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Why it’s important to learn how computers work

Give children the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in a world where they are surrounded by computer systems and networks
Why We Teach Computer Systems And Networks

As an educator, you need to equip your learners with the knowledge and skills to thrive in a world where they are surrounded by computer systems and networks. This will form the backbone of their conceptual understanding of computers and enable them to take advantage of the many opportunities computer systems and networks can provide.

It’s important that you help your learners understand how computer systems and networks affect their lives, and that they develop their wider understanding by using examples that are familiar to them.

Computers you can’t see

Computers are central to many everyday tasks and routines. Often, computers and networks are hidden, so people are not even aware that their choices are influenced by computers or that their actions determine what a computer will do. Your learners might not realise that a computer system controls automatic doors in a supermarket or the timing of a pedestrian crossing. Even if they do realise computers are involved, they might not be able to explain how.

Think about your day so far. Whether you’ve left the house or stayed at home, you will probably have interacted with computers and computer systems at some point. Perhaps you set an alarm on a phone or digital system. You may have listened to the radio or watched the TV, or maybe you benefitted from your heating clicking on at a set time or temperature. If you made a journey, you may have checked the traffic reports prior to setting off. All these tasks involve computers and computer systems, as does what you are doing now by taking this course online.

Digital natives?

Your learners are growing up in a world built around computers and computer systems. Because of this, there is a common misconception that they are ‘digital natives’. This is a view which you should challenge — the ability to navigate around a phone or a tablet to watch videos or message friends does not equate to an understanding of the systems involved. By helping your learners develop an understanding of how computer systems work, you can help them become more aware of how computers influence their lives.

While teaching this topic, you should also be mindful that not all young people have the same access to computers. Many will be growing up in households where access to computers is at best infrequent, or where the effects of computers are not always seen as positive.

Once your learners have a better understanding of how computers and computer systems influence their lives, you can encourage them to take control of digital devices. They can begin to see devices such as computers and tablets as platforms on which they can express themselves creatively or look for solutions to problems, rather than just consuming content produced by other people.

Becoming discerning users

In addition to knowing when they can use computers to help them, your learners also need to be able to choose when not to use computers so that they can maintain a healthy balance between on and off screen time.

Managing screen time is not the only issue your learners need to consider. Children are growing up in a world where they are surrounded by information. Many will be taking their first steps into the world of social media, an unfiltered mass of information which can be difficult for adults to navigate.

By understanding that not everything they see or hear might be what it appears to be, your learners can develop a critical eye to help identify what is true and what is not. This in turn will help them be protected against the potential dangers of sharing unreliable or inappropriate content. These are not skills which come ‘naturally’ to learners, they must be taught in a way that engages their natural curiosity.

The foundation of computing

Everything you have read above demonstrates that computing systems and networks can be seen as the foundation of computing. An understanding of the core concepts will enable your learners to access all other areas of the computing curriculum, including the impact technology will have on their lives and how they can use tools effectively.

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Teaching Computing Systems and Networks to 5- to 11-year-olds

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