Month: September 2018

Flapjack Learning – Snack Your Way To Knowledge

Everybody develops their own unique way that they like to learn, and this week a friend of mine coined the term for her preferred learning style. It’s similar to those times when you know that you’re hungry, but you can’t manage a whole meal so instead, you grab a flapjack; it’s nutritious, it will sustain you, but it won’t overwhelm you.

a tray of flapjacks - relating to flapjack learningAnd so flapjack learning was born – for those times when a long course is too much, but the instant hit of just reading up isn’t enough to sustain you. Flapjack learning can come from a series of webinars, or individual tutorials, or perhaps even an online course that you take over a number of sessions. Flapjacks are both fuel and a treat, and the more often you enjoy one, the more tempting it is to eat a whole bowl of porridge.

As a tutor, this rather appeals to me. I have a number of students who struggle to study independently, but would relish the chance for some flapjack style learning. This is one of the reasons why I have been developing a number of pre-recorded courses – allowing students to dip in and snack on their learning between their tutor ‘meals’ builds fabulous habits and will ultimately benefit them across all of their subjects.

So what makes a good learning snack?

Sticking to a single topic is a good start. In fact, the style of this particular type of learning lends itself particularly well to taking just one topic and learning exclusively about just that. It’s unusual to add a side dish to a flapjack, so why add anything else to your learning snack?

Give yourself a few minutes of absolute peace. Grab a cup of tea. Now enjoy the short time that you’ve set aside to refuel your knowledge. Often this is through a pre-recorded short lesson with an accompanying task which allows you to focus for a short period of time and sparks an idea for the next step.

 

Would You Eat A FlapJack For Dinner?

Absolutely not! (I’d be sick). But, I would use them as part of a healthy diet. Just as I use pre-recorded learning material alongside classroom or independent study to carry on learning… yes, despite teaching and tutoring, I still study. No-one ever reaches the end of their capacity to learn.

Pre-recorded courses have the additional benefit of often being cheaper than one-to-one live tuition. And no wonder really – despite the initial costs associated with writing, recording, and editing a course, a tutor will only have so many hours in the day. By creating a pre-recorded course, tutors can provide the knowledge part of their lessons to many more students. Of course, the pastoral and specific support side is missing, so pre-recorded will never fully replace that one to one relationship.

Much like my flapjack, having a learning snack may reduce my apetite and allow me to leave longer between meals.

 

Of course, I have the ever talented Catherine from Willows & Wildlings to thank for coining this phrase. Look out for her contributions to the GCSE Photography short courses soon.

 

Is GCSE Computer Science Hard?

With many Key Stage 3 students contemplating choosing their GCSE options this term, I’m asked again and again is GCSE Computer Science hard? Computer Science certainly has a reputation for being a tough subject, and with good reason. So is it as tough as some people say?

It depends on the student

Now I know that’s a total cop out, but stick with me here. We could just as easily ask ‘is Art hard?’ – for some, absolutely; and yet for others every art lesson is a island of calm in a relentless educational storm (can you tell that I enjoyed art?). If you have a genuine interest in Computer Science as a subject, then the hours of hard work really won’t seem that much of a chore.

Success rates in Computer Science make for some interesting data. Entries at GCSE level increased by 11.8% in 2018, and 3.7% of all students recieved the top grade of a 9. Grade 9s are awarded only to those scoring in the top 20% of the top 20% of grades). Taking into consideration that this was the year group whose controlled assessment was withdrawn at such a late stage, over 60% of all students receiving a passing grade or above is a positive sign.

GCSE results by grade in England

Data source: https://schoolsweek.co.uk/gcse-results-2018-computing

So in fact, a better question may be: Why do so many people find Computer Science hard?

There are a number of reasons why Computer Science may be a difficult path for you. Not impossible, because there are never any absolutes. And just because something is hard, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it anyway.

Your level of maths doesn’t match the syllabus

Calculator mathsWhen the new 9-1 GCSE syllabus for Computer Science was launched, the exam boards advised that students should be studying the higher maths specification to support the topics. Why?

Well, when introducing new students to Computer Science I often describe my subject as just ‘Maths with Toys’. 80% is decision maths, or problem solving, or just plain algorithmic thinking. What do all of these have in common? Maths!

At A Level, the the data shows that a 6 in maths (a B in old money) is an indicator of a pass at Computer Science A Level. This is because there is a huge cross over with Further Maths. Using that as a comparrison, it would be safe to suggest that a target of 6 or more for GCSE maths would predict success in Computer Science.

