Category: Computer Science

New Challenges for the 2019/20 Academic Year

New Challenges for the 2019/20 Academic Year

Late July / early August usually gives teachers and tutors a few moments to take a breath in and take stock of what just happened. It’s a good time for us to look at the data that we have so far before the panic of September crashes on us. Attempting to juggle evaluative data and prepare for new classes in those first few days of September, I often feel like one of those squishy things in the rock pools on our local beach – I’ve spent a lovely summer in the shallows on my rock & now a whole ocean has just arrived and is being dramatic overhead.

This year, is very different for me as it’s my first September tutoring full time (with writing on the side) instead of dividing my time between teaching, tutoring, and writing. That’s not to say that it’s not a tad overwhelming, but it does mean that my boss has given me some very clear targets to work on.. because I’m the boss.

The genetics of teaching are very strong in this one and it is impossible for me not to use the standard teaching appraisal template on myself. However, the difference this year is that I’m making it public for the world to see and have openly invited both teachers from the wider sphere, other tutors, and my own students to evaluate me and help form my targets for this year. Because my personal appraisal and that of TeachAllAboutIt as a business is intrinsically linked, being entirely transparent can really only be a good thing.

So, without further waffling, let’s get this apprisal underway.

My first task is to look at the feedback, as ultimately as a tutor feedback from students, parents, and the colleagues that we work with is right up there as one of the most important factors in how successful we are. I’ve previously blogged about balancing being a perfectionist with resillience, and it was professionally scary to open myself up to comments from all. Between us, this appraisal took me a while to write as I had to take a deep breath after part 1!

The two areas I wanted to focus on was specific student feedback on my tuition and feedback from CS teachers on areas where tuition could help progress. To this end, I posted a public poll on a well used social media page with the following question:

What are your students up to over the summer? Looking for private tutors apparently! I’ve been really surprised at how many requests have come in over what is usually a super quiet time of year.
This year, one of my personal targets as a tutor is to identify how I can work more cohesively & positively with teachers (after all, we’re both working towards the same goal!).
So, to that end, what can tutors do to make your lives as teachers easier and help support your students better?

I’ve added a few ideas, but feel free to add your own

It is abundantly clear that the vast majority felt that reviewing the summative tests with students is a valuable use of tuition time, and I will be using this as a focused target this coming academic year.

An unexpected result of the poll was a number of hostile responses towards the use of tuition as a whole. Whilst I have left the 13% of ‘other’ responses in here (having chosen not to include the wording of the added responses), I felt that it was important not to skew the data by removing them. Instead, I have used this as a learning and evaluation opportunity around resillience and how we talk to others online in our professional capacity. There’s no such thing as failure – only feedback?

The Teaching standards is something that I hold right up there with being a decent human being. Even though tutors aren’t neccesarily required to provide evidence of these, I can’t imagine why a tutor wouldn’t feel confident in applying these to their everyday practice. Rather than present my student feedback as a set of questions with data with little context, this is why I asked them the questions that I did (student feedback was anonymous unless they wished to add their name at the end).

Teaching & Learning

1. A teacher (tutor) must set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils

There are a number of ways that we could evidence this within TeachAllAboutIt, from the production of the open topic introductions that support students across the UK and beyond, to the private individual feedback pages provided for every student where we link help and show progress. Asking students whether they felt challenged to be independent of my support felt like an appropriate area to focus on here.

I am encouraged to develop independent problem solving / learning skills
66.7% Strongly Agree
33.3% Agree
I am encouraged to develop independent problem solving / learning skills

Clearly, I would have like to see 100% strongly agreeing. I am after all a perfectionist! However this is encouraging that despite intensive 1-2-1 support, my students feel that they can work independently.

2. Promote good progress and outcomes by pupils

On an individual basis, this is fundamental to where we are as a company, and also on a personal level. It would be easy for me to talk about what I do to encourage student confidence in lessons, but far more powerful to provide evidence in the form of student feedback. Whilst there have certainly been more eloquent reviews left for me, receiving this feedback from this particular student warms my heart, not solely from the perspective of the improvement in grades, but more so from the increased confidence and responsibility.

I am encouraged to challenge myself in lessons 
66.7% - strongly agree
33.3% Agree
I am encouraged to challenge myself in lessons

Whether all of my students see this challenge as a positive thing, I’m not sure. However, this has cemented my firm belief that by setting a baseline and refusing to acknowledge the ceiling helps my students feel confident to make personal progress.

3. Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge

This year as been full on in terms of curriculum knowledge. The website has grown to over 100 pages of Computer Science topic introductions that are used by students on a daily basis. Last summer saw me being involved with BBC bitesize as the author of the GCSE AQA Computer Science pages, and throughout this year I have had continued involvement with the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE), helping to develop their training programs for teachers of Computing.

Having completed my NCCE facilitator training this summer (shiny enamel badge on its way), the next step in the new academic year is leading the in person training along the south coast in the UK for teachers.

I feel well supported in my learning
Strongly Agree - 100%
I feel well supported in my learning

It would be all too easy to sit back and say that this one is ticked off, in the bag, sorted. However, none of us are ever truly done with education and my own journey will continue this year through embarking on obtaining further Masters credits through the Open University as a means to pushing my Computer Science knowledge further.

4. Plan and teach well structured lessons

This one is really difficult as a tutor. Lessons are individual to students and often take tangents when a misconception is discovered. Tutoring and teaching in this part are entirely different beasts. Taken from a different perspective, the planning and preparation of lessons via TeachAllAboutIt could also look at the longer term planing of topic revision (or individual teaching for home educated students), with the digital resources for each lesson being uploaded to the student’s feedback area.

The resources made available to the students (every tuition student is given a site subscription for the duration of tuition), and the provision of the online learning platform is also a fundamental part of planning for a tuition lesson. Despite many tuition sessions being student-led, a wide range of ‘pick up and go’ activities must be planned and available in response to student needs.

Resources and support are good
Strongly Agree - 83.3%
Agree - 16.7%
Resources and support are good

This coming year, I plan to continue improving this through the completion of the summer website upgrade, publication of three new printed revision guides, and development of further resources that can be used both in tuition and on the website.

This year will also see a collaboration with Tutor In A Box, where I will be developing resources for their monthly learning boxes for KS3 and KS4 Computer Science.

5. Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils

During my transition from classroom teaching to private tutoring, one thing that I noticed about tuition is the intensity is far greater than a classroom. Juggling a classroom of mixed ability students requires a completely different skillset to adapting to the changing needs of one individual child.

I absolutely eat my words after the conversation I had last year with a highly respected tutor who told me that being a great teacher doesn’t always make you a great tutor (and vice versa). They were right, and I am so glad that I took their advice to constantly reflect on the needs of child in front of me instead of having an educational theory focus.

I have a choice about how to learn new things
Strongly Agree - 83.3%
Agree - 16.7%
I have a choice about how to learn new things

That’s not to say that I ignore educational theory whatsoever, however I am more inclined to trust my educator instincts and run with what I know will work for that particular child. On harsh reflection, stepping away from a school-centric focus and having the space to work intensively with learners and really see what works for individuals has made me a much better educator. As someone who believes passionately in education, this is an evaluation that saddens me.

6. Make accurate and productive use of assessment

Assessment in tuition is often discreet and observed. There is a continuous stream of verbal feedback (my students would certainly agree to that!), and through the use of technology that allows us to collaborate over documents and online whiteboards, written feedback becomes the norm of a lesson.

With that said, within my student voice survey this is the one area that has been highlighted for me to clearly focus on. Whilst a few had commented that they felt neutral as they had no exam to sit (which is fair), I want all of my students to feel confident even if I set them a test out of the blue right now.

I feel well prepared for tests, exams, and coursework
Strongly Agree - 50%
Agree - 16.7%
Neutral - 33.3%
I feel well prepared for tests, exams, and coursework

Based on this, throughout the next academic year I will be placing a focus on improving confidence in my learners around their exams through the introduction of exam planners and examiner feedback pages where they can attempt practice questions and understand what the exam board are look for in particular areas.

7. Manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment

Behaviour management for online tuition is a world away from classroom management. After a decade of strategies for engaging a room of students and ensuring good behaviour, I’ve moved to working with students across the country via webcam. Behaviour is rarely an issue with tuition, and when it is my strategies are more akin to parenting than teaching (sending a child out of the room when on internet chat isn’t going to work! Nor is there a member of SLT to refer to).

In tuition, behaviour management has much more focus on setting initial ground rules, which in my case are a written contract between me and the student, and talking to them directly when behaviour is not appropriate. This is a real example where 1-2-1 has an enourmously positive impact on students who struggle to feel heard in a group setting.

I feel respected and encouraged in lessons
Strongly Agree - 83.3%
Agree - 16.7%
I feel respected and encouraged in lessons

It will always be a target for 100% of students to strongly agree with this statement, and I will continue to ensure that students are involved in the set up process of their tuition accounts and understand their rights and responsibilities with regards to their personal data, and right to be treated fairly and equally.

8. Fulfil wider professional responsibilities

As a classroom teacher, wider professional responsibilities included running of clubs, revision sessions, leading CPD etc. Whilst this is a little different now I am tutoring, I have continued to engage with the wider community in terms of developing CPD as part of a team with the National Center for Computing Education (TeachComputing.org). This year, I presented the plenary at the 2019 Exabytes Conference which pushed me entirely out of my comfort zone!

However, one of the wider professional areas that I have focused on this year as been the pastoral aspects of tutoring. Not only focusing on academic progress, but increasing confidence in students whether they are struggling academically or stressed out by pushing for top grades.

I enjoy my lessons and found the work interesting
Strongly Agree - 100%
I enjoy my lessons and find the work interesting

Enjoyment of learning has gone in and out of fashion within observations in education (I’m looking at you Ofsted). However, it is my strongly held belief that when we are enjoying something we learn more and retain more. That’s not to say that lessons shouldn’t be challenging, or tackle tough topics, but there is simply no reason to assume that because something is gruelling it’s more worthwhile than the lesson where you laugh. This is the point where I step down from my soapbox.

Personal & Professional Conduct

As with the teaching and learning areas above, I can’t see why I would want to shy away from the areas below as a tutor. After all, this applies just as much to us as professionals and possibly moreso as there is no overarching professional body to ensure that we meet them.

Teachers (tutors) uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school, by:

  • treating pupils with dignity, building relationships rooted in mutual respect, and at all times observing proper boundaries appropriate to a teacher’s professional position
  • having regard for the need to safeguard pupils’ well-being, in accordance with statutory provisions
  • showing tolerance of and respect for the rights of others
  • not undermining fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs
  • ensuring that personal beliefs are not expressed in ways, which exploit pupils’ vulnerability or might lead them to break the law.

Within lessons, this is a simple case of following my own policies of respect and high standards. I would hope that students feel comfortable in my lessons and any instances of discrimination are dealt with professionally.

I feel that I have a good relationship with Holly
Strongly Agree - 100%
I feel that I have a good relationship with Holly

We have clear safeguarding policies in place including the introduction of staff badges with a lite version of our safeguarding policy & numbers printed on the reverse, and whilst the probability of there being any issues when tutoring online, we have adopted a policy of never say never. This year, we contacted Ofsted to request voluntary registration as a tuition centre. Unfortunately, as we are purely online our request to register was declined. In response to this, we have implemented the required Ofsetd policies for safeguarding and safer recruitment anyway.

Maintaining an online professional presence has been an area that has required a steep learning curve in terms of marketing and self-promotion (not something that comes easy to me!). Since moving to owning my own business, my personal and professional lives have merged significantly and I am far more aware of how my individual actions as Holly will impact on my professional persona as TeachAllAboutIt. I have been extremely lucky to have assistance this year in the form of Catherine who keeps our admin and social media accounts afloat.

Teachers must have proper and professional regard for the ethos, policies and practices of the school in which they teach, and maintain high standards in their own attendance and punctuality

As a tutor, maintaining high standards, attendance, and punctuality is vital to the continuation of what we do as professionals. Of course, there are instances where I have been ill or the technology has failed – we are human after all. However, the teacher work ethic has really come into play here, and in fact has prompted reflection on my available timetable for this coming year.

The quality of tutoring is good
Strongly Agree - 100%
The quality of tutoring is good

I am delighted that my students have wholeheartedly told me that they found the quality of my tutoring was good, but I want it to be great! In order for this to happen, what I am going to focus on this year is creating a balance. In 2018/19 a full time teacher with a full timetable will be in the classroom for 27 hours per week – this allows for planning, and marking etc. Towards the end of this academic year, I was teaching upwards of 35 lessons per week whilst also writing and developing the website. Next year, I have allocated a maximum of 27 hours per week until Easter to allow me time to breathe. In order to accomodate this, I have set a target of taking on an additional Computer Science tutor to work with us this year.

Targets

Goodness! That was quite the essay. But nevertheless, a useful reflective task for me personally, for us as a business, and hopefully gives you a transparent insight into where we are right now and how we intend to improve next year.

So, in summary our targets for the coming academic year are:

  • Complete the summer website upgrade
  • Publish the revision guides for GCSE Computer Science (September)
  • Set up physical revision resources through Tutor In A Box
  • Develop exam-based learning resources to improve student confidence
  • Holly to commence Masters unit of study
  • Continue work with NCCE (TeachComputing) to offer in person teacher CPD
  • Expansion to allow a second Computer Science Tutor to work with us

Holly

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

Why GPS Isn’t The Solution To Knife Crime – A Computer Science Approach

This morning I was sent a link to a tweet suggesting that I read the responses for some amusement. I duly did so, and I’ll admit some of the responses did make me chuckle. But then I considered the suggestion from a teacher’s perspective and realised that the suggestion really did come from a place of good intention, but also from an ignorance of technology.

Tweets like this one by @td_ward highlighted the reason for me writing this rather lengthy blog. The frustration expressed by people who understand technology is utterly understandable, but are we doing enough to educate those that don’t understand?

In 2017, 0.4% of female A Level students, and only 5% male A Level Students elected to study Computer Science according to the Department for Education’s report on take-up of academic subjects in 2017. Those numbers have risen slightly, but not enough. The removal of the GCSE IT qualification has reduced the numbers of students studying a computer technology subject substantially.

Why have I included those statistics?

Because, the fewer young people that study technology but use devices that seem to work as if by magic, the more people will make mistakes like Scott Mann. So, rather than ridiculing him, I want to use this as a learning opportunity to look at the potential for technology to make an impact on knife crime, not just in the UK, but anywhere.

bath ducks bathing bathroom bathtub

One of the things we teach in Computer Science is to avoid the solution until we understand what problem we are trying to solve. Decomposition of a problem often allows us to identify problems that we didn’t realise we were actually trying to solve.

Much like rubber duck debugging, explaining the problem in enough basic detail so that even a rubber duck could understand quite often helps us to identify the real problem on our own (many thanks to my husband who acts as my own rubber duck when I get frustrated with code on here! Quack quack)

What Problem Are We Solving?

Knife crime is quite a big issue and has so many aspects that a simple solution may well not be enough. So let’s decompose the problem (this is a fictitious conversation to show how I would decompose the problem – please do get in touch if this could be more accurate):

What’s the problem?

We need to solve knife crime

What would a solution look like?

A reduction in the number of cases

Does the problem lie with the weapon or the person?

Both

Which one could technology help with more?

The knives

What is the problem with the current solution? (carrying a knife with a blade longer than 3″ is already an offence)

We can’t trace the knife to the person

Why doesn’t DNA testing work?

It takes too long & isn’t always accurate

What information do you want from finding the knife?

The owner, the address, and for it to be a deterrent

….

