Enrich your Computer Science Curriculum with these initiatives
As Computer Science Teachers, it’s likely that we understand the importance of allowing young people the opportunity to study the new curriculum, but can we say the same for everyone else?
How many of us have any say in our school over what subjects are offered, or how much time is allocated to each? Too often we’re seeing Computing being sidelined, or worse, removed due to misconceptions over the subject and its importance.
The new National Curriculum for Computing was introduced to address the UK’s digital skills shortage, revitalise the view of computing in schools and engage and enthuse the next generation of computer scientists. The recent report from the Royal Society, ‘After the Reboot’ assessed the impact of the new computing curriculum introduced in schools in September 2014, and the results were not as positive as expected. The number of students opting for the new Computer Science GCSE and A-Levels is lower than previous figures for ICT. In addition, the gender gap has widened.
Despite the government’s best efforts, students are being turned off when it comes to engaging with computer science. In ‘Shut down or restart? The way forward for computing in UK schools’, the image of computing was not a positive one, with pupil’s reporting that they found the subject ‘boring and repetitive’. Following the introduction of the new curriculum, the Wellcome Trust surveyed 4000 students to see if their perceptions of the subject had changed. The top reason cited for not choosing Computing at GCSE was a lack of interest in the subject.
As of 2017, 54% of UK schools were not even offering Computer Science as a GCSE option. With motivation for the subject low, student numbers declining and the digital skills gap increasing, a solution must be found to enthuse students and increase engagement with computing.
It falls to us as Computing Teachers to show our schools that Computing is not only a vital skill but that it is something students can enjoy and engage with. This can be a difficult task, with Computing often given a low timetable allocation, and being delivered by teachers who may be transferring from ICT or another subject, and lacking confidence.
A really effective and easy way to get started is with the after-school club.
Due to the issues in the industry, many organisations have developed initiatives to help promote computing to young people, and by using these resources to our advantage, we can re-enthuse the students in our schools with minimal effort.
Many of these initiatives provide pre-written resources, support for non-specialists delivering content, and prioritise learner-led approaches to take the pressure away from the facilitator. By offering a club for just one hour a week, and taking advantage of external events to provide more advanced experiences, we can show our schools that Computing is not only an amazing and engaging subject, but that it is something that should be valued highly, and not pushed to the side.
To combat this, I would like to highlight a wide range of (free) initiatives that you can quickly and easily implement in your school.
Bebras is an annual Computational Thinking competition. The challenges as tiered for years 6 to 13.
Elite: Years 12 & 13
Seniors: Years 10 & 11
Intermediates: Years 8 & 9
Juniors: Years 6 & 7
Their website also provides examples of past challenges, which are perfect as starter activities in your programming classes or can be used to run in-house competitions in your school.
TCS Oxford Computing Challenge
Following on from Bebras, TCS is a Computational Thinking Challenge designed for the top 10% of participating students, using the same tiering system.
Elite: Years 12 & 13
Seniors: Years 10 & 11
Intermediates: Years 8 & 9
Juniors: Years 6 & 7
Interactive tutorials are currently available on their website and there is potential for a future Teacher’s Portal to be developed.
The Duke of York Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award was developed as the digital answer to the Duke of Edinburgh Award. There are currently 320,000 badges available to students and students can work towards Bronze, Silver and Gold Certificates as they continue to earn more badges.
Badges are split into five challenge categories of citizen, worker, maker, entrepreneur and gamer.
The iDEA Award is perfect for supporting KS3 learning in a fun and engaging way.
Aimed at students aged 9-13, Code Club provides resources in Scratch, Python, HTML & CSS and micro:bit.
Although I’ve found these resources work better at KS3 than KS4, the tutorials are some of the best I’ve seen, and I often favour Code Club’s micro:bit resources over micro:bit’s own.
Not only do the Code Club resources make perfect projects for an after-school club, but they can also be used really effectively in class if you prefer to teach programming using mini-projects rather than just typing out code.
A series of Digital Skills workshops aimed at ages 7-17, I have found that CoderDojo can provide an interesting follow on from your Code Club sessions.
Resources cover building a website, creating an app or game, and aim to explore technology in an informal, creative and social learning environment.
