Introducing programming to the Irish primary and secondary curricula

follow 3 pngYesterday the Irish government anounced more strategy for their plan to introduce programming to the primary and secondary curricula. As currently set out, this will take place through the mathematics curriculum (at least at the primary level). As part of the wider plan, Computer Science will be introduced as a secondary level (high school) subject, a development I have also been following recently.

The Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 plan for 2017, which was launched by Minister for Education Richard Bruton yesterday, seeks to increase the use of ICT (information and communications technology) in Irish schools and includes the introduction of a benchmarking system from this September to allow teachers to track their progress in using digital technologies when teaching.

I have read the Department of Education press release, and the Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 Action Plan 2017 (both cited by The Irish Times yesterday) as well as the Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 Action Plan cited by The Times (London) yesterday. It seems at this point there are plenty of  “details” but not many details.

So I dug into the references of the Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 Action Plan and found Programming and Coding -Draft Specification for Junior Cycle Short Course. This (although not specifically part of the 2015-2020 Action Plan, or the Action Plan 2017) had some interesting details. Note: this dates from October 2013 and was published by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, one of the many chefs in a busy kitchen. The Junior Cycle is the first three years of second-level education, set at level 3 of the National Framework of Qualifications. The closest analogue in the US would be Junior High School. Under Strand 1 Computer science introduction it is stated that students should learn about My digital world: The importance of computers in modern society and my life Being a coder – step by step: How to start programming and develop basic algorithms. The following learning outcomes are listed:

1.1 present and share examples of what computers are used for and discuss their importance in modern society and in their lives
1.2 describe the main components of a computer system (CPU, memory, main storage, I/O devices, buses)
1.3 explain how computers are devices for executing programs via the use of programming languages
1.4 write code to implement algorithms
1.5 test the code
1.6 develop appropriate algorithms using pseudo-code and/or flow charts
1.7 discuss and implement core features of structured programming languages, such as variables, operators, loops, decisions, assignment and modules
1.8 evaluate the results in groups of two or three

Under Strand 2 Let’s get connected it is stated that students should learn about Making connections: Computers are communication devices and Bits and bytes: How computers store data. The following learning outcomes are listed:

2.1 discuss the basic concepts underlying computer networks
2.2 describe how data is transported on the Internet and how computers communicate and cooperate through protocols such as HTTP
2.3 build web pages using HTML and CSS
2.4 explain how search engines deliver results
2.5 explain how computers represent data using 1’s and 0’s
2.6 investigate how drawings and photos are represented in computing devices

Under Strand 3 Coding at the next level it is stated that students should learn about More advanced concepts in programming and computational thinking and
Documentation and code analysis. The following learning outcomes are listed:

3.1 creatively design and write code for short programming tasks to demonstrate the use of operators for assignment, arithmetic, comparison, and Boolean combinations
3.2 complete short programming tasks using basic linear data structures (e.g. array or list)
3.3 demonstrate how functions and procedures (definition and call) capture abstractions
3.4 describe program flow control e.g. parallel or sequential flow of control – language dependent
3.5 document programs to explain how they work
3.6 present the documented code to each other in small groups
3.7 analyse code to determine its function and identify errors or potential errors

Under Strand 4 Problem solving in the real world it is stated that students should learn about Real world problems: Computer Science inspiring me and computational thinking and Putting the pieces together: Build a final software project that incorporates concepts learnt in the previous strands. The following learning outcomes are listed:

4.1 identify a topic or a challenge in computer science that inspires them
4.2 conduct research on the topic/challenge
4.3 work in teams of two or three and decide on a topic or challenge on which to build a final software project
4.4 brainstorm ideas in the requirements-gathering phase
4.5 discuss aspects of user-interaction design for the project
4.6 design, implement and test a solution
4.7 document team contributions and document the code
4.8 present to peers for feedback
4.9 assess the feedback
4.10 based on feedback, complete the software project and present a convincing argument for the final proposal to their peers

Now, that’s meaty! I have to admit I found this most intriguing: 3.4 describe program flow control e.g. parallel or sequential flow of control – language dependent. The report goes on to discuss assessment also. I won’t analyze that here, but I’ll copy the ‘Features of Quality’ for Strand 3 Coding at the next level:

Achieved with Distinction (90-100%): There is evidence that the programming tasks are executed with complete confidence and there is a very high level of creativity demonstrated. The tasks demonstrate an excellent understanding and comprehensive knowledge of the advanced concepts of programming and computational thinking. There is evidence that very good connections are made between team members and effective and communicative team working is demonstrated.

