Blog Archives

The Algorithm of Inclusive Learning – Computing and SEN – #BETT15 Learn Live Theatre

Since the introduction of the computing curriculum in September 2014, like many teachers I have been busy developing schemes of work and looking at ways to teach the programme of study that is not only relevant to our learners but ensures it that the breadth of study leaves them with the skills they need to be successful when they move on. One of the challenges faced in a generic secondary school, is finding resources that are matched to the levels of the students (P7 – NC3) but are also age appropriate. (Not many 15 yr old students want to use a Beebot).

Over the last year, I have been fortunate enough to work with Catherine Elliott (@catherinelliott) on developing a wiki page ( dedicated to sharing some of the great work being done in special schools. This led me to being ask to present at BETT in the Learn Live SEN theatre (thanks @caroljallen) on how the computing curriculum can be adapted to enable all learners to succeed. It was a great to be able to share the great work that is going in schools and was amazed by how many people came to the session and came to talk to me afterwards.


After the session, there was a gathering of practioners from the SEN scene who came together to discuss assessment and the computing curriculum. This is particularly relevant especially with the the removal of NC levels, however P-levels still remain and the issue is that these do not match up to the new programme of study. The starting point for the discussions was based around the following points –

  • Should the revised Computing curriculum apply to all learners, including those with more complex and challenging special needs?
  • Does it really change our practice, or just how we describe it?
  • For some the P Levels remain, but are they still fit for purpose?
  • Can computational thinking be recognised in a meaningful way, or is it all tokenistic?

In the short time, this raised differing views, however a consensus was made that we needed to create a system that could be used nationally, which clearly maps out the progression route for students operating at between P5-P8 in this subject. With only an hour, there was not time to do this but we are going to follow this up with a day where educators can get to together make some inroads into this. If you are interested in this have a look at the wiki to find out more information about where the discussion is heading.

Below is a copy of my presentation from the session.

Binary Numbers #SENcomputing

When looking through the specification for the Entry Level Computing course, one area stuck out for me – how was I go to get a group of SEN students operating at Level 1-3 for Numeracy and Literacy to understand how to convert binary numbers to decimal numbers. Now the group I have does consist a wide range of needs on top of their learning difficulties and the reason they have chosen Computing is because they have a real flair with using ICT and computers but I still was worried about this.

What I want to share here is the excellent resources over at Computing Science Unplugged and in particular the use of dot cards to teach binary numbers. I knew about the resources from various sources and it was always at the back of my mind when thinking about how I was going to teach this. However, I was blown away at how quickly the students got the concept.

BInary cards

It involves using cards that have dots on one side and each card increases in the number of dots by multiplying the previous card by 2. With binary numbers there are only two numbers used 1/0 and this represent on and off. If the number is 1 then the corresponding card needs to turned to show the dots. The number of dots shown represents what the binary number is in denery. So for example 1010 = 10

binary answer

I decided to start with just 4 cards to represent 4 bit numbers (each card represents a bit of data). I used large cards first and got the students up to hold the cards and talked through a few examples. Then then went to work on converting binary numbers to decimal by themselves using smaller cards for support. What was great was by the end of the lesson, the majority of students were able to convert from binary to decimal without the the support of the cards, just using their mental arithmetic to solve the answers. This was particularly impressive considering that many of the students at our school struggle with retaining information in their working memory.

The following lesson, I decided to increase the binary numbers to 5 – bit numbers and they once again they were able to convert the sums in their heads and were quick to be able to tell me the largest number they could make and we soon increased the number of bits to 6,7 then 8. They did struggle with 8 bit numbers but the fact that they pick this up so quickly with the use of such simple resource was great.

So have a look at the resources over at CS Unplugged as the are really great at explaining computer science concepts in a simple way that allows you to include all learners.

SEN Computing – exploring how to teach the new curriculum to SEN

A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to be ask to present at the SEN Computing day run and organise by Catherine Elliott(@catherinelliott) who is part of the Sheffield ILS eLearning team. So after making the long journey up North, I arrived at the venue and was taken aback with the excellent organisation and thoughts that had gone into the day (on arrival there were tables full of resources) and was looking forward to learning more about how to adapt the computing curriculum for SEN.

