1. Unplug your lessons
Although the idea of teaching Computer Science without the use of computers may seem strange, I can honestly say that some of my best lessons have been those where I haven’t used any computers at all. A great example of this, and one that epitomises this approach, is the Binary Numbers activity courtesy of CS Unplugged. A video showing this approach in action can be found here: Unplugged: The show. Part 2: Binary counting
- Algorithms and magic tricks! - Simple card trick, courtesy of Mark Dorling (Digital School House), which teaches pupils about sequencing and modeling sequence of instructions.
- Teaching GCSE Computer Science: Day 10 – “There are 10 types of people in this world!” - Unplugged lesson on Binary to Denary conversion.
- CS Unplugged - A collection of free learning activities that teach Computer Science through engaging games and puzzles that use cards, string, crayons and lots of running around.
2. DART your students
Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds. For those new to DART (Directed Activity Related to Text), it is a strategy designed to support literacy. It focuses on the strategies of skimming, scanning and gap fill. The purpose of this DART activity is to give the students a brief overview of the main features of the CPU.
- Set up the presentation to suit the reading ability of your class (see PowerPoint presentation)
- Print the key words slide and cut out the words. You could tape them to the underneath of chairs for random distribution if you wanted. (I fold the keywords into little pieces and place them in a small tin or bag for the students to pick)
- Run the presentation so that students skim and scan the text. This is a way of engaging students with the kind of text they would find in a textbook, but without the textbook!
- Selected students take turns come to the front to draw their key word whilst others try to guess it. I tend to split the students into teams and turn it into a competition. For a bit of fun, you could also use a timer (See blog on classroom timers) and give the opposing teams a chance to steal the points if the player’s team doesn’t guess right within a minute.
- Follow up with the gap fill exercise.
A great example of the use of DART to support the teaching of computer science can be found here: CPU Dart Activity
3. Start a Socratic Debate
Another approach I have used to teach computing theory with great success is Socratic debate. Socratic debates are great for covering controversial or thought provoking issues e.g. social, ethical and legal issues surrounding the use of computers.
How it works:
Students are initially split into teams to research a topic. After some initial research, the teams are then asked to compile their best arguments and choose a team leader (Spokesperson). Each team leader is then asked to come to the front and the teacher chooses one student to start the debate.
Before the debate starts, the teacher gives each of the remaining students a piece of paper with a question or mission written on it (each aimed at different levels of ability) which they must complete during the debate e.g. "Who gave the most persuasive argument boys or girls and write down some examples" or "Who used quotes or acknowledged sources in their arguments and give examples". This way everyone is involved during the debate.
At the end of the debate, students are chosen at random to reveal their question or mission to the rest of the class and to respond with their answer or observation. A great way to finish off a Socratic debate is to follow with a quick Pose, Pause, Pounce & Bounce activity.
Pose a question to the whole class e.g. Explain why a computer with a 4Ghz (6MB cache) processor would not be twice as fast as a 2Ghz (6MB cache) processor.
Pause to give students time to digest the question and think of their answer. If the students are engaged, try holding the pause for a little while longer to build up the tension.
Pounce: Quickly, select a student to answer the question. i.e. Insist the answer to the question comes from student A and possibly student B, directly and fast! Obviously, plan in your mind who you are going to direct the questions to before hand.
Bounce the question or student's response on to another student (immediately after the pounce). e.g. Ask them if they agree with the students previous answer and to explain why.
4. Take your screwdrivers to work
Possibly one of the most popular, and probably the most hands-on, topic in Computer Science theory is how do computers work! I find that this is a great excuse to grab some old computers and a set of screwdrivers and take the old computers apart.
As the students take each computer apart, you can get them to label or photograph each component and write a brief description. These can then be used to create an interactive wall display (see using QR codes) or uploaded to a VLE / Wiki to form part of a revision resource (see flipping your classroom and creating Pecha Kuchas).
