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Comparing the Specs – The theory Element GCSE Computing 2016

This is post 2 of 2 comparing the AQA and OCR specs for GCSE Computing. At the moment this is the decision I will be making in the next few weeks on what exam board my students will be taking in September.

the problem that is faced here is there is a lot of similarities (Which you would expect being a GCSE).

The hardware element looks pretty similar, the AQA asks for knowledge of Cloud Storage and how it works, whereas the OCR doesn’t, but the expansion of these points in the draft spec aids me more in the AQA Spec.

Networks – the changes start

it seems that in networks the changes start, there are similarities in how the discussions of terms work, but AQA wants knowledge of Bus and Star, OCR wants ring and mesh. There is also greater discussion in the AQA of ISO/OSI Layer model, where OCR just wants the idea of layers.  I think here, I’d cover all the content as standard because it’s useful. I think erring on the side of caution and teaching the students everything can never hurt, as long as it’s applied to real world specification.

System Security

this looks like a really interesting one . OCR seems to have this one as the way it is written I’m interested in what/how I would teach this one. However AQA has a good lineup and it’s well explained.

Summary – I’ve had enough!

I’ve tried going through this and I’m getting more and more information, but it’s so difficult. Obviously there are differences, but these are subtle. I’d love opinion here as to how people have taught AQA and OCR.

I think the key here is the amount of detail. the OCR spec just doesn’t have any expansion or discussion of the key points. The AQA spec is very detailed, but some of it I’m not sure of it’s relevance to “real world” (e.g. bus networks are dead really as everyone uses a star formation now-a-days). I do like the idea of covering the binary in the theory element of the course which AQA offers. But I am very familiar with how OCR teaches and likes the answers (shouldn’t be a factor I know, I think I’ll aim to moderate papers this year no matter what).

I think what has happened here is because coursework is now in year 11, there is lesson in the theory elements exam (compared to previous years), in my mind this is because there needs to be greater planning from the teachers on how this is going to be structured next year.

I think your choice will be what your structure of your course will be and what you feel is more suited to teaching as theory in each exam.

 

Comparing the Specs – Programming element GCSE Computing 2016

Part of my performance management is the comparison of specs and identifying which I would like to choose for next year. I thought about writing a massive report, but a blog post may aid others, so I’ll give it a go here.

the new computing 2016 specs are out and there are common things that happen in both as far as changes are concerned.

  • Coursework is now at 20%
  • Coursework can now only be sat in year 11 to combat plagiarism (I’ve phoned and checked this as it’s not currently in the AQA bumpf)
  • there is now only one controlled assessment task that is a coding task (however we’ll get onto the controlled assessment releases in a bit)
  • there will be 2 40% exams, like the A-Level with one on theory and the other on programming/logic
  • Coursework will change every year(but this is happening now, so not really a major change)

Programming

initially looking at the draft specs, the coding elements of the course look very similar in terms of what they are expected of the students. I do however like the breakdown of the elements in the AQA spec for clarification on some of the points. All specs insist on the same things.

However, the coursework for the AQA seems to follow a much more traditional route in the fact you have to use the area of a shape to do a number of different calculations, I can see how I would approach and solve this problem almost straight away.

The OCR spec doesn’t have the same level of clarity in the outline of it’s spec, but having taught this before, do I need it? sometimes I would say yes (I’m currently teaching the A-Level OCR and I’m struggling with clarity on some of the points ot plan lessons). The delivery guides for OCR are good, but I’m a teacher who likes to plan his own lessons, so would rather have clarity than someone telling me how to do it (if that makes sense).

The coursework for OCR is much more abstract. They have provided 3 samples instead of one (which is good), but looking at htem in detail I cannot see how a year 11 would solve these as they read very much like a database style solution, even though the spec insists it has to be coded.  I’m confused as the following spec (http://www.ocr.org.uk/Images/226767-unit-j276-03-programming-project-task-1-sample-non-exam-assessment.pdf) even talks about generating reports from a computer program, why do I keep thinking databases? ( I know this could be a simple text file output, but that isn’t what I’d call a report)

The Programming exam

I’m a bit lacking in understanding for both of these. the AQA model seems to be much more traditional in it’s approach, write an algorithm to solve x (and x is used a lot here), and solve the problem, whereas the OCR one tends to look much more simplistic (e.g. here is an algorithm, what does it mean), which makes me wonder what more will be in there.

For both I’m a bit confused because there are sections on Binary conversion and bit rates in here (OCR) and Logic gates in the exam(AQA), which I would of expected in the theory section, so if they are going down this route then I have to  wonder are they going to put HTML code in the first exam?(not show, total conjecture)

So where am I leaning?

at the moment looking at what is there, I’m leaning towards AQA. My reasoning is I’m a programmer by trade and I like the way that this seems to be assessed and the assessment materials provided for OCR have really confused me.  I’ve taught OCR for the last 5 years (at least) and the work/support they have always provided is good, but I have real concerns about the controlled assessment and how it is presented (I’m not sure how I would solve it to a level I’d be satisfied with, so how are the kids?).  The exams look similar but I think I’d rather have questions on binary logic gates with programming than binary conversion and bit rates as I think it fits more.

 

Computing – Pitfalls of a new subject

This is a really nice post form Laura.

Code? Boom.

I read a really good article the other day which compared learning to program to leaning to read and write in the middle ages. It goes on to give two good criticisms of the accessibility of programming to students. Firstly, setting up and choosing your language and environment is a lengthy and difficult process. For the most part, I make the decisions on behalf of my students about what language we will learn and what IDE we will use, but that’s largely because I have a degree in Computer Science. Many teachers are not in this position and rely on the experiences of others to make the choice, and are often ludicrously limited by what technicians arbitrarily decide should be “allowed on the network”.

Secondly, students are often taught programming for programming’s sake, and they find it hard to understand why and when they would actually want to use this knowledge. I totally get this one. I…

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Choice of Programming Language – Justifying my Choice.

For a blog that normally only gets 25 views on a good month the 2000+ in the last day has been phenomenal! I’m having to suspend comments because I have a job to do. apologies, I will try and rephrase my personal preference to not using python at a later date. I understand I have things to learn(As expressed in the comments), but Python is not my preference in using a language as you have objections to my choices. Please try to appreciate this is opinion. I understand I need to research more into python and this MAY change my mind, but from what I have seen I am not a fan of programming the language, this does not make me a bad person or a bad teacher, just someone who has a difference stance from you. 

I get asked this all the time, especially with the rise in popularity of Python as a programming language. I have a number of reasons for my choice. Recently I was asked this by a parent who suggested that it was not as “Useful” as python. I think this is a good forum to share my reply.

There are a number of reasons why I have chosen Visual Basic as a programming language for GCSE and A-level and I hope the following justifies my choice. Visual Basic is used as an introduction to programming and is frequently used as a teaching language in a number of schools and universities across the country. I understand the popularity at the moment of the Python, however this language is also based on the C language. Students in Python are not required to do things such as declare variables, which is something that is required for GCSE and A-Level exams. The VB Language itself allows for the concepts to be laid out in a more verbose language in order for students to develop into other languages such as C++ and C# at A-level which is my ultimate goal (when students have an understanding of programming, then they can move on to more complicated languages).  It acts as a perfect transition language between the simpler syntax of  python and the more complex C++,C# and Java. It is true that Microsoft stopped programming in Visual Basic in 2005, however they did not stop programming in derivatives of this language and developing the software to program in visual basic, meaning as a foundation language it is perfect for introducing complex programming constructs. The Microsoft App store also actively encourages students to work in the VB.NET environment and it allows students to produce their own apps in this language, so the language is not dead, simply not as mainstream.  If Sam were looking to take his skills further I actively encourage students to look into app development for the windows store as it has no yearly fee for students unlike some of the other stores and charges students a lesser fee for uploading and promoting their apps, there are also loads of videos on dreamspark.com for students to learn from.  If Sam is also keen on programming he can also look at Young Rewired State which is a week’s programming in the summer holidays that allows him to develop his skills further (again, I will actively promote this in class and on the school twitter feed when it becomes available) As mentioned, my ultimate goal for the A-Level course is to introduce a more complex language such as C, C++ or C# as with the introduction of the computing curriculum lower down the school (and at other schools in the area) more students will be approaching the college with a greater understanding of coding and want to take that knowledge further. At A-level I also teach HTML, PHP, Java (Greenfoot) as well as other languages which is not required by the current A-level specification in order to give students a flavour of what other languages entail and provide them with a solid foundation for entering a career in programming. I also have a number of friends who work within the IT sector as software developers and am currently looking at the end of year 12 with providing students who are interested with work experience in those industries so they can take their skills further. Sorry for the length of this email, I hope it answers your questions.  If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Addendum: I am perturbed by anyone who chooses to slate my abilities as a teacher due to my choice of language, I want to teach students to be good programmers with strong transferable skills and this seems to be proven in their future career choices/options/abilities. If you are a teacher making this comment you are slating a colleague who, like you is trying his best for his students. As I’ve read some of the comments, yes I could of expanded on my feelings for why Python lacks Complex constructs. I am Aware of how Python is a very popular and powerful language and what it can do. I have met students who are studying Python at A-Level and they are not taught the basics of programming, Python (IMHO) allows you to dive in quickly however can teach you some really bad techniques from the start, but again this can be down to the teacher(not knocking into any teachers here). This is MY humble opinion and this was a letter to a PARENT. I was not trying to diminish anyone who programs in Python, I am not going to write in a letter to a parent a full essay-style justification(unless I had 4 more hours in my day!). As with any language there are strengths and weaknesses to all of them and there will be always people who agree with both sides, I was simply quantifying a question I am asked regularly. I have approved all comments so people can see the conversation, however I stand by my choice and although (as stated) I will look into C++ and C# for older students that I teach.