Over the last year, we have started to add elements of programming/coding to our curriculum. This has led to us discovering and adapting different resources to enable our students to be able to access and succeed with these elements of the new curriculum. I have written previously about some of the challenges that present themselves for students with SEN and my presentation revolved around this but also emphasised the importance of the Computing curriculum and the focus on moving students away from being consumers of ICT to creators of content. I then touch on the different elements of the KS1/2 curriculum and gave some ideas of what resources could be used to teach our students. What I wanted to emphasise further, is that it is important to remember that the computer science element of the new curriculum is only part of it and the currant elements of ICT, digital literacy and e-safety are still parts of it and are very important skills for our learners. Have attached the slides to my presentation below.

After my presentation, we moved onto looking more closely at how the basic programming/computational thinking could be taught to P6-NC2 students. We also touch on how the PoS can be taught through other areas of the curriculum and it was great to highlight the cross currciucular links. Some of the highlights included-

Switches with directional arrows

Really simple idea – use of switches to enable users learn the different arrow symbols for Logo and also enable to direct others to program control toys.

Sequencing parts of a story – not only literacy links but teaches students the importance of putting things in the right order for the story to make sense. This is a important element of coding and programming and gives them an idea that computers will follow instructions logically, so important that this makes sense.

Teaching students simple sequencing through life skills

Debugging link to life skills – creating an algorithm for getting dressed – important to put pants on before trousers (unless you are superman!!)

Sorting objects – what are the criteria and the use of a bubble sort activity to give students the understanding of how a computer would sort objects out by comparing items one at a time. Use of different weights of bottles and a balance scale to determine the lightest/heaviest.

Use of real life objects to help them come up with a sequence of instructions to solve a problem – lots of examples here marble run, train track etc. however the one I really like was the water drainage track and students would have to select what height each of the track should be to allow the water to flow down successfully. They could then write the instruction down for someone else to follow.












After lunch, we then started to look at the elements of the KS2 PoS and what resources could be used to enable our students to have access and be successful. This was a very practical session and we looked at tools that lots of practitioners have written about and are using like Logo, Scratch and Kodu.

Scratch is great program for teaching students how to design,write and debug programs and I have used this successfully with students at my school. Some students do struggle with their reading and distinguishing between the different blocks due to their low levels of literacy. To help with this I have used laminated version of the blocks for them to use to make up their codes on whiteboard first through discussion and then can use these as prompts when entering code onto the computer. On the day they also had versions of blocks with symbols on the back to aid students in recognising what each of the blocks do.

We also touched on Kodu as well and how this resource can be used to meet the KS2 PoS. For me Kodu is the most useful tool for many of our students especially as it uses pictorial symbols when writing blocks of code so that students can quickly make simple lines of instructions to control the on-screen characters. Also in addition the use of the Xbox controller to make their inputs is great because it provides a familiar mode of input for many students and the engagement created by the use of to is an additional bonus.

Unfortunately I had to leave after this session though Catherine has written some extensive blog posts on what covered throughout the day and these can be accessed here.

I was really pleased to have been part of the day and it was very informative and great to make connections with other schools. As part of the conclusions of the day, it was felt that there should be an online community of Special Needs Schools to work together to share and collaborate on resources to be used for teaching the new Computing Curriculum. The wiki-space has been set up here – If you want to become a member contact Catherine, via the email address on the site.

Westminster Education Forum – Preparing for the Computing Curriculum

I was invited up to London to present about the challenges that are raised for students with SEN with the introduction of the new computing curriculum. I felt honoured that I was asked to do this, as I feel there are lots of great SEN practioners out there doing some great stuff in thier classrooms and schools and to be asked to represent the SEN field made me feel very humble. I also felt that it was at least nice to recognise SEN in this forum though still believe that when it comes to SEN we are very much an afterthought. (Nothing new there!)

Anyway the day was great and it nice to here from very inspring professionals like Simon Humphreys who coordinates Computing at School and Claire Lotriet (@OhLottie) who both gave excellent presentations about the content of he new computing curriculum. Across the day, it was said lots and lots of time that the new commuting curriculum is not all about coding and that in encompasses digital literacy/e-safety and ICT as well and that the focus should not be all about computer science.

I talked about the challenges that students with SEND face and how we could overcome them. I also talked the about how it was important for the content providers to consider adding the ability to change fonts, think about different modes of access etc to enable our learners to be successful in demonstrating their knowledge and not be blocked by these barriers. I also touch on the importance of teaching computational thinking away from computers and link it to other areas of the curriculum. Have attached a copy of my slides here.

