Computer Science Curriculum
Asha Chennai has been teaching computer science to students in primary and middle schools in Tamil Nadu for the last 5+ years. There was no curriculum available for Computer Science in Tamil Nadu state board. We considered the CBSE curriculum and felt it was very outdated and proceeded in an unengaging manner.
We have developed a curriculum on our own. The curriculum covers both digital literacy (how to use a computer) as well as computational thinking (programming computers to do various things). Our goal was that the curriculum should be implementable even in schools with very limited infrastructure. We still serve several schools where the only computer is the laptop that our teacher carries with her.
Computer Science is not something you learn with a pen and paper. Children need to actually do things on a computer to learn. In our curriculum we lay emphasis on project work. We devote the entire third term (Jan to April) to project work. Classes 4 and 5 develop a presentation while classes 6 to 8 develop a programming project with assistance from the teacher.
There were two important things to cover in the curriculum.
The children need to understand the world of computers and Internet. Then need to feel comfortable navigating through that world. The test of digital literacy is not in what you know but in how comfortable you feel about doing something that you currently do not know. If you suddenly get a drone which interfaces with your laptop or smartphone, how comfortable are you in visiting the website of the drone and configuring it to work and also understand how the whole thing works. This is the goal of digital literacy.
We introduce basic digital literacy in class 1 itself with children learning to become comfortable with mouse and keyboard. At class 3 they develop a sense of the computer with its storage, persistence of information. In class 4 and 5, we teach them OpenOffice. In the process they also being to understand the windowing environment and the operating system that lies underneath with multi-tasking, event handling etc. In class 6 to 8, while we continue to build on these, we also introduce the students to the Internet – browsing, how to search for information, email, chatting, social media etc.
Importance of digital literacy in this day and age is very well understood. Programming is also equally important. Programming exposes the children to newer areas of education like computational thinking, design thinking etc. Studies have found that these have significant impact on the education of children even in other skills like language and Maths.
We introduce children to programming in their third standard. We introduce programming through solving simple puzzles. Note that programming as in specifying clear instructions that can be followed to achieve a desired result can be done even without computers. Many of our puzzles that teach programming for young children can be games that are played without computers. We found a wonderful curriculum in code.org and have used it to the extent possible within our limitations.
In the middle school we move them to develop more substantial projects using Scratch. During this time, they get introduced to all the standard programming concepts like variables, conditional statements, looping, asynchronous messaging, handling user input, etc.
Tools we use for teaching
We have selected a set of tools to best teach computer science to children in primary and middle schools. These are world-class tools used in many of the best international schools. Here are the tools that we use.
The curriculum has been decomposed into a set of lessons that can be implemented by a teacher in a classroom. Each lesson covers one or more items in the curriculum. The entire set of lesson plans can be accessed through our Asha Kanini app. Here are a few samples.
Students spend an entire term working on a project. Children in classes 4 and 5 develop a presentation using OpenOffice Impress and children in classes 6 to 8 work on a programming project using Scratch. They do this in teams of 4 to 8 children. Team work also helps in peer-learning. After seeing the quality of the work from children, we decided to host a competition named Asha Impressions towards the end of the third term.
In Asha Impressions 2019, 95 teams submitted presentations and 15 teams submitted programming projects. We selected the best 10 presentations and 5 programming projects. These teams presented their projects to a panel of judges including IIT professors and industry leaders. The judges we just as impressed as we were by the quality of the work from the children. The children also impressed us by their ability to answer the questions from the judges and do changes to their presentation or program on the fly!
Here are some of the winning entries.
- Winning Presentation from PUPS Velagapuram.
- Runner-up Presentation from PUPS, Kangavallipuram.
- Second runner-up Presentation from PUMS, Manjakuppam.
- Winning program from PUMS, Ramanjeri.
- Runner-up Program from PUMS, Odappai.
Besides Asha Impressions we also have an informal assessment for our students. The assessment serves as a beacon for our teachers in terms of what we expect the students to know by the end of the year. These assessments are done on a computer and involve doing something practical using all the things they have learnt. Here are some of the assessment papers.