Blog All About IT

12 Days of Christmas – Teacher Edition

12 Days of Christmas – Teacher Edition

With the festive season firmly underway, the days of education for this year are definitely coming to a close. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t employ ‘the 12 days of teaching’. Put simply, it’s 12 tips for you this festive season, and we’re going to go ahead and get right into it here and now.

12 Days Off Working

Kicking things off is 12 days off work. While it doesn’t have to be 12 days exactly (or at all!), the basic principle remains. You need to take the time to stop and think about your own health and wellbeing and put all your work out of sight and mind. Remember to try and focus on your own inner peace for a few days, then you should be recharged and ready to continue. A burnt out teacher isn’t a great teacher – you can’t keep drinking from a cup that isn’t refilled.

11 Pens-a-Clickin’

The best practical present that you can get for someone who is teaching is stationery, although the January sales are often better for that! Many teachers will ask for equipment to complete their tasks with, and so it’s worth joining the many people who are looking to do so.

10 Boots-a-Walkin’

When you do happen to have time off from the chaos of the classroom, it’s worth considering going for a walk during the festive season, or at least getting out in the fresh air. The weather may indeed be frightful sometimes, but there’s no question that it’s good for you to go and be active while getting some fresh air. You might be sceptical at first, but there’s no doubt that it’ll help you to get a new perspective and clear your head.

9 Board Games Playing

The problem with the festive season is that even when you’re supposed to be spending time with your family and enjoying life at the moment, your mind can often be elsewhere, focused instead on the papers you have to look over or the lessons you need to plan. That’s why it’s usually highly recommended that you take the time to actually play some board games, just to try and maintain a sense of the present. Board games are absolutely not just for kids!

8 Tweets-a-Tweeting

Social media, especially EduTwitter is an amazing resource, but equally can be a real distraction during the holidays, and often serves as a means to stress and worry. With a lot of holidaying teachers all looking through their favourite sites, the chances of running into an article that upsets you or finding something to distract yourself from the here and now is pretty likely. That’s why it’s a good idea to distract yourself from the online world and take a detox for a few days if you can possibly manage it. Don’t feel guilty about not tweeting or blogging for a few days!

7 Doors-a-Closing

Sometimes you’ve just got to make sure that you’re taking a stand for you and really pushing to make sure that you look after yourself. Teaching & tutoring is time intensive, so keeping a day for yourself to stay in pjs, read a book, or do whatever makes you happy is not selfish. It can be useful for you to make a day all about you and do whatever you need to, so you can just chill out.

6 Tunes-a-Playing

Music is a beautiful part of Christmas time, but that doesn’t mean what you listen to has to be festive by any means. The important thing here is that you do your best to listen to tunes which appeal to you and make you feel better because music can seriously do you a lot of good.

5 Gold Stars

Seriously, who doesn’t love a gold star? However, they’re just symbolic here of rewarding yourself for a job well done. Being a teacher can be a challenging task, and there’s no doubt that it can be a struggle to try and motivate yourself to keep going during winter months when the terms are much longer & mock exam marking is everywhere. However, rewarding yourself and keeping your mind positive is the best possible way to succeed. Even if you do just give yourself a gold star.

4 Spa’s -a-cleaning

When you’re struggling to chill out and end the year on a high note, it might be time to consider a spa trip. There’s no doubt that a spa trip can make almost anyone feel like new again – all the rejuvenating properties and activities, along with the feeling of freedom from responsibility can be intoxicating. Men, this applies to you too – never be afraid to self-care!

3 Rooms-a-Cleaning

Have you ever heard that the state of our rooms are a reflection of our minds and how we are currently feeling? For example, an untidy room might suggest a scattered mind that’s trying to deal with too much all at once. This is where taking the time to clean out your rooms can really help you – it gives you the much-needed concentration to regain your focus.

2 Decluttered Drawers!

What you have to appreciate about decluttering is that it makes you feel so much better about yourself. Go and find a drawer in your home, and declutter it until it looks like new. It’s exceptionally therapeutic, and also provides a productive distraction from your work.

And a Day With Your Family!!