In the words of Beyonce, without Further maths I don’t think you’re ready for this … Er… Topic.

 

You were expecting to play games

children playing PS4 gamexLast year, I overheard a university lecturer in games development tell a student that you’re either a gamer or a develiper, not both.

I don’t particularly hold with that view – I am both a programmer and a gamer. However, I am acutely aware of the difference and although knowledge of gaming can help with logic, the likelyhood of playing games in Computer Science is slim to none!

If you’re not sure about what topics are, a good place to start is to look through the specification for the exam board that you will study. Alternatively, have a look through the topic lists on our GCSE Computer Science introduction pages. You’ll certainly be asked to code some simple games during your time studying Computer Science, but it is likely that they will be based around the key topics and will generally be text based.

 

You love programming, but not theory

teenager sitting at laptop with coding stickersAs teachers and tutors, we’ve all met that student who arrives in our class absolutely buzzing about the latest program that they’ve written. They race through every programming task that we give them and make an attempt at learning degree level concepts in year 8. If you’re that kid, please know that we love you but you’re an absolute nightmare!

We usually see a lot of ourselves in you, and it’s practically painful not to let you play in the metaphorical ball pit of coding. However, conscience dictates that we must guide you towards success in both the practical and the theoretical aspects of the course. Because of this, we have to ask you to curb some of the enthusiasm for the fun stuff.

Later on, when you’re taking over the world, you’ll come across an issue that suddenly needs an understanding of the mechanics of merge sort. It’s usually then that I get a surprise message via LinkdIn or on here letting me know that our Binary/Hex battles on the board suddenly got context.

The theory topics are complex and often require an understanding of a vast number of key terms, but if you fall into this category, the hardest part is staying on task. Learning to tackle all of the tasks no matter how interesting is a valuable skill and you’ll be able to use it in other subejcts.

 

So, should I study GCSE Computer Science?

Only you can answer that, but as with any subject if you know what’s involved in the course you’ll be able to make a much more informed decision. If you’re still unsure, try a short course like my Introduction to Number Systems to give you a flavour of what the topics are like. Look out for local coding clubs or coder dojos near you, and get involved with Big Bang events as they generally have coding and maker sessions.

Finally, talk to others who have taken the course and your teachers. Don’t just take my word for it!

Paths to Success – Games Developer & Start Up Founder

In the seventh in the series of my Paths To Success blog series, I’ve been talking to John Dalziel who took the leap into games development after working in software development. For the last five years John has been working for an online gaming startup, firstly as a developer and more recently in a dev-ops role. They’re an entirely remote company with employees all over Europe.
For those of you who haven’t been following the blog series so far, this year I’ve been particularly interested in the paths that people take after education, especially following the increase across the UK in encouraging schools and colleges to embed employability into their lessons. The first time I tried this with students, I was met almost audible rolling of eyes – kids have genuine skills in detecting something that’s been “embedded”, much like a careers version of hiding vegetables in their spaghetti. They know.
So instead, with the new academic year upon us I decided to buck the trend of the many posts telling students that “results don’t matter” (they do, you worked hard), or “I didn’t need GCSEs” (no, but you had something else) and create a positive set of real careers stories to help motivate both my students and other teachers. I’ve been talking to an array of interesting people about how education shaped their own employability skills and their often irregular paths to success.
Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 15.23.00.pngHi John, could you tell me a little bit about your experience at school.
I adored school. I had a terrible home life and school felt like my ticket out (and it was)
With it being the start of the school year, I have to ask: do you have a particular teacher that you remember?
I have fond memories of Mr Pauline who ran the Maths department. That department had the only computers in the school (about a dozen BBC Micros and an Apple II) and my friend and I used to run the school computer club.
Could you tell me a little bit about your experience at college / university?
A lot of my friends studied computing at University and I would often hang out there with them, even though I wasn’t on the course. I was pretty good at drawing so in our group I became the graphics guy. I can remember working on a big Silicon Graphics machine to build a logo for a “roguelike” game they were making
Is there any other advice you would want to give to students receiving exam results this year?
The web is full of knowledge and opportunity. If you don’t get the results you’re hoping for, it’s not the end of the world.
Thank you so much to John for giving up his time to tell us about creating a gaming start up, and proving that it’s more than just an idle dream!
John can be found at https://www.computus.org where you can see his work.