Resources, what would you do?

Since i’ve started teaching, i’ve always been open to sharing my resources and/or knowledge. This is mainly because when you first start teaching you suddenly realise that to create everything from scratch will do one of a few things to you:

  1. remove sleep from your life
  2. burn you out
  3. turn you mental forever thinking of new ideas

I’ve been teaching 5/6 years now and i think that most of the resources that i may have “borrowed” from other teachers have metamorphasised into my own ideas, they’ve evolved beyond what they first were. This is mainly because this is how i believe you become a better teacher, not just re-using the same stuff year on year, but picking at least one unit each year and trying to re-develop resources to make them more relevant/exciting/interesting.

And in ICT I think this is more-so important as our subject never stops.

I’ve openly shared my resources online via this site, TES, Twitter, Youtube and more recently CAS. but now I’m questioning how I’m sharing. I mean it’s nice to have the recognition for your work and that’s why all my stuff is on Creative Commons license, but I’m wondering if the financial reward could be something i could look into?

This started because TES sent me an email recently asking if i would like to monetise my resources so only people for their “Prime” service can access. I can see where this is going and I’m not sure whether I agree with it or not? one of my TES resources has 16000 views and a lot of downloads, i’ve been in schools where i’ve exclaimed “that’s mine” much to the shock of the teacher!

This has a couple of issues:

  1. Will anyone want a resource when TES charges for it?
  2. Will i get clobbered for copyright, is any idea truly original?
  3. Things like youtube videos, should i monetise something that helps my students learn?

I’d love to know people’s thoughts on this as I know that some teachers release their materials for free and others charge a fee for some of their larger pieces (e.g. workbooks).

I don’t know if I would have survived if someone hadn’t shared their original resources, but i also think with the monetisation of the internet, why shouldn’t i cash in?

A new Computing A-level, or time to re-think

So at the moment I’m looking at the new computing curriculum and currently I’m bricking it a little. All this change, how is it going to affect me? How is the course going to change? what will this mean for the students?

I’ve been teaching Computing for 4/5 years now and I have to say that I love it. I think the work is challenging and the flexibility in the curriculum allows me to change and develop how I teach every year. At the moment I have an A-Level that includes all the course materials and more. I also don’t just teach 1 programming language I teach 4 including: HTML, PHP and Greenfoot.

So looking at the OCR specification I started feeling trepidation, it has all the things I currently teach, but maybe I’m not covering it enough. This has taken about 4 hours of my day up today, what to do?

I’ve now resolved. I don’t want to teach to a specification (Although, obviously I will teach so the students can pass), but in a world of increasingly challenging numbers in sixth form and greater competition I resolve the following:

  1. To teach the course to the best of my ability
  2. To continue to look for greater opportunities beyond a standard computing course
  3. To work harder to make my course something special for the students I teach

I just hope I can find the time to fit all the new ideas I want for the course into a new and exciting curriculum. what are you going to do with a new curriculum and open evening in September? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments.

Why I became a teacher

Ok, as it’s the start of a new term I’m going to really start to update this regularly. However, I also know I have a 5 week old and a 2 year old and I’m starting a new job, so I doubt this resolution will last long.

I just thought I’d share this. I recently left my job at one school and will be starting a job in a new school (albeit with a bit of a promotion). I was really sad to leave that school as I loved the people I worked with, especially the students.

I think at this time of year it’s important to realize why we do the job we do, it’s not for grades for the students, its to inspire them to do something and take this forward. When I left, 3 of my flash students made me the most amazing animation and I have to say it brought a tear to my eye (and that’s not good in a room of 30 kids!).

I just wanted to finish this post with what one of my students wrote to me in an email that has inspired me to be a teacher, I think it kind of sums up why I became a teacher and this will inspire me to push further to be better and work just of hard in the future.

“Before I say goodbye once more I just want to say that you will be missed lots, and by more people than you might think. Personally, you are part of the reason why I want to go into the field of computing and eventually become a software engineer. I would also like to become a teacher of computing at some point as well and teach other students with the same ridiculous amount of enthusiasm you taught us with. You are pretty much the definition of an inspiration and for that I am eternally grateful.

Thank you sir,”