A Plain Speaking Guide to the KS3 Computing Curriculum in England

I did some writing for O2 Telefonica at the end of last summer, you can find the published versions and more on the O2 guru bites site but I thought the Babitech and Pontydysgu audiences would appreciate their own versions…

A Parents Guide to the KS3 Computing Curriculum

Learning about computing is learning to think in a logical way. You need to be able to break a problem down into smaller parts, to look for and recognise patterns, to work out what the most essential details are and come up with a step by step method for solving the problem which anyone could follow and produce the same results. All of these things can be taught without any technology at all. You could programme your kids to make the perfect cup of tea!

If you have children in years 7, 8 or 9 in England, they will be studying the new KeyStage 3 computing curriculum. You can find the actual document online at www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-computing-programmes-of-study but unless you’re a whizz at computer science you might be left none the wiser.

Here’s a plain English explanation of some of the key words;

Abstraction is a way of describing something in simple terms. You could describe how a drinks vending machine works by saying, you insert money, press a button and the drink comes out. You don’t need to think about all of the internal processes or how the drink is made because they are not important. The same with driving a go-kart – you press the pedal it moves forward, you don’t need to include how the engine works.

Sorting means putting things in order, you could sort a suit of cards in order from Ace to King, if you wrote down the instructions for how to do this you would have an algorithm. The most common ways of sorting things are in number order and alphabetically, you could also sort things by height, weight, colour etc. Once your items are sorted it’s easier to search for a particular item. Imagine you lay all of your cards face down and tried to find an 8 of clubs without counting the cards, you could start by picking a card from around the middle, say you find a six, you now don’t have to look at any of the cards below six, if you keep splitting the pack you could probably find one card out of 52 in three attempts, this is called binary search.

Boolean logic is a way to design a simple set of instructions, the important words are IF, THEN, AND, OR, NOT. We could write instructions about what to wear in the summer – IF sunny THEN shorts. IF sunny AND hot THEN sunhat.

Binary is a way of counting using only 1 and 0. Each pixel in a digital photograph is represented by a series or ones and zeroes (or a byte), the pictures, music and videos we see on screen are the result of lots and lots and lots of ones and zeroes.

There are some excellent resources for parents, teachers and pupils on the following websites;