Empowering the teacher through tech

Teachers hero and maths enthusiast Johnny Ball talks BETT, Raspberry Pi and the future of computing in schools

Johnny returned to this year’s BETT show in January as one of several speakers on the Stone Group stand. His interactive talk ‘Building an Aptitude for Maths’ highlighted how maths taught through ICT can be far richer and more motivating than more traditional teaching methods. Here Johnny shares his thoughts on the impending computing curriculum and implementing technology in schools

A rich education

The new curriculum was certainly the hot topic this year. It focuses on teaching programming skills, which will inevitably become a vital skill in the future as more and more jobs will be focused around, or will include an element of IT. But teachers shouldn’t be complacent with the curriculum. It is by no means our education system – it is only a fragment of it. Education is much richer than that. We know how quickly young people latch on to technology, and simple tools such as Raspberry Pi have proven very effective in engaging children through technology.

But I really want to emphasize the importance of the teacher. We will always need them no matter how advanced technology becomes, and the teacher still needs to understand what the child is learning – what is going in, and how much time they are spending to learn a particular topic. 

Teacher training 

It’s going to be really challenging for teachers over the next few years, as we all get to grips with rapidly changing technology.
Not only do teachers have to learn how to use it, they have to make sure naturally technical young people are using it correctly and safely.

I don’t think there will ever be adequate training for teachers, because it is such a diverse subject, but most of it you learn at the chalk face. The majority of teachers want to do their job because of the experience they had at school, and I’m always saying that if a system won’t allow a teacher to teach what they want to then we may be losing some fine teaching talent. 

Tech for schools

Often you find that some technology, particularly the type aimed at primary schools, is 90% play and only 10% educational. And that is not a good use of time, for teachers or children. So you have to learn when you are building educational resources for schools that the educational content must go in first, and it must be the focus of the whole tool, and then you sweeten it by adding the fun element. When you come to technology, the skill is in the teacher finding which parts truly deliver strong education, not which pacify the kids.

It’s the partnership. The two have got to go together. The teaching comes first and the technology comes second. Technology empowers the teacher to be better than they ever thought they could be.

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