Back to school

By Victoria Temple. Posted

Image credit: Matt Ragland

Computer science teachers come to the subject with a wide range of backgrounds. Victoria Temple shares the story of Karen Morris, who is taking A-level Computer Science while teaching the subject at GCSE

Computer science teacher Karen Morris may be head of department at Stroud High School, but she’s also a student—at her own school. Karen teaches computer science at the girls’ grammar school in Gloucestershire, and also sits alongside the sixth form students to study for Computer Science A level. 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 four years before joining Stroud High School as an ICT teacher eleven years ago. In 2014, when the government introduced computer science as a subject to replace ICT, Karen had just returned to work after her maternity leave. She switched to full-time teaching of computer science and knew that she needed 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. In the last two years, Karen has stepped up a gear, driving forward exciting change at the school.

Teacher and A-level student

“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 computer science teachers.

“Our current Year 12 [16–17 years] 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 Key Stage 3 [11–14 years]. 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 National Cyber Security Centre (NCSE) at GCHQ. We’ve been taking part in many CyberFirst 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 Year 12 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 the 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 YouTube star teacher

Karen’s A-level class is being taught by her colleague, Craig Sargent, YouTube star of the Craig ’n’ Dave 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 students watch videos before they come in and then build on that in class—it really helps to consolidate their learning.”

Of course, Karen, like her fellow A-level students, is now getting used to working from home following the closure of schools as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

“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!”

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 of rearranging things for next September and have been looking at using CAS resources to enhance our Key Stage 3 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 are 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 year’s 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!”

Karen's top tips

  • Be a role model—if students see you being inspired by tech, they will be too

  • Offer as many opportunities as you can to engage with the subject outside of lessons, as lesson time is limited

  • Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something—you can find out together

  • Speak to other specialist CS teachers, who will probably be more than willing to help and support you

  • Be enthusiastic!

Computer science teacher Karen Morris is also an A-level student

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