The Best Computing Lesson I’ve Ever Taught

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In 2014, in the last week of the summer term, I felt confident that my Year 6 class had succeeded in working their way through the entire Computing curriculum. With that in mind, I decided that their last every primary school Computing lesson had to be both special and memorable.

After a lot of thought and consideration about which aspect of Computing would engage the children the most, I settled on a very simple and effective idea – computer games.

Nearly all the children played computer games and I’d led a really successful project that Easter wherein the children had used Scratch to code their own computer games.

Having settled on my theme, I decided I’d used computer games to demonstrate the evolution of technology in the past few decades.

To do this, I spoke to several members of staff who generously loaned me any old television sets that they had and any old consoles that they’d kept over the years – I’m the proud owner of an old-school Nintendo 64 myself. With the help of my colleagues, I managed to transform my classroom into an arcade.

I managed to get my hands on a Sega Megadrive (1990), Nintendo Entertainment System (1983), SNES (1990), Nintendo 64 (1996) and Playstation 2(2000). I decided against using any of the more modern consoles as many children already had them at home.

What Did The Children Learn

When the children arrived, I organised them into groups and allocated them to a particular station, with the idea that we’d work a round-robin style system. I gave each group a sheet with questions to answer whilst they took turns playing the different computer games.

The questions were pretty open-ended as I focused more on generating discussion than anything else. For example, one question simply asked the children what they thought about the joystick (or control pad). This simple question led to a lot of discussion about why joysticks have evolved into their current form.

Whilst the children realised that it was so they were more comfortable for the person holding them, I was soon shocked as they moved onto a discussion about the practical reasons for certain technological developments.

Mobile phones were no longer just smaller because it’s “cool” and looks good, but they’d been designed specifically to be easier to fit into a handbag or pocket. They also discussed the increased mobility offered by laptops (rather than PCs) and chatted a lot about why the iPad has an on-screen keyboard.

Also, the children had a good chat about the evolution of multiplayer gaming. They were frustrated playing on the older consoles because they could only play with 2 people at a time and they’re used to playing with about 16 people online. This in turn led to a great discussion about playing online and the e-safety issues that online gaming can bring.

I should note, I said very little during this lesson.

Finally, and most importantly, they began to realise their own potential. Super Mario Bros is a basic game in which the lead character simply moves forwards and jumps over obstacles. However, this was a groundbreaking game when it was released, yet the children correctly pointed out that they’d already coded similar games on Scratch earlier in the year.

If the could code Super Mario Bros at the age of 11, what would they be able to do in 10 years time? The prospect of coding their favourites games when they’re older left them really excited.

So in a lesson basically dedicated to video games, the students discussed the practical impact of technology on the world, e-safety issues and became more enthusiastic about coding.

Not a bad outcome I’d say.

Summary

The knowledge the children gained might not have been completely applicable to the Computing Curriculum (some of it was) but the discussions they had were equally important as they began to look at technology in a more practical way.

Too often, as teachers, we’re restricted by the curriculum and the small amount of time we have to teach everything on it. But I feel it’s important to offer children a completely different experience when possible.

After all, this lesson had the desired effect I wanted it to, it inspired the children to learn.

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