What was nice about the day was the opportunity to speak to other practitioners from special schools who had come (I did wonder if I was the only one in the room) and make links with them. I feel that as a special needs community we need to work together to produce resources and collaborate on what works well for our students. In the end of the day it will be what we do in the classroom that’s makes the difference and if we wait around for Government and other people to produce content to match mainstream it could be a long wait.  

I have mentioned in another blog post about a wikispace set up specifically with the aim of sharing and collaborating on SEN and Computing the link is here. Sign up and help us make this resource even better, it would be great to work with other special schools and share what I know is fantastic work being done by schools.

Computing and SEN

As the dust starts to settle on the proposed National Curriculum changes, I have observed and read many blogs on how the change from ICT to Computing presents many challenges. I agree with the thinking behind the changes, in that we need to teach students how to use different hardware so that they can be the next generation of developers etc. rather than just consumers. However I feel that many teachers are already doing this by adapting the existing curriculum, by incorporating programming elements. I also feel that computing is not the be all or end or and that there are many other elements of ICT that should be taught to enable students to create various forms of digital media and become responsible digital citizens. If you have not already done so, read Matt Britland’s Guardian blog post ‘There is room for both computing and ICT in schools’this sums up brilliantly the needs and benefits to teaching both ICT and Computing together.

So moving on to our challenge as a school, I teach in a generic secondary special school for learning difficulties, with almost all the students operating at well below average NC level for English and Maths (they would not be at our school, if they were working at expected levels!!). The school caters for students working at P1 up to NC 5 so a huge range in terms of abilities. In KS3, the new curriculum states:

‘use two or more programming languages, one of which is textual, each used to solve a variety of computational problems; use data structures such as tables or arrays; use procedures to write modular programs; for each procedure, be able to explain how it works and how to test it’

DFE, 2013

Now with many of our students having severe literacy difficulties, they are expected to learn two other programming languages. I have done some coding myself and understand that different computer languages are similar, but still feel this is quite a challenging target for our students. Nevertheless, I believe that it is important that students learn to use computers for much more than viewing the latest YouTube video on their smartphone and look forward to adapting the curriculum to meet their needs. I have already seen my colleague Keith Manville (@open_sen) work with students at NC 1-2, coding simple sketches using Processing. The way in which he adapted this was to give the students different chunks of code to play around with and they soon picked up the understanding of the changes they made to the code was having effects on the what they saw on the screen.  This is certainly one way in which we will have to adapt the curriculum to suit the needs of our students.

As far as a curriculum for SEN, over the last few weeks I have been thinking about the tools we could use to deliver this. The tools listed below are based on own experience and researching what others on Twitter and the web are using. They are listed in order of progression (obliviously more thought will need to be put in to make sure we meet all subject content for each Key Stage) This list is no where near complete and as I write there is a Google Doc being put together by Sheli BLackburn (@SheliBB) called Computing KS1-KS4 , which is collating all the tools you could use to meet the requirements of the curriculum.

Kodu – is a simple visual programming language created by Microsoft. It uses simple sequencing to allow students to program their own worlds and create  games, stories etc. Have used this successfully with a range of students and are amazed how easy they picked this up.

Scratch – is a programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art. Again it uses simple blocks of predefined code that students can build up and change the variables.

Greenfoot – teaches object orientation with Java.  it is visual and interactive and visualisation and interaction tools are built into the environment.

visual (1)

Raspberry Pi /Arduino/Processing/Python – there has been lots written about the Raspberry Pi and the Arduino is a similar concept. This encourages students to look at the hardware as well as the software and involves them in creating coding software for the hardware. The nice thing about the Arduino is that it lends itself to robotics projects. It uses an IDE (integrated development environment ) written in Java derived from the Processing IDE. Like Processing, it was designed to introduce programming to artists and other newcomers unfamiliar with software development and hardware integration.

There will be few students at present who would be able to reach the Raspberry Pi / Python stage, but we need to have this progression in place to allow students to work their way towards being able to code using hardware like the Pi, especially when they reach KS4 and move into the Sixth Form.  In addition, looking at the student cohort who are likely to access the Computing curriculum, they range from P7-NC5. This is a large range to differentiate for and we will have to ensure that the tools used are individulised to meet their needs and abilities, in order to allow them to access the subject areas and make progress.

The new curriculum certainly presents a challenge for our setting, though feel that by incorporating Computer Science with ICT allows the students to learn creativity skills alongside digital literacy and media skills, ensuring that are students are well-equipped for the digital world that they will be entering.  I would be very interested in what other special schools are planning in terms of a curriculum for Computing so please add your comments.

%d bloggers like this: