Category: Computer Science

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!