Using this conversation in my head, I would assume that what Scott Mann was actually trying to suggest was a way of firstly deterring people from carrying knives, but also a way of reliably tracing them back once they were found. I could of course be wrong and he was indeed trying to track each one like a vehicle can be.

So let’s look at some possible devices that are small enough and would link to his idea:

An NFC Chip

The chip that I believe Mr Mann was referring to (I could of course be wrong, but I live in hope) is actually an NFC, or Near Field Communication chip.

Using the breakdown of the problem above, this actually could be a potential partial solution. NFC requires no power to run, so could be easily implanted into the handle of a knife, or added as a sticker or such once a knife is bought.

NFC technology is wonderfully useful for storing small amounts of registration data. There are a number of different types of NFC – those that we use in our phone are powered and can send & receive data such as files and contact information, or the less powerful passive NFC used in payment cards that allow a reader to access information using a ‘tap’ of the card.

What’s the downside? Well, using NFC to identify a knife would be as simple as having an app on a phone to read the data, but only at distances of a few centimeters. This would be fine for searches, or in the sad cases where the knife was used. However, the data would be accessible to anyone with a reader so there would be a serious issue of data protection. Inside the home, this would be less of an issue, but in the case of work or fishing what would prevent someone from walking past and reading your data? In short, not a great deal.

It is for this same reason that anti-NFC wallets have been created.

An RFID Chip

RFID, or Radio Frequency Identification was actually developed before NFC and like NFC has a variety of types both powered and unpowered.

If you’ve ever taken your pet to be “microchipped” then you’ve used a form of passive RFID. Your pet is not actually bionic or powering the device, but the chip is powered when a reader is placed nearby and activates the chip to send data.

RFID chips can be placed in an amazing amount of devices and are often used to open doors via security cards, or to save identification information to retrieve a lost device. The potential to use RFID as an identification tool has some distinct possibilities – RFID can be programmed to only be read by certain devices (like pet microchips), although there’s nothing to stop someone developing a reader as this is an open standard and would need to be for all manufacturers to include them.

Passive RFID can also be read from up to 25m which means that the ID could be read from a safe distance (but probably not soon enough). The longer range active RFID can have ranges of 100m, but then how many knives are there within a 100m range at any given time, and the issue of power crops up again.

RFID is indeed small enough to add to any knife, but then a database of every knife would be needed. The owners of the Pet microchip database will tell you how difficult it is when the users don’t update their information – this has become easier with the introduction of a website to keep them up to date. But, if people are reluctant to update ID information about pets that they love, how likely are they to update data about their kitchen implements?

A GPS Chip

In his original tweet, Mr Mann suggested placing a GPS device on every knife sold in the UK. GPS chips can be quite small, but there are a few issues with this.

GPS is a wonderful invention and has been used to track people and devices to within a few meters. I use this on a daily basis with my children as they come home from school (with their consent!), and would be quite literally lost without it every time we travel.

Unfortunately, placing a GPS device requires a power source. Try an experiment with your phone to prove this: Monitor your battery usage for an hour with your location services switched off, now using the same apps & in the same place switch on your location services & monitor your battery usage for another hour. The difference in power consumption will explain the first issue.

In order for this system to work, you would need to charge your knives. Simply allowing the battery to run out would then take the knife “off the grid”.

The second issue with this is detection. I mentioned that I use GPS to track the location of my children (or at least their mobile phones – they don’t have GPS implanted in them!), but with their consent. In order to see their position they have to individually allow me to see their position, and it’s something that they can switch off at any time. An ethical debate comes up when a device like this is embedded in a device with implied consent that the location can be seen by a governing body.

  • Is implied consent enough? (GDPR)
  • What if the knife is stolen?
  • What if you use them for work?
  • Do the benefits outweigh the loss of privacy?
  • Who is monitoring the data?
  • What if the data is hacked?

Of course, in almost every news story my inner teacher will spot an educational element, and this was no different. In fact, in writing this blog, I spy an exam ethics essay question!

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

 

 

 

 

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

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!