We are looking for primary schools in England to get involved in our new research study investigating how to adapt Computing resources to make them culturally relevant for pupils. In a project in 2021, we created guidelines that included ideas about how teachers can modify Computing lessons so they are culturally relevant for their learners. In this new project, we will work closely with primary teachers to explore this adaptation process.
This project will help increase the education community’s understanding of ways to widen participation in Computing. The need to do this is demonstrated (as only one example among many) by the fact that in England’s 2017 GCSE Computer Science cohort, Black students were the most underrepresented group. We will investigate how resources adapted to be culturally relevant might influence students’ ideas about computing and contribute to their sense of identity as a “computer person”.
This study is funded by the Cognizant Foundation and we are grateful for their generous support. Since 2018, the Cognizant Foundation has worked to ensure that all individuals have equitable opportunities to thrive in the jobs driving the future. Their work aligns with our mission to enable young people to realise their full potential through the power of computing and digital technologies.
What will taking part in the project involve?
This project about culturally adapted resources will take place between October 2022 and July 2023. It draws from ideas on how to bridge the gap between academic research and classroom teaching, and we are looking for 12 primary teachers to work closely with our researchers and content writers in three phases using a tested co-creation model.
By taking part, you will gain an excellent understanding of culturally relevant pedagogy and develop your knowledge and skills in delivering culturally responsive Computing lessons. We will value your expertise and your insights into what works in your classroom, and we will listen to your ideas.
Phase 1 (November 2022)
We will kick off the project with a day-long workshop on 2 November at our head office in Cambridge, which will bring all the participating teachers together. (Funding is available for participating schools to cover supply costs and teachers’ travel costs.) In the workshop, we will first explore what culturally relevant and responsive computing means. Then we will work together to look at a half-term unit of work of Computing lessons and identify how it could be adapted. After the workshop day, we will produce an adapted version of the unit of work based on the teachers’ input and ideas.
Phase 2 (February to March 2023)
In the Spring Term, teachers will deliver the adapted unit of work to their class in the second half of the term. Through a survey before and after the set of lessons, students will be asked about their views of computing. Throughout this time, the research team will be available for online support. We may also visit your school to carry out an observation of one of the lessons.
Phase 3 (April to May 2023)
During this phase, the research team will ask participating teachers about their experiences, and about whether and how they further adapted the lessons. Teachers will likely spend 2 to 3 hours in either April or May sharing their insights and recommendations. After this phase, we will analyse the findings from the study and share the results both with the participating teachers and the wider computing education community.
Who are we looking for to take part in this study?
For this study, we are looking for primary teachers who teach Computing to Year 4 or Year 5 pupils in a school in England.
You may be a generalist primary class teacher who teaches all subjects to your year group, or you may be a specialist primary Computing teacher
To take part, your pupils will need access to desktop or laptop computers in the Spring Term, but your school will not need any specialist hardware or software
You will need to attend the in-person workshop in Cambridge on Wednesday 2 November and commit to the project for the rest of the 2022/2023 academic year; funding is available for participating schools to cover supply costs and teachers’ travel costs
Your headteacher will need to support your participation in the study
Many technology items are disposed of each year, either because they are broken, are no longer needed, or have been upgraded. Researchers from Germany have identified this as an opportunity to develop a scheme of work for Computing, while at the same time highlighting the importance of sustainability in hardware and software use. They hypothesised that by repairing defective devices, students would come to understand better how these devices work, and therefore meet some of the goals of their curriculum.
The research team visited three schools in Germany to deliver Computing lessons based around the concept of a repair café, where defective items are repaired or restored rather than thrown away. This idea was translated into a series of lessons about using and repairing smartphones. Learners first of all explored the materials used in smartphones and reflected on their personal use of these devices. They then spent time moving around three repair workstations, examining broken smartphones and looking at how they could be repaired or repurposed. Finally, learners reflected on their own ecological footprint and what they had learnt about digital hardware and software.
An educational repair café
In the classroom, repair workstations were set up for three different categories of activity: fixing cable breaks, fixing display breaks, and tinkering to upcycle devices. Each workstation had a mentor to support learners in investigating faults themselves by using the question prompt, “Why isn’t this feature or device working?” At the display breaks and cable breaks workstations, a mentor was on hand to provide guidance with further questions about the hardware and software used to make the smartphone work. On the other hand, the tinkering workstation offered a more open-ended approach, asking learners to think about how a smartphone could be upcycled to be used for a different purpose, such as a bicycle computer. It was interesting to note that students visited each of the three workstations equally.
The feedback from the participants showed there had been a positive impact in prompting learners to think about the sustainability of their smartphone use. Working with items that were already broken also gave them confidence to explore how to repair the technology. This is a different type of experience from other Computing lessons, in which devices such as laptops or tablets are provided and are expected to be carefully looked after. The researchers also asked learners to complete a questionnaire two weeks after the lessons, and this showed that 10 of the 67 participants had gone on to repair another smartphone after taking part in the lessons.
Links to computing education
The project drew on a theory called duality reconstruction that has been developed by a researcher called Carsten Schulte. This theory argues that in computing education, it is equally important to teach learners about the function of a digital device as about the structure. For example, in the repair café lessons, learners discovered more about the role that smartphones play in society, as well as experimenting with broken smartphones to find out how they work. This brought a socio-technical perspective to the lessons that helped make the interaction between the technology and society more visible.
Using this approach in the Computing classroom may seem counter-intuitive when compared to the approach of splitting the curriculum into topics and teaching each topic sequentially. However, the findings from this project suggest that learners understand better how smartphones work when they also think about how they are manufactured and used. Including societal implications of computing can provide learners with useful contexts about how computing is used in real-world problem-solving, and can also help to increase learners’ motivation for studying the subject.
The final aspect of this research project looked at collaborative problem-solving. The lessons were structured to include time for group work and group discussion, to acknowledge and leverage the range of experiences among learners. At the workstations, learners formed small groups to carry out repairs. The paper doesn’t mention whether these groups were self-selecting or assigned, but the researchers did carry out observations of group behaviours in order to evaluate whether the collaboration was effective. In the findings, the ideal group size for the repair workstation activity was either two or three learners working together. The researchers noticed that in groups of four or more learners, at least one learner would become disinterested and disengaged. Some groups were also observed taking part in work that wasn’t related to the task, and although no further details are given about the nature of this, it is possible that the groups became distracted.
The findings from this project suggest that learners understand better how smartphones work when they also think about how they are manufactured and used.
Further investigation into effective pedagogies to set group size expectations and maintain task focus would be helpful to make sure the lessons met their learning objectives. This research was conducted as a case study in a small number of schools, and the results indicate that this approach may be more widely helpful. Details about the study can be found in the researchers’ paper (in German).
Repair café start-up tips
If you’re thinking about setting up a repair café in your school to promote sustainable computing, either as a formal or informal learning activity, here are ideas on where to begin:
Connect with a network of repair cafés in your region; a great place to start is repaircafe.org
Ask for volunteers from your local community to act as mentors
Use video tutorials to learn about common faults and how to fix them
Value upcycling as much as repair — both lead to more sustainable uses of digital devices
Look for opportunities to solve problems in groups and promote teamwork
Discover more in Hello World
This article is from our free computing education magazine Hello World. Every issue is written by educators for educators and packed with resources, ideas, and insights to inspire your learners and your own classroom practice.
For more about computing education in the context of sustainability, climate change, and environmental impact, download issue 19 of Hello World, which focuses on these topics.
You can subscribe to Hello World for free to never miss a digital issue, and if you’re an educator in the UK, a print subscription will get you free print copies in the post.
Today, we are publishing the third report of our findings from our Gender Balance in Computing research programme. This report shares the outcomes from the Peer Instruction project, which is the last in our set of three interventions that has explored teaching approaches to engage more girls in computing.
The premise of the teaching approach research is that the way Computing is taught may not always match the teaching approaches to which girls are most likely to respond positively . As with the Storytelling project and the Pair Programming project, this project aimed to find new contexts and approaches to help increase the number of girls choosing to study and work in computing.
What is peer instruction?
Peer instruction is a structured, collaborative teaching approach. It has been shown to be an effective pedagogy for novice programmers and those studying computer science at a university level because the interactive, cooperative activities help learners to perceive the topics as less stressful and less difficult .
Multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and peer conversations about the question answers are at the core of the peer instruction approach. Through talking to each other about MCQs, pupils can deepen their understanding about why a particular concept or fact is correct, and correct any misconceptions.
In England, the Computing curriculum at Key Stage 3 (ages 11–14) introduces learners to some new concepts, such as data representation, and moves learners to text-based programming languages. Towards the end of this Key Stage, learners will make choices about the subjects that they go onto study for GCSEs. These choices are influenced by learners’ attitudes towards the subject, and so we decided to trial whether the peer instruction teaching approach might lead to more positive attitudes towards Computing among girls.
