An exciting time for CPD for teachers in the “Three Counties” - Developing Computational Thinking
Mr. John Palmer, CAS “Three Counties” Hub Leader with his Lego Mindstorms Robot and a “Worcesterino”
Our regional “Computing At School” (CAS) “Three Counties” (Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire) hub has had a busy year building relationships with schools in the region, with Local Education Authority staff, with our local university Computer Science (and Education) departments, and with both CAS and BCS to advance the teaching of Computer Science as part of a rounded ICT curriculum.
In early July, Worcester University successfully organised and ran a 3-Day Symposium for some 30 regional school teachers to reflect on how to teach Computer Science at GCSE level. This symposium was organised by the University’s Computing Section and was funded by a generous grant of $10,000 USD by Google as part of their world-wide “Computer Science for High Schools” (CS4HS) programme.
Dr. Colin Price, Head of Computing at Worcester University explains “Following requests from local CAS members for help in responding to the government’s shift of focus from teaching ICT to Computer Science at GCSE level, I was happy to respond and work with them to secure Google funding to mount an exciting Symposium”
During the three days, the delegates were exposed to various workshops, discussions and networking sessions run by University staff and CAS members to share concerns and ideas organised along the three themes of “Which Programming language should we teach?”, “Tried and tested pedagogical approaches to teaching Computing” and “What elements of theory should we teach and how?” The activities were crafted following a close reading of the GCSE Computing specifications taken together with the results of a pre-Symposium delegate questionnaire. There was also significant collaboration between Worcester University and the CAS “Three Counties” hub during the planning stage, to ensure that the needs of delegates were fully met.
Workshops were developed to investigate how to programme in a variety of languages and discussions enabled delegates to reflect on these and on their own programming experiences. We required that schools who participated send us at least one teacher who had no experience of programming. This was important, so that we could motivate these teachers and give them confidence in learning how to programme which is always a daunting experience.
We proposed a Pedagogical approach based on the outcomes of our own research at Worcester during the last few years; teaching students to be creative rather than the more traditional problem-solving or numerical approaches which tend to be restrictive. Thanks to the Google grant we were able to gift each participating school a Lego Mindstorms robot and a “Worcesterino” computer. The Mindstorms robot will help teachers to explore how to teach computing using the “C” family of languages (which is important in future employability). The “Worcesterino” computer is a cheap but powerful computer designed and manufactured by Computing at Worcester to allow teachers to explore how to teach programming outside the PC-box, but to reflect on the fundamental nature of programming.
The theory of Computer Science was introduced through a discussion of “Algorithms” which is central to the idea of “Computational Thinking”. Here delegates were exposed to some real-world activities, such as how to apply nail varnish, how to tie a shoe-lace or how to win a simple card game, and therefore how to develop a strategy for writing computer code.
Comments from delegates were very positive, including
“Just a quick note to say thanks for providing an insight into computing/programming last week at the university. I’m totally overwhelmed but looking on the bright side – I suppose that’s better than being completely in the dark!
“I look forward to working further with the both of you to move myself on and to provide support to my department as a whole.”
“It was really useful to have an opportunity to experiment and discover new approaches, whilst at the same time being able to discuss strategies and ideas with colleagues - so often we all end up trying things in a rush, in isolation, and never get a chance to sit down and think through how things can best be done.”
“The symposium has given me lots of inspiration and food for thought.”
In our follow up sessions, we look forward to feedback from teachers into how they have used these approaches in their teaching.
Dr. Price comments “I found the engagement of the delegates in all workshops and associated discussions truly inspiring. I feel we had a great and productive three days together. I know that High School teachers are busy and often some would like to be given directed guidance to solve their issues. I hope that the ethos of this Symposium, through exploration of ideas and close discussion will help them greatly to realise their goals”.
As Head of Computing, I have made a personal commitment to support our regional Computing teachers for a period of two years. This is a wonderful opportunity for the University to engage with our local community”. As a result of this symposium, Computing at Worcester is now established as part of a Google global network of Computing educators who are all committed to supporting the teaching of Computer Science in Schools; Worcester appears on their global map!
Mr. John Palmer, Head of the ICT & Business Faculty at The Chase School, Malvern, and CAS “Three Counties” Hub Leader said: “CAS is truly a grass roots organisation in the “Three Counties”. I am delighted at the support this year that we have received from all our regional partners: Worcester University; LEA Staff; Schools and Exam Board representatives. I look forward to further focussed CPD events at Worcester University, and am also delighted that members of the local CAS Hub such as Chris Swan from Stourport High School, Martin Brant from Prince Henry’s High School, Evesham and Mark Ridgway from Hagley RC High School have been so active in sharing their expertise with staff from other schools this year at other CAS CPD events. Attendance at events this year has been excellent, and events have been over-subscribed. While we have covered much ground this year, we still have much to do, and we look forward to the “Network of Teaching Excellence in Computer Science” further supporting CAS members to meet local needs.
Issued by: John Palmer, CAS “Three Counties” Hub Leader, The Chase School, Malvern, WR1 1QR, Tel: 01684 891961 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org