer science education and artificial intelligence; he teaches introductory undergraduate computing and data analysis. He has worked with Code Club, Computing At School, and the BCS on how to deliver computer science and computational thinking in schools. He has trained CAS Master Teachers and is an assessor for the BCS Certificate of Computer Science Teaching.


    Sway Grantham is a primary school teacher and a Specialist Leader in Education (SLE) for the Milton Keynes area. She has been ICT/Computing Leader since her NQT year and during this time has written a new curriculum and conducted research into the impact of 1:1 iPads in the primary classroom. Sway has been using technology all her life and has spent the last five years focusing this on education. She was invited as a ‘lead learner’ to attend the first ever Raspberry Picademy, becoming a Raspberry Pi Certified Teacher, and loves the opportunities these cheap computers offer. Recently having qualified as a Google Certified Teacher, Sway believes in offering children a range of ICT and Computing opportunities. Over the years, Sway has built up a successful blog (www.swaygrantham.co.uk), which is full of learning ideas and pedagogy for Computing, ICT and many other curriculum areas.

    Scott Turner is currently an Associate Professor of Computing and Immersive Technologies and Deputy Subject Leader for Computing at the University of Northampton. He has published over thirty papers on pedagogy in computing in Higher Education, including the teaching of programming and problem-solving. He is also a STEM Ambassador, Pi Certified Educator and Code Club volunteer at two Code Clubs. Since 2009, Dr Turner has also being running a project called Junkbots, which includes turning ‘junk’ into moving bots.

    Katharine Childs is currently working as a Code Club Regional Manager for the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Her previous roles include 15 years working in IT support and network management in the private and educational sectors, before then going on to share her knowledge as a teacher of computing in primary schools. She has an undergraduate degree in IT & Computing and is now undertaking an MSc in Computing in Education. Katharine is an advocate for offering children access to high-quality computer science opportunities and presented a rigorous case for this in her TEDx talk ‘Coding the Hairy Toe’ in April 2015.

    Kim Calvert is a primary school teacher currently working in a SEN school. She previously worked in a primary school for five years before moving into special needs teaching. Computing coordinator at Billing Brook School, Northampton, she has been actively developing and improving the computing curriculum to ensure it is both creative and effective. She is passionate about using technology to support creativity within the classroom (not just within the computing subject) and believes in the value of Unplugged Computing to embed computational thinking within pupils’ learning. She has worked with Barefoot to develop a number of unplugged SEN teaching resources which are available on their website and has delivered numerous training sessions to promote the use of Unplugged Computing. She is a Computing SLE for Northants as well as being a CAS Master Teacher and Raspberry Pi Certified Educator. kimcalvert@billingbrook.northants.sch.uk

    Mark Dorling is the former National CPD Coordinator for Computing At School (CAS) funded by the Department for Education (DfE), but he is probably best known for his work in the Digital Schoolhouse project at Langley Grammar School that gained him national and international recognition. Mark is a primary-trained teacher with many years of both primary and secondary teaching, teacher training and industry experience. He played a leading role in developing the 2014 Computing Programmes of Study, CAS computational thinking guidance for teachers and the highly popular CAS Computing Progression Pathways framework. More recently, he was involved in the DfE consultation on ‘Assessment without levels’ and is currently part of the team setting up the Ian Livingstone Academies.

    Paul Curzon is a Professor of Computer Science at Queen Mary University of London. His research interests are computer science education, human computer interaction and formal methods. He was awarded a Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellowship in 2010 and won the EPSRC Non-professional Computer Science Writer of the Year in 2007. He co-founded Teaching London Computing (www.teachinglondoncomputing.org), providing CPD support for teachers.

    Peter W. McOwan is also a Professor of Computer Science at Queen Mary University of London. His research interests are in computer vision, artificial intelligence and robotics. He was awarded a Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellowship in 2008 and the IET Mountbatten medal in 2011 for his work in promoting computer science to diverse audiences. Paul and Peter co-created the internationally known Computer Science for fun project (www.cs4fn.org) and were original members of the UK Computing at School network, of which Paul is now a board member.

    Yasemin Allsop worked as an ICT Coordinator in primary schools in London for almost ten years. In 2014, she started to work as a senior lecturer in Computing at Manchester Metropolitan University, also running CPD sessions in Computing at the MMU STEM centre. She is currently employed as a Senior Lecturer in Computing Education at Roehampton University. Her research focus is children's thinking, learning and metacognition when designing digital games. She is the founder and co-editor of an online magazine called ICT in Practice (www.ictinpractice.com) where educators from around the world share their experiences of using technology in education. She is the EU Code Week ambassador for the UK, and also co-edits International Journal of Computer Science Education in Schools. Her last book, with Ben Sedman, is called Primary Computing in Action. www.yaseminallsop.me.uk

    Jane Waite is an experienced primary teacher with over ten years’ classroom experience. She spent twenty years working in the IT sector before moving into teaching. Jane worked on the Barefoot Computing project creating cross-curricula activities and concept explanations that demystify computational thinking. She writes for cs4fn, Cambridge International and Primary Computing, provides CPD and presents at conferences around the country. Jane also works for King's College London and Queen Mary University London as the Computing At School regional project manager for London and undertakes research in computer science education.

    Jon Chippindall is a part-time primary school teacher at Crumpsall Lane Primary School, Manchester, where he specialises in teaching computing and science. Jon was an author of the DfE-funded Barefoot Computing resources, which have helped thousands of teachers across the country deliver computer science in their schools. Jon is a CAS Master Teacher and runs the computing blog www.primarycomputing.co.uk. He is also visiting academic at The University of Manchester, where he leads on innovative computing and engineering education in primary schools and supports the computing teacher training programme.


    Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. The publisher and author will gladly receive any information enabling them to rectify any error or omission in subsequent editions.

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