The Peer Instruction intervention
The initial pilot of this trial ran from January to March 2020 with 15 secondary schools. We then used teacher feedback to develop resources to use in a full randomised controlled trial which ran from October 2021 to February 2022 in more than 60 secondary schools in England. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we changed our original plan to run face-to-face training and instead developed an online course to train teachers in the peer instruction approach. After taking part in the training, the teachers delivered 12 weeks of Computing lessons in data representation and Python programming. The two six-week units of work covered computing concepts for Key Stage 3 learners such as:
Understanding how numbers can be represented in binary format
Understanding how data of various types can be represented and manipulated digitally in the form of binary digits
Using a text-based programming language to solve a variety of computational problems
The study was run as a randomised controlled trial where participating schools were randomly divided into two groups. Schools in the treatment group used the peer instruction resources, and schools in the control group taught their normal Computing lessons. The independent evaluators from the Behavioural Insights Team used pupil surveys to measure the impact of the resources and supported this with lesson observations and teacher interviews to better understand the themes emerging from the data.
“I think peer instruction lessons are actually better than the normal lessons because you can ask other people around you to help more.”
– Female pupil who took part in the peer instruction lessons (report, p. 45)
Findings from the evaluation
The outcome measures of the peer instruction approach evaluation were quantitative data obtained from Year 8 pupils (aged 12 to 13) via pre- and post-surveys about the pupils’ stated intent to select Computer Science as a GCSE subject, and attitudes towards Computing as captured by the Student Computer Science Attitude Survey (SCSAS). When compared with the control group, the treatment group did not show a statistically significant increase in stated intent or positive attitudes towards Computing. This is a really valuable finding to help us build our understanding of what works in computing education.
The evaluation report contains some useful suggestions on how peer instruction methods could be improved in the secondary classroom:
Emphasise the importance of the stages of the peer instruction approach throughout the supporting materials. Our support for teachers changed from an in-person training day in stage one to an online course in stage two, and this impacted how much we could model the peer instruction steps that involve pupil discussion. This teaching approach differs from the traditional approach of asking learners to put their hands up to answer questions, and we believe that face-to-face training for teachers would be the best way to explore stage two of peer instruction. The importance of the discussion steps in peer instruction were further emphasised in the report: “The interviewed girls similarly reported that they preferred working in a group (as opposed to answering questions individually) as they were able to hear from people who had different ideas to them and check their answers.” So the discussion steps in peer instruction need careful thought when being delivered.
It may be useful to combine the peer instruction approach with other strategies. Although only a small number of girls taking part were interviewed, their feedback about the peer instruction lessons was very positive. The evaluation suggests that a multi-faceted approach to addressing gender balance is needed, given that the lack of girls in computing is indicative of a substantive societal issue, which decades of initiatives and research have attempted to address. The evaluators suggested that combining this pedagogy with other strategies, such as linking Computing to real-world problem-solving (another topic we explored in the Gender Balance in Computing programme), may have a cumulatively positive effect.
“Year 8 is too late”
At the start of both the Pair Programming and Peer Instruction projects, pupils were asked the same set of questions about their attitudes towards Computing via the Student Computer Science Attitude Survey (SCSAS). The mean scores from the survey results suggest that there is a small gender gap in attitudes at primary school. Boys feel slightly more confident and interested in Computing than girls. By secondary school, this gap has widened, as shown in the graph below:
In both projects, pupils were also asked about their intentions to continue studying Computing. In the Pair Programming project, the participating pupils (in Year 4/6) were asked whether they wanted to study Computing in the future, whereas the Year 8 pupils taking part in the Peer Instruction project were asked whether they intended to choose Computer Science as a GCSE subject. We cannot compare these two sets of answers directly, but there is general indication that as girls progress through stages of education, they begin to decide that Computing is not a subject for them. The independent evaluators commented that “it is striking that the gap between genders widens to such an extent over this 2- to 4-year time period, and that the overall proportions of pupils intending to continue to study Computing decreases to such an extent” (p. 15 of the report).
“These findings show a clear difference in attitudes towards learning Computing between primary and secondary learners. It really makes the adage ‘Year 8 is too late’ very true, and it is important to think carefully about what happens between Year 6 and Year 8 to make sure that Computing is a subject which engages all learners.”
– Sue Sentance, Chief Learning Officer, Raspberry Pi Foundation
 Herman, G. L., & Azad, S. (2020, February). A comparison of peer instruction and collaborative problem solving in a computer architecture course. In Proceedings of the 51st ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education. Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA. pp. 461–467. https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3328778.3366819