Tell us a little about your school
Woodford County High School for Girls is a secondary grammar school situated in Redbridge, Essex. The atmosphere is warm, friendly and focused and our pupils enjoy studying and socialising here. To visitors, it is very apparent that relationships between girls in all year groups are strong and supportive and that the girls learn within a safe and happy environment. Both staff and girls lead very active lives here and we have a packed school calendar. There is always a lot going on enabling girls of different ages to work together. They thoroughly enjoy collaborating on the colourful range of events and activities that make up the fabric of the Woodford school year and contribute to the distinct ethos of the place.
How did you hear about the Digital Schoolhouse Project?
An invitation to apply and to participate in the project was received by the headteacher, Jo Pomeroy. It was initially forwarded as part of a circular email to all secondary schools encouraging those who were interested in becoming a Digital Schoolhouse to make an application. The project caught Jo’s eye as an excellent opportunity to take advantage of the changing curriculum and she forwarded the information on to me. The prospect of becoming a central hub to support local primary schools in the delivery of a new and exciting curriculum seemed a wonderful adventure and one in which I definitely wanted the Computing department at Woodford to be involved. Jo, Rita Del-Giudice (the school’s network manager), and I completed the application and the journey began from there.
What are the basic aims of the Project?
The vision driving the Digital Schoolhouse is to provide primary pupils and teachers with expert support and knowledge in studying and delivering the Key Stage 2 Computing curriculum. The change of the curriculum left many primary schools worried and in doubt as to whether they would be able to meet the new demands – especially as many teacher were not Computing specialists. As with any new subject, there were concerns as to how this new practical and constantly evolving subject was going to be delivered. The aim of the Digital Schoolhouse is to help keep those fears at bay and to provide a dedicated digital learning environment where structured workshops can be delivered. Fun-filled workshops for pupils and supportive CPD for teachers - and all provided free of charge to the users. The whole project supports delivering a robust and well-tailored curriculum in an enjoyable and stimulating way.
How can games help children understand computing better?
Gaming promotes creativity, problem solving and logical thinking and introduces concepts that may not cross the minds of children on a normal day to day basis: things like the use of variables, loops, how certain things interact with one another, calculations, cause and effect and so on. For example, one of our workshops focuses on playing PacMan – an activity the children thoroughly enjoy but which then leads on to using Google Blockly to relate the desired outcome of moving around the PacMan maze to the instructions which need to be given in sequence for the program to work. With their interest sparked and basic concepts in place children can quickly move on to other things. The Digital School House Project provides the initial impetus to engage interest and build confidence leaving its participants well placed to go on to discover how interesting and fundamental to today’s life computing is.
Can you describe a typical lesson?
A DSH day at Woodford usually comprises 3 sessions with a break and a lunchtime. The primary school is contacted after making their booking to find out which topics they are interested in covering and what their requirements are. My colleagues and I then put together three complementary workshops: one theory-based and two practical. Each workshop topic and focus is interlinked in some form.
A practical workshop such as “Networking” would introduce the concept of what a network is and how it works in the world of computing. This knowledge is then used within a practical session where the students learn of some of the key components used to make up a network such as a router, a device and cables. They then create a model of the network using 3D Doodler pens to melt down plastic and create the components. This is one our most popular workshops – the pupils thoroughly enjoy creating their plastic models! The teachers take the models back to their schools to display and inspire others.
We encourage interactivity within the workshops. Although the resources are created by us, we allow certain workshops to be pupil led to encourage confidence in learning about the topics. Pupils are fully involved in both “unplugged” and “plugged” workshops and we monitor their learning at regular intervals through question and answer and through timed challenges and pupil demonstrations.
How have the children responded to the Project?
The feedback we have received from the project has been extremely positive. The children treat a DSH day as a school trip and give us all of their energy to the very end! We aim continually to improve the workshops so all pupils and visiting teachers are asked to complete an evaluation on completion. The feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive. The students really appreciate the effort that goes into preparing the workshops and find the tasks fascinating and entertaining. Learning and progression clearly take place, but it is always satisfying as an educator to see how much they enjoy and participate in the tasks. During the last academic year the workshops proved so popular that we had to limit bookings to two per school.