One of the best things to do when you want to be able to wind down and spend time with other people is to go and visit your family. They’re the people you’ve grown up with and celebrated all your best moments with. They’re great for forgetting your problems with, catching up on their lives and making some beautiful memories.

All in all, these are the 12 best ways that you can enjoy the festive season while taking the time to relax and enjoy yourself. It’s not always an easy task by any means, but it is one which will seriously mean a lot to you if you can get it nailed. When Christmas time approaches, we’re all wondering how just to take that step back and relax. It’s not an easy task by any means, but it’s one we all need to learn to do, especially teachers. It’s crucial that you take the time to sit back, relax and forget for a day or two because there’s no arguing that teaching can be a very demanding vocation. You have to give yourself over to it a lot, which is why it can be essential to try and make a portion of the season about you.

If you’d like some practial everyday tips for teaching in the classroom, you can buy my book in paperback & e-book now!

Until then, wishing you a very peaceful Christmas.

Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Helping Your Teen Revise Over Christmas

Christmas GCSE Revision

Christmas is almost here! There’s no doubt that it’s an exciting time, and the whole family comes together. However, when you’ve got a teen who’s trying to revise for their mock GCSE Computer Science exam, everything becomes a bit more complicated! Of course, it’s important to make sure that they’re studying for the exam, but at the same time taking the time to be with family, so we’re going to look at how you can help them with this.

 

Establish Goals From the Beginning

One of the first things that you’re going to need to do is to establish a clear set of goals from the beginning with your teen. Make sure that you know what they need to do to be ready for their exam, and what Computer Science revision needs to get done. If you set clear objectives with them from the very beginning, then you can make sure that they’re doing what needs to be done without compromising on family time.

 

Be Positive

When trying to get the GCSE mock revision exam nailed, it’s easy for your teen to be discouraged or even upset. It’s brand new territory for them – there won’t have been exams like this before on this scale, and it can be seriously tough. However, what’s important is that you take the time to encourage them and support them through the journey. They may be older children now, but they’re still your kids, and your encouragement will mean everything.

 

Help Them Revise

pexels-photo-1467564

For some teens, their Computer Science exam may well fall on how good their general knowledge is. You can help them in this area, so it’s often worth taking the time to do just that! If they need someone to revise with, then this could be your chance. Even if you’re helping them with quizzes and general knowledge questions, it’ll make the revision process a bit easier for everyone. If you feel particularly nervous about the content, have our GCSE Computer Science introduction pages open.

 

Maintain a Healthy Balance

Revision is an essential part of any teen’s school life, but a balance is also vital. You need to try and find that balance to help your children to do well without burning out. It is the festive season, after all, so you should take the time to give them breaks from their revision. Revising in chunks of 30 minutes broken up by a mince pie & a cup of tea is going to give their brains chance to digest what they were working on and be ready for the next topic. No-one wants to work over a family holiday and teenagers especially find it difficult to visualise the long-term benefits of giving up fun things, so avoiding long periods of work and arguments really will go in everyone’s favour.

 

Overall, these are some of the things that you can do to help your teen revise over the festive period. It’s not an easy task by any means, but they’ll be so thankful they took the time to revise; it makes all the difference when it comes to trying to get those higher grades. However, you need to make sure that your teen has good mental health as well because we all know how difficult it can be to try and juggle all of these responsibilities while at the same time looking to the future.

If you’re a parent in the UK and concerned about your teen’s mental health, you can get in contact with Young Minds who support both parents and young people. You can also support us on our Facebook Page where we are raising money throughout 2019 for the charity.

Holly

 

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

 

 

 

 

Kipling Feedback – It’s Exceedingly Good

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a concept called Flapjack Learning that a friend had coined. The general idea was that it was a healthier ‘snack’ of knowledge.

Of course, that evolved into a list of 2am cake related learning ideas that were written in my blog book (if you have 2am flashes of inspiration, I highly recommend keeping a notebook next to your desk to write these down – if nothing else, to allow you to re-read the notes and wonder what you meant by “not a cat”?!).