These are independently organised community events where people get together to share knowledge, learn new things, and meet other Raspberry Pi enthusiasts. While potentially a little more niche as other initiatives as it relies on ownership of some Raspberry Pi computers if you can get your hands on some and run some projects with your students, this has huge potential.
Rather than weekly events, I would recommend running these half-term or termly, and opening them up to surrounding schools, encouraging parents to attend with children.
The Raspberry Jam is the perfect format for a family event that would give your students a chance to show other’s what they have created, engage with students from other schools and perhaps help their parents learn a thing or two as well.
Get this one right and you have some awesome material for your school to use and show everyone how awesome you are.
This initiative runs in two parts. If you’re less confident with programming but your students would get excited about the prospect of having their code run on the International Space Station, then Mission Zero is for you. Open to anyone, the instructions are easy to follow meaning that in just 30 minutes your students can submit their messages to be run in space. Successful entrants will also receive a certificate to show where in the world the ISS was positioned at the time their code ran. Another quick and simple activity your school should be happy to get involved with.
Those of you happy to lead a team through a project can check out Mission Space Lab, a competition run over several months that allows teams of students to develop experiments that can be run on the Raspberry Pi computers on the ISS. The winning teams will have their experiments run by the astronauts on the ISS and the data created will be freely available for analysis.
Developed by the NCSC, Cyber Discovery’s pilot programme ran in 2017/18 and aimed to encourage young people to pursue careers in cybersecurity. Designed for years 10-13, the scheme runs in 3 parts.
Unfortunately, if the format is the same as the pilot year then you need to make sure your student’s register and participate in the Cyberstart Assess or they will not gain access to later content. This means you’ll need to register asap to ensure you get notified when the next series is due to begin.
Cyber Discovery provides a fun and engaging platform for students to develop their security skills. An excellent add-on to your curriculum which fails to highlight one of the most interesting career paths linked to computing, AND one which has other initiatives to support women through University when studying STEM-related degrees.
If you happen to have any students who perform particularly well in the second round, they have the chance to be invited to an Elite in-person event in their region over Summer.
In addition to initiatives you can run yourself in school with minimal effort, there are also a number of initiatives being run Nationally that are worth having a look at.
Encouraging your students to also participate in events held elsewhere exposes them to Industry leaders and role models, while also teaching them how to collaborate with students they might be less familiar with.
Remember, good Computer Scientists need communication, teamwork and other social skills as well as the ability to code.
A series of residential and non-residential courses for students to get hands-on whit some cybersecurity techniques and skills. Split by age group, most courses are available as mixed gender or girl only events.
CyberFirst Adventurers, a one-day development course for 11 – 14-year-olds
CyberFirst Defenders, a four-day course providing a valuable introduction to cyber security for 14 – 15-year-olds
Cyber First Futures, a five-day course looking at advanced cybersecurity topics for 15 – 16-year-olds
Cyber First Advanced, a five-day residential aimed at students with a real aptitude for cybersecurity for 16 – 17-year-olds
Usually running over the Summer months, you might need to wait a while for the next set of dates to be released.
Encouraging your students to attend workshops run by other organisations is a great way of exposing them to new ideas without having to do all the work yourself. If you’re lucky, you may even find organisations who are willing to come to your school and run something for you right there.
Some even offer workshops specifically for girls, and these can be excellent opportunities. Research has suggested that girls feel more confident exploring new technologies in same-sex environments, and if you can build that confidence in a safe space, you’ll have a much higher chance of maintaining that interest in a mixed-gender setting.
In addition, having the structure of a workshop can also support confidence, and the skills learnt here can form the basis for further exploration and creativity. I have found that providing too much free reign too early can have a negative effect on less confident programmers (especially girls) as they can become overwhelmed, losing their confidence and reducing engagement.
Which brings me perfectly to my last initiative.
Once you have students with the confidence and the basic technical skills for them to expand upon, it’s time to get them to a Youth Hack.
Hackathons can be run over a few hours or a few days, whatever works best for you. Allow students to work in teams of up to four people, and provide them with a problem. How they approach solving that problem is up to them.
When setting challenges, it’s often a good idea to include problems that address a need in our society. A current issue in Computing in Schools is that students, and again, especially girls, are not seeing the value that learning these skills can have on our World. If students can’t understand how these skills can contribute to making a better world, they will be less likely to want to pursue a career in that field.
Thanks for reading!
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