If this could be accomplished by the age of 14 or so we would be cooking with gas! Let’s not forget though, this is a 2013 draft specification and afor now we have no idea if any of this will become reality.

Back to the Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 Action Plan 2017. Below I have included ‘Key Elements of the Plan’ and ‘What does success look like’. Of these, I found this to be particularly interesting: All students [will] have a digital portfolio with self-created content across the entire curriculum and a recognised capacity in discerning the ethical use of digital technologies.

Key elements of the plan include:

  • A new clustering programme, through which schools across the country will collaborate with each other on innovative projects for using digital technology in teaching and learning. This will be an important means of encouraging schools to innovate in this area, and also for the system as a whole to develop new method
  • A programme of curriculum reforms will see ICT embedded in all emerging curricular specifications and intense preparation for the phased introduction of Computer Science as a Leaving Certificate subject option from 2018 and coding as part of the primary school maths curriculum
  • A new Digital Learning Framework will be trialled in the new school year and will allow schools to evaluate their progress and measure how they stand against benchmarks of highly effective practice of using digital technologies in teaching and learning. Examples of good practice will continue to be captured and shared amongst the teaching community.
  • Provision of a range of professional learning programmes for teachers and school leaders to enable them engage effectively in whole school planning and self-evaluation to support them to embed digital technologies in teaching, learning and assessment
  • A full suite of content and exemplars of good practice available through an online portal which will also facilitate the sharing of good practice between teachers.
  • The continuing rollout of a €210million capital investment programme backed by the dissemination of research on best practice in equipment selection, collaboration and technical support
  • A progressive programme of high-speed broadband connectivity
  • New ways of business and industry supporting schools in embedding digital technologies in all aspects of their activities
  • Reviewing policy on the ethical use of the internet and online safety for young people

What does success look like?

1.   All functions of teaching and learning in  schools are fully digitally supported and enabled, with full engagement across the entire school community

2.   All subject specifications support a constructivist learning model and reflect the role of digital technologies in facilitating this model

3.   All students have a digital portfolio with self-created content across the entire curriculum and a recognised capacity in discerning the ethical use of digital technologies

4.   All schools can demonstrate effective or highly effective practice as described in the Digital Learning Framework, underpinned by a whole-school approach to e-planning

5.   All teachers have upskilled and embed digital technologies in their teaching practice

6.   Our Providers of Initial Teacher Education have become recognised leaders in innovative learning for quality outcomes

7.   An increasing number of schools participating in clusters each year leading innovation in the use of digital technologies that can be disseminated to all schools

8.   Good protocols are in place to assist schools in managing their digital resources with robust relationship with industry, business and higher education institutions

9.   All schools have high speed broadband connectivity

10. Schools use a variety of ICT equipment and delivery models for supporting their learning activities with demonstrable cost effectiveness and shared learning

Sources: Irish Times, The Times (London), the Department of Education (Ireland), Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 Action Plan 2017, Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 Action Plan, and Programming and Coding -Draft Specification for Junior Cycle Short Course.

Stack Exchange for Computer Science Educators now in public beta!

TweetSmallA Stack Exchange site for Computer Science Educators went to public beta yesterday. Stack Exchange beta phases last at least 90 days, during which the powers that be keep an eye on key stats to decide if the site shows viability. The Stack Exchange Area 51 site where the stats mentioned below are continuously updated can be found here. Currently some of the stats are very good: 98% of questions answered (90% considered healthy); answer ratio 3.4 (2.5 considered good). However, other stats need some help: 4.1 questions/day (10 is average); 111 visits/day (1,500 considered good). Additionally, the site is in need of users with high Stack Exchange reputations.

It may be summer, but September is, well, you know. Why not spend a few minutes browsing, asking and answering?

Some of the interesting questions currently trending include:

Browse the complete list of questions, or popular tags. Help answer unanswered questions.