Training the trainees

By Neil Rickus on

Over the past few weeks, I’ve delivered programming training to the Primary PGCE trainees at the University of Leeds. In previous years, we had looked at technologies such as Scratch and Go Control during the PGCE. However, this year I was particularly keen to dedicate two sessions (2 x 1.5 hours) to the programming sections of the new Computing Curriculum and thus ensure the trainees were confident when entering their first teaching role in September 2014.

I split the content into two sessions – the first focusing primarily on KS1, with the second focusing on the various programming elements in KS2 by using Scratch. When planning the sessions, I felt it important to make them as interactive as possible and to get the trainees undertaking activities similar to those in the primary school.

When discussing the new Computing curriculum during previous sessions, programming was the topic that really divided opinion! Some trainees were excited to be learning a new skill, whereas others were concerned it may be too challenging for them. Consequently, the activities undertaken, particularly during the second session, were heavily differentiated to ensure all trainees would cover the basic curriculum content, while still ensuring the more able were given opportunities to progress beyond the programme of study.

Session 1

The first session initially focused on the rationale behind the new Computing curriculum and skill progression across the primary school. Trainees then used Bee-Bots to sequence instructions, followed by becoming robots moving around an area. Both these activities took place away from the computer, which came as a surprise to many trainees, with one stating, “I never thought about doing Computing stuff outside!”.


Once we’d discussed how this related to the dreaded algorithm word, we moved on to some basic procedures (using an 80s dance routine as an example!), which, although not part of KS1, allowed the trainees to more easily appreciate repetition in programs. This was done through the excellent Daisy the Dinosaur and Lightbot, in addition to linking some shapes together using Logo. We also predicted the behaviour of programs, before moving onto the excellent Sandwich-Bot (

In the plenary, I was pleased with the enthusiasm the trainees demonstrated for the next session and also how those apprehensive at the beginning were feeling more confident.

Session 2

I had considered using a range of programming technologies for the second session. However, as Scratch is almost ubiquitous in primary schools and has a reasonably shallow learning curve, I felt it the most sensible solution to prepare the trainees for life in school.

I split the session into four activities. The first three activities had step by step instructions provided to cover the basic curriculum content, with extension activities also available. They covered:

  1. Sequences and outputs
  2. Selection and variables
  3. Repetition

A sample of the instructions provided can be found here (Activity2) which builds on multiplication game here (scratch_mult) I demonstrated as part of a session for Mathematics co-ordinators last year. To layout the instructions, I liked the table format used on Phil Bagge’s Code-it site (, although I altered it to include additional explanations for each task.

The fourth session involved an independent project, which trainees had to plan based on a game specification. The project enabled the trainees to apply their knowledge from earlier in the session and was attempted by the majority, although some trainees still required detailed instructions for the first part of the game.


The session concluded with examining solutions to some of the issues faced when implementing programming in schools, such as the fact pupils may have a more advanced knowledge than the teacher.


Having delivered the sessions a few weeks ago now, my thoughts on how to improve the content and train others in the future are:

Preparation – I made sure I got others to follow the step-by-step instructions prior to the sessions to check they all made sense

Preparation – Point trainees towards other sources of free information, such as Bob Harrison’s site (

Pedagogy – Get the trainees to undertake activities as if they were in school, which helps highlight their relevance and enables the trainees to make the same mistakes as their pupils

Pedagogy – As with any lesson, make it as enjoyable as possible (when discussing prior learning at the start of session two, my dodgy dance moves were always mentioned first!)

Pedagogy – Differentiated activities are vital. Some trainees required the whole session to cover the basic curriculum content, whereas others went on to add additional levels, sprites, variables, etc to their games

Follow up – I was conscious some trainees may not look at Scratch again for at least another year, so it was important the resources used during the session are available to download

Other – Trainees did need to really concentrate on their individual work during the second session, which led to a deathly silence at times!

Other – I asked some Computer Science students to assist me during the second session, which was particularly useful at advancing the more able and meant I could spend longer with those requiring further guidance

Other ­– A handful of trainees expressed an interest in learning about further programming technologies, such as Kodu and Python, thus I may offer an optional session on these in the future

Your thoughts

Please let me know what you think through the various contact options. I’m particularly interested in whether you believe the first session is required for more experienced teachers (I think it probably is, as it allows them to see the progression in skill) and whether you would have undertaken the session(s) differently.

Computing Champions provides ICT / Computing consultancy, training and children’s workshops to primary schools. Find out about our one day training course – Delivering the new Primary Computing Curriculum here.