“Sir, my computer won’t turn on” says pupil turning the monitor on and off

I often encounter teachers with complaints like the above. Follow-on discussions range from “Digital Natives: what can you do?” to “…and staff too.”.

If there is an elephant, I might suspect it is in this room.

The point is there is an opportunity in teaching students about modularisation. This is very important not just for computer programming, but for aspects of academic and working life.

I have often explained to students that cars were built from different parts. Ford don’t make tyres; they just buy them from another company. Tesla don’t make gears (or most parts of the drivetrain), they stick pre-bought parts into their products.

Much of this is covered in our lesson on abstraction https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/abstraction-computing-lesson-for-ks3-11333136, currently free by using the code OUTSTANDINGOCT for new buyers or the code VALUEDCUSTOMER for a returning customer.

Students often think “what’s in it for me?” when they are taught that CPUs are discrete components from a computer. Some might be misled that it is just vocabulary, if they refer to a computer as a CPU it doesn’t really make a difference. They might have a point; you could refer to a steam train as an engine and people would understand. However, things move on. The difference between students in 2017 and those 100 years ago is that we expect more. We expect logic, inference and an understanding of the wider world. It is our responsibility to teach students that computers are different from monitors and vice-versa.

Implicit or explicit

By referring to students as digital natives we do sell them short. A student would implicitly understand that an external speaker has a different power button than a connected phone. However, many find it difficult to transfer this knowledge.

A student attempting to use touch on a traditional monitor has a similar issue. However, we should be asking THEM why ever screen is not a touch screen. Laptop sales are falling, but students are familiar with such machines. Few have touch screens. Why not? If the conversation resorts to cost, why are touch screens more expensive?

By asking the student, preferably in pairs or groups you might find that they know the answers. As a teacher, you need to make the difference explicit.

Why? The future of your students might depend on their problem solving, and not taking things for granted. When a teacher tuts that students are no longer able to use mice, they perhaps need to look at their mind-set first. But then, yes, kick a teacher who asks why the students can’t use Spreadsheets while they cannot use them either.