The image of the computer science teacher as the “solitary geek” in the staffroom is undergoing a dramatic change as they become the go-to person as schools figure out how to deliver lessons online. Computing teachers have been helping colleagues across the curriculum take the practical steps needed to set up remote learning. Claire Penketh reports.

When the government announced that schools and colleges were to close because of COVID 19, many schools found themselves struggling to swiftly move their teaching online. But this was an area where computing teachers, with their wide knowledge of how to use tech in the classroom, came into their own.

Remote teaching is second nature

Nicola Mounsey, the lead Computer Science teacher at Calday Grange Grammar in West Kirby, said this way of working was something they were already familiar with: ‘For our students and the computer science department, online teaching is really not too far from our normal way of working.’

‘We use Google Docs and Google Classroom normally - so we were well set up for the switch. We've also utilised online programming environments lower down in the school more than we would normally do but the students are able to email us for support. So far, it’s working well.’

And she was able to help other teachers to get online: ‘For many of our staff this meant 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 teaching staff who aren’t computing specialists, 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.

CAS, the network of computing teachers, leads the way

Nicola, like many other computing teachers, is a long term member of Computing at School, a BCS supported network of teachers. For over a decade, CAS members - who are all volunteers - have been holding regular after-school meetings, supporting each other with how best to teach computing to their pupils.

This peer-to-peer approach has proved invaluable in their new roles as advisors to non-specialist colleagues. This month’s CAS newsletter is full to the brim of computing teachers and school leaders sharing their expertise - and not only about remote learning.

School labs to the rescue

Schools across the UK have been swinging into action in response to the coronavirus crisis, using their expertise and equipment to save lives.

The Director of STEM at the Challenge Academy Trust in Warrington, Chris Hillidge, is coordinating a project that has seen schools across the region developing oxygen masks for the NHS, adapted from snorkels, alongside face-visors for personal protection equipment all made using the school’s 3D printers and laser cutters.

‘We’ve worked with lots of companies before. We’ve produced medical devices in the past, mainly as prototypes for people setting up businesses and worked with inventors and others. We have got a good track record in thinking of innovative ways of using our technology,’ said Chris.

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‘When we saw the situation developing with the coronavirus pandemic, we thought, what can we do? ‘We had seen that in Italy some makers had produced a valve which worked to convert a snorkelling mask into a breathing apparatus similar to a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.

‘We made some on our 3D printer and shared our prototype on LinkedIn and Twitter.’ The response was overwhelming.

Chris was contacted by Greater Manchester’s Critical Care team and met with the lead consultant at Bolton Royal ICU.

‘He agreed that it would be medically useful and asked if we could produce hundreds.

‘It’s not a ventilator but it will be useful, and it saved lives in Italy.’

A visit to the flipped side

Meanwhile YouTube stars, Craig ‘n’ Dave think their non-computing colleagues might be able to learn from their teaching approach, the Flipped Classroom technique, which turns traditional teaching on its head.

The pair, from Gloucestershire, have been producing videos for some time which are recommended viewing for GCSE and A-level GCSE Computer Science students and are on the Isaac Computer Science platform. The reason their approach is different is because students watch a video at home before they attend a classroom session, and then take part in activities or discuss what they’ve learned. Craig also teaches Computer Science A-level at a local school, but he’s not had to adapt his teaching style too much: ‘In the current climate, I’m communicating with the students entirely online. It’s really helped to have the entire course online already.

‘I’m setting videos to watch and emailing activities. For my A-level students they’ve been able to carry on almost as if they were at school.’

What about those CAS meetings, the regular get-together of groups of computing teachers to discuss best practice in the classroom? A group of Manchester teachers took the plunge to go online before the government announced the school closures - using Google Hangouts for a meeting of fourteen. One of the issues they found was that it was sometimes hard to get participants to take their microphone off mute and join in discussions. But Alan Harrison, one of the hosts of the meeting said: ‘Overall it felt quite productive and conversational - the only thing lacking was tea and biscuits!’

Nominate your heroes

If you know of any teachers who have been pulling out all the stops to keep their school connected to pupils and parents, we’d love you to nominate them for the vITal workers campaign which is being run by BCS, to recognise and celebrate the incredible contribution of IT experts during these unprecedented times.

And if you are a computing teacher, join the conversation, tell us your story and sign up to CAS to get the newsletter and read about news relevant to you.