Karen Morris might be a computer science teacher and head of department at Stroud High School but she’s also studying A-level CS at her secondary school in Gloucestershire. As she explains, it’s all part of the journey to build up a strong CS department at the girls’ school.
Karen says she “absolutely loves” her dual role and her enthusiasm for Computer Science is genuine and inspiring.
It’s also a relatively new journey for Karen, who trained as a Geography teacher with ICT as a second subject. She taught geography for seven years, before joining Stroud High School as an ICT teacher, 11 years ago.
In 2014 when the government introduced Computer Science as a subject to replace ICT, Karen had newly returned to work after a maternity leave break. She made the switch to fulltime teaching of Computer Science and knew that she would have to upgrade her skills.
“I had really had my ‘head in the sand’ prior to that regarding computer science, but I knew I was going to have to try to learn programming and get to grips with it,” she said.
Particularly in the last two years, Karen has stepped up a gear, driving forward exciting change at the school.
“We’ve been working at full pelt, and I’ve really enjoyed shaping the department and the development of Computer Science at the school,” said Karen who completed the NCCE Computer Science Accelerator programme last summer, which aims to upskill non-specialist CS teachers.
“Our current Y12 were the first year to do GCSE Computer Science and they’ve shared my journey. I realised that we would also need to have a really strong foundation in KS3. We’ve developed our programming and put in a really good foundation ahead of the GCSE years,” she said.
“One thing which has had a massive impact has been being a part of the local Cyber First Schools programme created by the NCSC at GCHQ. We’ve been taking part in many Cyber First events and competitions which have really inspired our students. Being part of that has had a huge impact on us. “
Karen has now also joined her pioneering group of Y12 students to study for Computer Science A-level at the school.
“I really love it. It’s been a massive opportunity and has given me an understanding and confidence to be a better teacher, as well as a fuller understanding of how and why computers work.
“Everyone here at Stroud High has been so supportive. My teaching timetable has been fitted around the A level class.”
Karen’s A-level teacher is being taught by her colleague Craig Sargent, Youtube star of the CraignDave Computer Science videos.
“He’s been an amazing support, and he’s a real celebrity in the world of computer science education, particularly with students who have used the videos for their learning,” said Karen.
“We’ve been using their Flipped Classroom method, which sees students watching videos before they come into learn and then build on that in class– it really helps to consolidate their learning.”
Of course, Karen, like her fellow A level students has been working from home, following the closure of schools in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, and the adjustment to a new reality.
“For us working in Computer Science, it’s been a fairly straightforward adjustment as there are so many good resources available online that we can provide our students links to but there have been the usual technology and login issues at the students end which needed ironing out. With Craig’n’Dave lessons in place for GCSE and A Level, business can just carry on as normal on the whole – just remotely!” said Karen.
“The school as a whole has really got to grips using remote teaching via MS365 technology and we feel that it has been a very steep learning curve for everyone – but all of the staff have put aside any worries and fears about using it to make sure we continue to provide superb support for our students at this time. For computing, the learning has continued to flow well, particularly for KS3, who seem to have coped brilliantly.”
She’s also been grateful to CAS for valuable resources, but particularly the CAS Community. I attend local CAS Hub meetings and the opportunity to talk to others is one of the most valuable things I take from CAS.
“We’re currently in the process to start rearranging things for next September and have been looking at using CAS resources to enhance our KS3 curriculum, particularly Python related resources.”
Interest in Computing Science is growing throughout the school and Karen is aware that she’s a role model for the girls.
“They have seen it’s not just about programming there all sorts of different things you can do with these skills,” she said.
“We’ve been really pleased to see our computer science department growing – and that many girls are now keen to do the subject. We’ve got increasing numbers in each year group now, and it looks like we’ll have a good uptake for next years’ GCSE group.
“It’s a really exciting time, and I’m so proud of how Computer Science is a key part of the curriculum at Stroud High, with many girls being inspired by the power of tech!”
• Be a role model – if students see you inspired by tech, they will be too
• Offer as many opportunities to engage with the subject outside of lessons as lesson time can be limited in CS
• Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something – find out together
• Speak to other specialist CS teachers, they are more than willing to help and support
• Be enthusiastic!