Exploring the big issues in computing


Many Governments want to illegalise encryption to make it harder to communicate secretly, eroding our privacy further.

Wealth accumulates in big tech companies, which squeeze out the existing media, and are much more loosely regulated leading to fake news.

Artificial intelligence will displace more humans from their jobs than anyone thought possible, changing the future world of work.

These are some of our biggest moral and ethical issues, and are of huge importance to young people today and as they enter adulthood. They therefore offer wonderful opportunities to hook learners into lessons.

Lesson hooks are understood to activate prior knowledge, a stage in learning based in the constructivist theory introduced by Jean Piaget. It helps students to build on what they already know. There are lots of ways to activate prior knowledge from the standard last lesson recap to methods designed to more radically pique interest.

Whether you want to bring a sense of continuity to a lesson series, or are setting off boldly in a new direction, here are some ideas for effective lessons starts using hooks:
  1. Help students understand how important the lesson topic is. Place it in historical context – the work of Karen Spärck Jones in 1972, for instance, produced the algorithms that went on to power modern search engines such as Google. The origins of the terms debugging and software patch are engaging stories
  2. Highlight how important the topic is to each student personally. Mobile devices, used by the majority of young people, can be used to introduce wireless networks, graphics, security, safeguarding, programming, system performance and lots more. By linking to not just real life but their life, you will make the lesson more relevant and the learning stickier.
  3. Pose a puzzle – how does X work? Put a humanoid robot on the table and ask them to consider the actuators and how they work together; maybe compare with an actual human doing something similar. How does this become an algorithm, which becomes a program?
  4. Bring a little magic! Card tricks, such as these produced by the CS4FN team, give a wow factor. They also make teachers look pretty cool and clever! Unplugged activities often involve some mystery, too, and a powerful tool to introduce a topic.
For hooks to work well you should avoid a couple of potential pitfalls:
  1. Avoid using irrelevant contexts or making the links too tenuous – distractors can lodge themselves in the minds of your students and edge out your intended learning outcomes.
  2. Compensate for gaps in prior knowledge. Use your knowledge of the students to place them in appropriate groups, or offer resources that bring them up-to-speed.

So whether you use computer games, healthcare, robotics or any engaging context, plan to get your students on the hook from the start.

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