Isaac platform extended to GCSE

By Allen Heard. Posted

Educators teaching multiple exam boards can easily toggle between content rather than digging out different specifications with subtly different content

Originally published in Hello World Issue 18: Cybersecurity, March 2022. All information true at the time of original publishing.

The first batch of GCSE content for all England exam boards has been released on the newly designed Isaac Computer Science site

As an ex-teacher and head of department, I know how difficult it can be for learners to access quality materials at home that reinforce the content taught in the classroom. I also know how time-consuming it can be for a teacher to set meaningful, challenging homework that is truly valuable to a learner and tests their understanding of computer science concepts. All this is made harder by the fact that there are five different GCSE computer science specifications in England (for students aged 14–16), each of which takes subtly different approaches to some content, and often includes different topics. For educators and learners, finding free, high-quality resources specific to an examination board can be a difficult and sometimes fruitless task.

Developing Isaac CS GCSE

Isaac Computer Science is a free online platform with concept-led exam board content and a large number of questions to test students’ knowledge and understanding. It previously catered solely for A-level students, but the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the University of Cambridge have been working hard to bring GCSE content to the platform, with the initial launch in January 2022. The good news is that all the features that were previously available to A-level learners will now be available to GCSE learners too, plus some other exciting developments for everyone, including teachers! Content creators have been busy curating material that meets the needs of all learners, regardless of which examination board’s specification they are following. It is packed with explainer videos, walk-through demonstrations, animations, and questions to support learners on their computer science journey. Learners can really develop their understanding and get a sense of their progress, tackling relevant problems of a similar level of difficulty to those they will face in an examination.

New features for all

There is a large overlap in the concepts covered at A level and GCSE, which the platform is using to its advantage with the integration of stage and board views. In the board view option, users will only see content that is applicable to the examination board they have indicated they are studying. This is to ensure that topics are tailored to the subtle nuances of each examination board. The stage view option is useful for both GCSE and A-level students: if a GCSE learner wants to see what is coming up at AS, or how a topic is different at an advanced level, they can choose to see content relevant to that stage. Likewise, an A-level student could go back and look at the fundamentals of a topic by viewing the GCSE content. Teachers will benefit from these different views too, as they are able to select more than one examination board in their profile. This will be useful if a teacher is teaching OCR at GCSE and AQA at A level, for example. They can easily toggle between content that is relevant to their current class, without having to dig out specifications or individual schemes of work to surface that subtly different content.

Isaac Computer Science offers different views depending on the user type and examination board chosen

Personalised learning experiences

Question levelling is another brand-new feature that has been introduced. There are hundreds of A-level questions, with hundreds of GCSE questions in the pipeline. Just like content, questions can be useful for all users at differing levels of ability. There will be three levels of practice (P) questions, and three levels of challenge (C) questions. The content team has spent a considerable amount of time tagging all the questions. For instance, a question tagged C2 at GCSE could also be tagged as a P1 question at A level. Using this system, learners effectively have access to a huge bank of questions in which they can select the level of difficulty and topic. As before, the feedback supplied to learners when they submit a wrong answer is specific to the wrong answer they gave, offering some advice on why that answer is wrong, or providing a hint on how they should proceed.

Example question from a memory and storage topic

Currently, 20 percent of the platform’s new GCSE content is live, and this should increase to 50 percent by the end of March 2022. By August 2022, Isaac Computer Science will be a wealth of interlinked content to help GCSE and A-level learners alike develop their subject knowledge and computer science problem-solving skills, and help teachers to directly access related lesson content and professional development opportunities.

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