Success in Computer Science helps school during COVID-19 crisis
They’re clearly doing something inspirational at Calday Grange Grammar in West Kirby where Computer Science GCSE is regularly over-subscribed.
The leader of the Wirral Secondary CAS COP, Nicola Mounsey has seen her role expanded as she’s helped to set up a virtual learning environment for the school in response to the coronavirus crisis.
She talks to Victoria Temple about the school’s success with computing – and their experience of coping with COVID-19.
There’s no doubt that computing is a key subject at Calday Grange Grammar School on the Wirral, Merseyside.
It’s so popular that the department sets a cap on the number of students opting for Computer Science GCSE.
It’s also clear that digital success has helped them cope with the adjustment to online learning to cope with the coronavirus crisis.
Nicola Mounsey is the lead Computer Science teacher as well as the CAS Community Lead for the Wirral secondary schools.
Remote learning is second nature
“For our students and the Computer Science team, our online teaching is really not too far from our normal way of working,” said Nicola, who leads the computer science team, at the grammar school with around 1,100 boys and a mixed sixth form.
“We use Google Docs and Google Classroom normally - so we were well set up for the switch. The biggest difference has been adapting the Y12 research for the Non-Exam Assessment (NEA) course work element of their A level.
“We've also utilised online programming environments lower down in the school than we would normally do but the students are able to email us for support. So far, it’s working well.
“We have had to put more detail into our online guidance though, because we’ve missed the face-to-face element.”
Nicola’s key role in establishing an ‘online school’ has largely involved supporting teachers in other departments.
Cross curriculum support
“For many of our staff this means developing a lot of new skills; screen-sharing, using Google Hangouts. I have suddenly become the ‘go to’ expert and the school has asked me to run training sessions for staff.”
For many of the teaching staff, becoming more tech-savvy will be a ‘silver lining’ to the current crisis.
“This last week I’ve had lots of teachers saying, ‘I didn’t know we could do that – it’s amazing,’” said Nicola.
Of course, using a virtual learning environment with Computer Science GCSE students means that any platform is put through a rigorous test.
The power of the mute button
“My students always find a way to test any system! While testing Google Meet, we had some of them saying ‘look I can mute the teacher!” she said.
Currently Calday Grange has around 70 of its 900 students attending, with teachers providing cover via a rota and the tech team helping to provide some lighter touches for the students who are in school.
“We are trying to provide a fun and relaxed environment for the students who are in school and I know that we’ve had the Google Virtual Reality headsets out!” said Nicola.
It’s that sense of creativity which has helped to create a thriving Computer Science department, that sees it as one of the most popular options at the school.
“We must be doing something right – our Computer Science GCSE is so popular. We have to put a cap of 60 Computer Science students, in two classes of 30.
“I joined as computing teacher in 2013 and since then I’ve spent that time building up the department. Now we’re over-subscribed for our GCSE course,” said Nicola, a specialist teacher with a degree in Computing.
CAS support is vital
Photo courtesy of Calday Grange Grammar School
“I’m also a regular on CASChat, the weekly online twitter meeting for teachers,” said Nicola, it’s a really good place to pick up ideas from teachers across the world.
The emphasis at Calday Grange Grammar is on creativity and focussing on innovative ways of making computer science.
Competition and external activities are also a driver for computing engagement.
“We do also enter a lot of competitions as a school, such as the Bebras Computing Challenge, Cyber Security Matrix challenge.”
It’s clear that the school draws on a wide range of resources to enhance the curriculum as well as challenge the students.
“We use a mix of programming options and use Python from Y7. We find that a lot of the Y7 students have used Scratch at primary schools and are really ready for Python. We try to think of ways of engaging students in imaginative ways,” said Nicola, who is also a senior examiner on Paper 1 AQA.
The Y8 students work on text-based adventure games, for instance, which has proved to be inspiring.
“We look at what really ‘grabs’ them. A few years’ ago, it was all about learning bits of code, now we try to give them a lot of creativity.
“For instance, we used one activity, to design a flag, which is part of the NCCE modelling data unit. Many students went on to create some really interesting pixel art. We try to allow them as much creativity as we can.
“We give them the skills and then give them the freedom to explore it.”
- Think creatively, try to show students how computer science skills can make a difference
- Use competitions and external activities to generate excitement and motivation
- Follow the students’ lead, if they love it – run with it!