Kipling feedback works in a similar way, in that it’s bitesize, kids look forward to it, and It’s exceedingly good!

cupcakeConsider why we eat cake – unless you’re Marie Antoinette, it’s not to sustain you. Cake is a treat, cake gives us a boost, cake makes us feel better. Not once have I been given cake as a punishment. Cake has never made me feel bad (in moderation) – but I have been told that I’m stupid by a teacher. In that case, it was being told outright, but when we give overly negative feedback under the guise of progress, we chip away at a child’s self-esteem.

Thankfully, the breed of teacher who believes that a child will be motivated by being chastised is almost extinct. However, with grade expectations hanging over our heads, we can easily inadvertently punish a student with our feedback.

Our verbal feedback & teaching should be the main meals – nutritious & satisfying, leaving the written feedback as the cake.

Consider this written on a longer answer question:

Your answer isn’t balanced – where are your examples? Check your SPaG & presentation.

Ouch. It would be easy to be understandably cross when a student doesn’t take care in their work and hands in something that’s rushed and scruffy. But, is there a way to sweeten the feedback? A certain nanny once said something about a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. What if the feedback was written as:

Have you considered both sides of the argument? This would be much more detailed if you included examples – try looking up “examples of…”. Please check your SpaG where highlighed. I’d like you to write this out in neat, taking care of your presentation.

Yes, the feedback is a little more wordy, but given time in class, or as a homework to redraft and improve, this more nutritious style of feedback keeps in mind that this is a person. More detailed, but less frequent written feedback often produces far better progress as they take notice of it. If we were constantly eating learge meals, we’d never appreciate them – they need to be hungry for your feedback.

In class, the verbal feeback is the cake. Ask deeper questions, but lead with a postive:

Evelyn, that image works really well for your website topic. I’d like you to think about the presentation next – How could you adapt your code so the image is in line with your text?

 

question matrix

If you’re unsure about asking differentiates questions on the fly, try using a Question Matrix.The concept is quite simple – Your questions take a starter word from the left, and a follow up from the top. For students working at the top of Blooms Taxonomy, start at the top left of the grid with a “What is…” question.

The further towards the bottom right your question, the deeper the student has to think about their answer.

If you’ve not used one before, try this Printable Questioning Matrix – while you’re planning your lesson, add in some potential questions that you could ask students based on the lesson. Even if you’re a seasoned teacher, using the matrix can help you to reflect on how you perceive your students working in contrast to how tey actually are (if your planned questions are usable, you’ve predicted acurately).

So there you have it, Kipling Feedback – it really is exceedingly good.

Holly

 

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Mocks Shouldn’t = Misery

I’ve set myself a mission for the next few weeks. Every morning, before I do anything else I’m responding to at least 5 cries for help from students on social media.

Student sat at laptop studyingWe’ve entered the festive season of mock exams and for many year 10s, 11s, and A Level students this has meant an increase in mental health problems. So many posts about feeling overwhelmed, scared, and much much worse cannot be ignored.

The majority of my responses are reminding them that the results are formative, so will help them revise better. It’s not a “fail”, it’s still a work in progress. These discussions have prompted me to create my Painlessly Planned Revision printable which I’ve linked to at the end of the post.

What are mocks for?

With the new A Levels being linear (the exams are at the emd of two years), and most GCSEs being at least 80% – 100% exam, most students won’t experience the exam hall until the real thing. Mock exams give students a taster for what it’s like, so when they sit the real exams the anxiety of where to sit & what to bring is gone.

They’re also a way to assess progress so far. By now, most (not all) of the syllabus will have been covered and many teachers will use mocks to pick up on trends of topics that need to be re-covered as a class. They also give students the opportunity to identify what to put into their revision plan later.

They are not:

  • A final grade
  • An end point
  • Going towards the real exam
  • Pointless
  • The end of the world

Can I fail my mocks?

On a technicality, yes. But! You’re not failing in a final sense. It’s not failure, but feedback.

Done well, your mocks should answer the following questions:

  • Am I on track for my target?
  • Are there topics I need to study?
  • Can I improve my technique?

Even if the grade written on the front of the moack exam paper isn’t what you were hoping for, it is an opportuinity to identify when you should work on over the next few months so it’s not the grade that arrives in the results letter.

