Making computing accessible for all (3/6): collaborative computing lessons

This post is the third of six in a series with ideas and resources on how to make computing lessons engaging and demanding for as many students as possible. Click here for the original post.

Collaborative Computing

Ideas and resources for collaborative computing lessons

Some people love group work, some people loathe it. Collaboration doesn’t have to mean working in pairs or small groups. Any form of guided interaction between students – online / face to face / written / email – comes with its own challenges but also potential to boost learning and understanding.

The collaboration doesn’t have to be between students either: it’s a great way to involve parents, grand-parents, neighbours or foreign exchange students if you choose your opportunities and platforms for collaboration carefully.

Too much collaboration and a lesson can descend into chaos. A short, focused and well managed collaborative activity though can boost the overall learning and progress well beyond the sum of the individual parts.


  • Set a homework for students to explain a concept to a relative or neighbour who’s rubbish with technology.

e.g. “Find someone who’s never written a program before and teach them the difference between a string and an integer data type. Get them to write down an example of each”

  • Try silent group work where all communication takes place via email / forum / shared folder / whatever.

e.g. “I’ve emailed you a list of partner: you’ll be working with someone who sits on the other side of the class to you. There’s an attachment with a presentation that needs completing. You need to contact your partner by email, agree who’s working on each slide, share the research and complete the presentation.”

  • Set up a questions & answers forum / shared document and ask students to nominate the person who has been most helpful on it at the end of a lesson where it’s used.

e.g. “While we create our games, I’m not going to help anyone until I can see that you’ve written your question in the Q&A forum. If three people reply to say they don’t know how to help you then I’ll come and help. Otherwise, it’s up to you to explore, discover and support each other. Remember to share links to useful websites and tutorials you find.”

Key questions:

Who is too dependent on me as their teacher? Who is to proud or afraid to ask anyone for help?

Example activity: Tech recommendation project

What tech would you recommend?
Advise-a-gadget project

Split the class into groups. Each group must research and recommend the most suitable piece of technology (e.g. tablet / phone / laptop / desktop) for

  • A successful businesswomen looking to work on the commute from York to London
  • A teenage gamer wanting to play the latest games with the best possible graphics
  • An elderly relative who’s not used the Internet before but wants to keep in touch with relatives and read / watch the news

The group will have to present their recommendations and answer questions from the rest of the class. Each person in the group must say something and have contributed something to whatever you choose to display on the projector screen during the presentation.


Research and further reading

This paper recommends a “Trio of best practice” for reducing the number of students who drop out from a computing course (at the University of California). Two of their three recommended strategies involve collaboration between students: peer instruction and pair programming.

Leo Porter and Beth Simon. 2013
Continue ReadingMaking computing accessible for all (3/6): collaborative computing lessons

Making computing accessible for all (2/6): Challenging computing lessons

This post is the second of six in a series with ideas and resources on how to make computing lessons engaging and demanding for as many students as possible. Click here for the original post.

Ideas and resources for challenging computing lessons

There’s no point making lessons fun just for the sake of it. Ok, maybe it’s acceptable in the odd lesson just before the Christmas holidays, but I’d rather my students left my lessons feeling like they’ve achieved something than leaving just feeling like they’ve enjoyed themselves.

Fun isn’t a dirty word, but it’s not an end in itself: it’s a natural bi-product of lessons with just the right amount of challenge.

Too much challenge and everyone leaves frustrated and demotivated. Too little and boredom is endemic.

Students don’t all have the same capability, pace, independence and resilience, which means setting the level of challenge is almost impossible to get right for everyone. But lessons / projects with a low floor and high ceiling – that start easy but don’t shy away from difficulty – mean that everyone is going to be suitably challenged at some point along the way.


  • Use templates for code / games rather than expecting students to always start with a blank canvas. Unfinished or deliberately broken code is great as it gives students a starting point to work from.

e.g. “There are 3 syntax errors in this code and one logical error for you to debug”

  • Get used to setting short challenges and puzzles – often at the start of the lesson. Start with something easy and get more difficult as your classes get used to problem solving

e.g. “Today’s learning objectives have been encoded with a caesar cipher: decode them and tell me the key: Avkhf dl’yl nvpun av slhyu ovd av bzl spzaz pu wfaovu”

  • Allow your students to choose different difficulty challenges for lesson / homework. Make sure the complexity of the work increases rather than just the quantity for the most able students.

e.g. “Beginners should make an animation on the micro:bit using built-in images like Image.HAPPY and Image.SAD. Anyone up for a challenge should define your own images to use in your animation

Key questions:

Who’s leaving my lesson feeling like a failure? Who’s leaving my lesson without having learnt anything new?

Example activity: Micro:bit animation

The code above simulates a BBC micro:bit to display an animation consisting of two images. There are three challenges of varying difficulty for students to experiment with lists to create their own animations.


Research and further reading

This paper looks at the challenges facing computing teachers, particularly when it comes to differentiation: stretching the top end whilst not leaving other behind.
Recommendations include:
-Unplugged activities
-Focusing on computational thinking concepts rather than syntax
-Scaffolding programming activities rather than starting from an empty file

Sentance, S. & Csizmadia, A. Educ Inf Technol (2017)
Continue ReadingMaking computing accessible for all (2/6): Challenging computing lessons

Making computing accessible for all

This series of posts aims is aimed at UK secondary school teachers to give some free ideas and resources in order to help make computing lessons engaging and inclusive in order to help attract more and more students to continue with the subject at GCSE and beyond.

When students are choosing their GCSE options they seem to love asking teachers why we chose to teach our subjects.

Often, I can almost see the cogs turning inside some of my students’ heads, weighing up whether they should choose Computing over Art; ticking off the benefits of each subject as they make the first real choice that might affect the rest of their lives.

Whatever they use to make up their mind – who teaches the subject / what their friends are choosing / what they’re good at / what they enjoy – there’s clearly a lot more that we can do to promote Computer Science as a viable, challenging, enjoyable and worthwhile option. The national figures show a pretty poor GCSE uptake of GCSE Computer Science compared to other eBacc subjects and an abysmal uptake by girls. Boys, whilst outnumbering girls at KS4 and beyond, are being outperformed by girls from KS2 onwards. So there’s definitely something not right there that needs addressing.

CAS include
CAS #include. Making computing accessible for all

I’ve been slowly working through the brilliant advice on the CAS #include site about how to ensure that my Computing lessons aren’t just catering for people like me and it strikes me that the way to be inclusive for all also looks and sounds like the way to be engaging and stretching for all. This post aims to share some of the mistakes I’ve made as well as some of the things I’m trying to put right to make sure that all students get the most out of their computing lessons, hopefully also boosting recruitment at KS4 too.

I’ve come up with 6 Cs to use as a checklist for planning engaging and inclusive computing projects:

Continue ReadingMaking computing accessible for all