How much training did the staff need to teach it effectively?
All workshops are delivered by fully qualified teachers who have degrees or have studied modules in Computing/ Computer Science. Prior to starting up the Digital Schoolhouse an audit concerning level of knowledge and confidence in delivery of the Key stage 2 Computing curriculum was completed. This was used by the programme director, Shahneila Saeed, to offer support, training and resources where required throughout the year. Although there was very little training needed as all department members are Computing specialists, the support has always been very useful and informative. We were also given the opportunity to work with organisations such as Barefoot Computing and Primo. Collaborative working with such organisations is invaluable CPD for DSH teachers as well as the primary teachers.
There is an increased awareness of the need to get girls into STEM subjects - does the Project help?
I think the Digital Schoolhouse definitely helps to promote organisations, activities and events that are geared towards girls in technology. Working as part of the project enables us to make links with external organisations in the technology industry and I have come across some organisations that have a focus on promoting girls into technology. This is obviously beneficial to Woodford as a girls’ school and we are able to take full advantage of the opportunities available not only within the Digital Schoolhouse but with our own students also.We have already had a primary school book a workshop specifically for a group of girls who needed more encouragement and opportunities at engaging in the subject and exploring the various aspects of it. The girls left with a completely transformed view of Computing. All the schools who visit us know we are happy to offer on-going support to help carry the progress forward. Attending Digital Schoolhouse workshops also allows primary schoolteachers to keep up to date with the trending freeware and pedagogies best suited to delivering the subject.
What are the benefits of teaching computing in this way?
Our hands on, practical approach to teaching Computing allows the pupils to explore and discover and, importantly, to learn through trial and error. Most of the primary school computing leaders that I have spoken to mention that they have roughly 35-50 minutes per week to deliver the KS2 curriculum which they feel is not enough time to cover some of the topics. However they are amazed at how much can be covered in a DSH workshop and many have requested support in planning lessons to be delivered at their schools. (They are also surprised at how much fun Computing can be!) The combination of theory / computing unplugged sessions and practical application means that connections can be made. Curiosity is kindled in the minds of the pupils which creates a thirst for learning and a desire to explore the topic in further depth.
The students who participate in the workshops do not always have access to the types of devices and gadgets supplied by the DSH due to lack of funding in primary schools. They take full advantage of the tasks they are set and apply themselves fully – this positive and willing attitude to a new subject is always a pleasure to observe. It is one of many reasons why working as a Digital Schoolhouse provider has been a stimulating and professionally rewarding experience.
What would you say to any school thinking about signing up?
The journey undertaken in setting up the DSH has not always been straightforward as we have met with some challenges along the way. Significant work went into advertising and promoting the concept wherever and whenever possible. Rita and I attended local borough meetings, I visited schools individually and there were thousands of emails exchanged before we launched. Prior to that we had the actual workshops to design and set up – creating resources, bidding for devices and equipment and organising the logistics of having a group of mixed gender primary school children on site in an otherwise all-girls environment.
I would say it is vital that any school considering signing up to a project like this has the support of the Senior Management Team and has a highly competent network support team.
Planning and preparing the resources here has been collaboration between department members. Saphina Siddiq (DSH Teacher/ Teacher of Computing) and I thoroughly enjoy looking for new and crazy ways to deliver our subject! But management of the newly acquired hardware, the installation of software and the administration of user accounts has to be credited to our Network Manager and her team – so a good network team is definitely number 1 on the checklist!
Despite all the hard work, we are immensely excited about embarking on the journey for the second year now on a bigger scale with outreach now to London boroughs beyond Redbridge.
We have benefitted enormously from being part of this project. Valuable links have been forged with local primary schools. Acquisition of a host of whacky and wonderful devices has enlivened learning for KS2 pupils and for our own. And we’ve really valued the chance to support fellow teachers and to work collaboratively in response to the new Computing curriculum. It’s been wonderful! Becoming a Digital Schoolhouse has been a privilege. It has contributed to the profile of the school in the community and we are very proud of what has been achieved. I would definitely recommend an interested school to give it a go.