 

How Am I Meant To Revise If We Haven’t Finished The Syllabus?

Desk with books and a hand holding a penIf you haven’t covered it in class, it most likely won’t be in your mock paper. Lots of students have fooled themselves into thinking that every school is given a set of mock papers that everybody sits. Some are even sharing these online.

Firstly, don’t be so daft to think that sharing exam papers won’t land you in a tonne of hot water. If that really is an exam board mock paper, you could end up in heaps of trouble. Everything you post online is tracable, even if you’re not using your real name. Just don’t risk it. Please.

Secondly, the vast majority of schools and colleges write their own mock papers, and will set them based on what you have covered so far.

The best advice I can give you is to plan your revision to cover all of the topics that you have been taught, and if you can’t remember just ask your teacher for a list of topics (you can make it easier on them by printing the topic list from your exam specification and asking them to highlight the topics that you haven’t covered yet).

 

Why is Revision So Stressful?

If you weren’t a bit worried about your exams there would probably be something wrong. Feeling a bit worried means that you care about the results. However, if the worry is affecting the way that you sleep or eat, or you have felt really low about them for some time, you ought to talk to someone about it.

I sat my GCSE mocks waaaaaay back in the 90s, and it was quite stressful then. But comparing them to the high stakes & volume of the GCSE tests now, we really did have it easy. If you happen to scroll past posts bemoaning how much easier you have it and that it’s just fuss over nothing, keep scrolling. Don’t take it personally – it’s very likely that they haven’t seen the changes to the exam papers of the past 10 years. Don’t feel that your stress in invalid, equally don’t feed it with poor study habits.

 

Ok, How Should I Revise Then?

If your mocks aren’t for a few weeks then you still have plenty of time to put together a plan. If not, well a condensed plan will have to do (some revision is still better than no revision). I’ve spent some time putting together my Painlessly Planned Revision printable which I’m sending out into the world completely free.

If you’re a student, please download it and keep reading that first page until you believe that we’ll be utterly proud of your best, no matter what that is (although you might want to fill in the rest too!).

If you’re a teacher, please feel free to download and print off copies for everyone. It’s not subject specific – in fact it’s designed to be a plan for all revision.

If you’re a parent or guardian, please download it and use the first few pages as prompts to talk to your child about how they feel going into revision, and as a springboard to being able to offer help (even if you’re a bit nervous about it).

 

You can access a free copy of the Painlessly Planned Revision printable here.

Painlessly Planned Revision

 

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Holly

A Peek Behind The Scenes

Talking to some other tutors & teachers, we realised that it would be fun to show a “behind the scenes” of what we do. One of the ideas to create this was to make a SnapChat story each day as a challenge.

So at the risk of showing you how little I currently move from my 9sq ft, here’s my snapchat link – I’m going to give it a shot showing you behind the scenes of an online tutor & writer with the added twist of a bit of revision & advice on running a business.

See you there!


Send me your “behind the scenes” snaps & I’ll feature the best of them each week in the live Q&A!

Creating A Classroom Escape Room

Creating A Classroom Escape Room

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this year, it’s that I love a challenge. And nothing bit me harder than the escape room bug.

Now, not that I’m competitive (much) but over the course of a weekend away with friends we smashed three room records and laid down enough trash talk for a full wrestling match. And it was while we were enjoying a well deserved gloat after our final room that it hit me – this NEEDS to be turned into a computational thinking lesson!

And so my ‘welcome back’ escape room idea was born.

Now clearly I wouldn’t be able to recreate secret doors and hidden rooms in my version, but the idea was to recreate the sense of urgency, teamwork, and fun that we’d spent an eyewatering fortune on…. without it costing a fortune?

What you need (hardware)

I actually found it easier to plan out my escape room puzzles once I’d bought all of the bits and pieces that I needed for each team. In my room I had two teams with slightly different puzzles for some of the locks, just to avoid cross-team espionage (it’s almost like I know them!).


For each team, I bought 5 boxes of varying sizes. The boxes were plywood boxes which ranged from £1.50 to £3 each. I then bought a tin of walnut colour varnish and painted them all to make them look like old boxes.

Unforunately, it’s really difficult to get hold of boxes with clasps that can be used for locks, so I had to add my own. I managed to buy some really nice ones through Wish (although they took a few weeks to arrive, they looked great) and the rest were £1 each from The Range. Assembly was pretty straightforward, with only minor bloodletting – the moral of this story is to add a small square of plywood behind the clasps for the sake of fingers; yours and the kids!

Finally, you’ll need a combination lock for each box. This was actually the most difficult part because they’re really expensive in shops and this was nearly the end of the whole project. However, if you look online and don’t mind waiting you can pick them up for around £3 each.

Cost Per Team (5 – 6 students):

  • Boxes x 5 = £10
  • Clasps x 5 = £7
  • Varnish = £3
  • Padlocks x 5 = £15
  • Total = £35

If you’re balking at the price of the lesson so far, remember that this is an initial outlay.  And you could make this much cheaper by asking for donations of small boxes and old padlocks.

Once you have a set of boxes, you don’t have to buy it all again to run another escape room puzzle, all you need to do is redesign the game. I plan to reuse these with two year groups at least once each half term, so it’s only an expensive resource if you don’t plan on reusing it.

Setting Up The Puzzles

You can be as simple or as creative as you like with your puzzles, and the great thing about it is any puzzle can be linked to the curriculum.

classroom escape room japanese puzzle box

I started my teams off with a spacial awareness puzzle – a Japanese puzzle box which requires you to find a hidden drawer in which I’d hidden their first clue. Of course what I hadn’t predicted was for them to struggle more with this than any of the number or literacy puzzle I set!

The clue inside here led them to the next box , although just like a real escape room, I hadn’t told them which box they needed to look at next, so all locks had to be tried.

classroom escape room picture lock

One puzzle I was particularly proud of involved buying a set of scrabble tiles which were hidden in a box. When the box was opened, this was their only clue. Using the scrabble tiles, they needed to create a word – on the back of the word were the symbols that matched a particularly beautiful Chinese padlock.

This may seem like a simple puzzle, but there’s a literacy link in there. However, even better is the logical step that the word chosen has two letters the same. As the teams became frustrated that they clearly had the answer, I floated past with “how many ‘o’s are there in soon?”.

classroom escape room mirror puzzle

Another puzzle with a literacy link was the poem. One box contained nothing but a printed poem (in a script font & crumpled up so it looked old & tatty).

The poem was The Mirror by Sylvia Plath. It’s a particularly descriptive poem and indicated that they needed to use the mirror to solve the next puzzle. In using a poem to describe an object, they had to decipher the meaning of what initially is a very odd piece of text. It worked far better with my maths heavy computer scientists that I’d expected.

The same was true of the log book. I wrote out some odd looking notes that appeared to be the increasingly maddened scrawling of a ship’s captain. I included some piratey drawings and diagrams as red herrings, but also a word on each page that had been encrypted along with a number either as a date or as a word – this was the key.

classroom escape room caesar cipher

Ciphers are brilliant for these puzzles, and if you’re adding these as part of a computational thinking lesson, you can create the ciphers that are linked to your syllabus plus some additional ones as an extension. In these boxes, the two parts of the cipher wheel were hidden in separate boxes and the message started in plain text then hinted at the encryption method.

 

With all five boxes completed, to add a bit of competition, there was only one final box between the teams making it a race to the finish!

I took rather a lot of pleasure in having left a visible clue to solve the final box in plain sight for the entire time – in this case I used a letter combination lock that spelt out the word MARCH as the code to unlock, and on the table with the final box (which also held the mirrors and several other objects) was a date cube with 30th February showing… which is of course, March.

classroom escape room letter lock

 

So, was it worth it?

Absolutely. 100% worth all of the effort that went into the session. I used the classroom escape room with my returning students as a brain ‘reboot’ and my new students as the ultimate ice-breaker. In fact, as an ice-breaker it worked a treat – I’ve never had a class gel together so quickly and I put a large amount of that down to the positive moments they had together in that very first session.

 

What next?

The next step is to package up the printables from this game and release them as part of the TeachAllAboutIT October resources bundle for our members to download and play with in their own classrooms. After that, my Christmas escape room “Secret Santa?” will be in my classroom with more of a focus on combining the answer to exam questions to solve the codes.

Have you used an escape room in your classroom? What tips can you give other people to enhance lessons?

 

 

Note: Some of the linthis case ks in this post are affiliate links. By purchasing from them you are helping us to cover the costs of hosting the site. I do not link to anything that I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend anyway, and in I am linking to products that I have already bought and used as part of this project 🙂

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Holly

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.

Holly

 

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

 

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.

How To Bloom As A Tutor

Ah, the words that bring fear into the heart of every trainee teacher across the land – Bloom’s Taxonomy. But with tutoring not having the same pre-requisit for training that teaching does, not everyone is familiar with the term.

The arguments for and against professional status for tutors are likely to go on ad infinitum. There are a great many unqualified tutors who work absolute miracles with individual students, and likewise a number of teachers who fail to make the transition to tutoring. With all this aside, all of us can benefit from the metacognition brought about by using Bloom in our lessons.

For the uninitiated, Bloom’s Taxonomy is simply a hierarchy of learning that shows how students build from foundations to deeper learning. We often imagine it like a pyramid showing how the foundationslead to the pinacle of learning.

bloom

In doing this we actually do us and our students a disservice. The visual of a pyramid gives the impression that students must remember before they can apply, or analyse. In fact, the benefit that a tutor has over a teacher with a classroom of 30 or more is that we can provide the space and structure to analyse and create as a conduit to remembering.

Essentially, our ultimate goal is for our students to leave us with the ability to create the new using their understanding of the knoweldge that we facilitated.

All Ages Bloom

The idea that only older students will reach the higher levels of learning is simply wrong. In fact, the youngest of our learners are the ones who take to deeper learning much easier.

Listen to any 5 year old tell you about a specific interest. They will likely tell you the names of all of the characters (remember), will explain how they relate to each other (understand), will berate you for mixing up genres and tell you why they are different (analyse), and will have made models and drawings of their favourite characters (create).

 

Using Bloom For Progress

Tutoring is a much more intense process than teaching, and it is this one to one contact that allows us to push progress forward. However, its also presents a risk that we create over-reliance on our assistance.

By presenting a topic of study alongside an expectation of the student analysing, evaluating, or creating forces me to take a step back. It also creates an environment where it is ok for my student to feel very slightly out of their depth, because like a parent teaching a child on a bike we’re close enough to catch them but provide more reassurance than anything else.

In the classroom, I was taught to sing a verse of Baa Baa Black Sheep in my head to force myself to give students thinking time after a question (it feels ridiculous, but please try it!). I have used this technique far more in tutoring where the pause seems to last forever. Over time, I have realised that my brain is actually running at a rate of ten to the dozen and my students benefit from that pause.

Not Just 6 Words

By using the verbs given in Bloom’s taxonomy, I can word my questions to them and indicate the level of response that I want from my student. But it’s when we delve deeper than purely those six words that Bloom’s really becomes useful.

Imagine for a moment the last tutee that you were sat with. You have shown them an exam question and they look at it blankly… What do you do?

Using Bloom’s, we can prod them in the right direction:

Can you show me any key words in that question? (Remember)

Could you rephrase that question, so it makes more sense to us? (Understand)

Where have we seen that phrase used before? (Apply)

What do you think the difference is between this and that? (Analyse)

How can you tell that is the correct answer? (Evaluate)

Now you know how to answer it, can you think of your own exam question that would test your knowledge? (Create)

In short, most of us do this naturally already but use verbs that resound with each level. There’s nothing wrong with this at all, and in fact there are a whole host of resources providing word lists that link to the stages of learning.

The Bloom’s Taxonomy Teacher Planning Kit is an incredible resource to have when planning objectives or questions to help move students forward. I particularly like the example questions at the bottom.

 

Despite not changing a great deal since the 1950s, I am a huge fan of Bloom’s Taxonomy as a planning tool for my own tutoring. You could almost say I bloomin’ love it!

Do you use Bloom’s in your tutoring practice? How have you used it? I’d love to hear from you.

Holly

 

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school