If you are feeling really brave, you could challenge your students to put the computers back together and switch them on to see if they will boot up!
To see an example of how this could work, check out this blog post: Teaching Computer Science: Day 1 - The day I took my screwdrivers to work.
5. Flip your classroom
What is classroom flipping?
If you are new to the idea of the flipped classroom, the concept is simple: the flipped classroom essentially reverses the traditional way of teaching i.e. what is usually done in the classroom, such as lectures, is done as homework and what is usually done as homework is done in the classroom. The benefit of this model, particularly for teaching Computer Science, is that the teacher can spend more time interacting with students.
There are a number of tools and strategies to facilitate classroom flipping. Here are just a few of my favourites:
- Video Tutorials: Otherwise known as vodcasting, the most common way to flip your classroom, is to use teacher created videos which students can view outside of the classroom. There are several ways that you can share your videos with your students – probably the most popular being YouTube (www.youtube.com) however, you can also use other video sharing sites such as SchoolTube (http://www.schooltube.com), TeacherTube (http://www.teachertube.com), or if your school has one, your schools own VLE. The added bonus of using video sharing sites such as YouTube is that videos can be grouped into playlists and embedded into any web based tools such as the school's VLE, wiki, blog or website. You can also add useful videos from other contributors to build your playlists. Students can follow the lecture for homework and use lesson time to explore concepts in more detail. For examples of how you can use video tutorials to flip your computing classroom, visit Mark Clarkson's YouTube Channel: (http://www.youtube.com/user/mwclarkson)
- Wikis: A wiki allows groups of people to collaboratively develop websites with no prior knowledge or experience of website design. In the flipped classroom, a wiki can be used to host instructional videos and associated resources to introduce a concept or deliver a lesson. Students can then update the wiki and summarize what they have learned. Free tools such as PBWorks (http://pbworks.com/education) and Wikispaces (http://www.wikispaces.com) are ideal for creating classroom wikis. Wikispaces Classroom builds on the collaborative editing features of a wiki but includes some additional functionality to support the flipped classroom, features such as social interaction and formative assessment. Teachers can also monitor how often a student has read, edited or saved a page. To find out more about how to use wikis in your classroom, click here.
- Blendspace: This powerful web 2.0 tool allows you to organize and share content such as videos, images, documents and text using its intuitive drag and drop interface. The tool also allows you to create online lessons by embedding content from popular sites such as YouTube, Google, Vimeo, Flickr etc via its built-in search tool. You can also upload content from your computer, Dropbox or Google Drive. Blendspace is ideal for flipping your classroom – students can research a topic at home and use lesson time more effectively. As a teacher you can monitor students progress and measure students understanding with the built-in quiz creation tool. You can even check to see if your students have actually viewed the resources you have shared with them.
- Podcasts: Podcasts are a wonderful way of allowing both teacher and students to share their work and experiences with a potential huge audience over the Internet. A podcast is like a radio show however, instead of being broadcast live, a podcast is pre-recorded and then distributed over the internet or to a mobile device allowing your students to listen to them when and where they please, even on the bus ride home. There are plenty of ways to share your podcast, probably one of the most famous being iTunes however, another tool worth considering is Audioboo. Audioboo is a free social-podcasting environment. With Audioboo, students and teachers can create podcasts (or boos) which can be shared with other social teaching tools such as edmodo. Probably the best example of using podcasts to support the teaching of Computer Science are those by Alan O’Donohoe: http://audioboo.fm/users/104685/boos
6. Create a Pecha Kucha
I came across this little gem at a recent TeachMeet. The aim of Pecha Kucha is to encourage the presenter to be more concise and a little more creative with their presentations. Each presentation must contain no more than 20 slides and each slide must last for 20 seconds. It’s suggested that the presentation consist mainly of images, photos, or graphics with little to no text. The idea is that each image should advance the story and emphasize the key points. Pecha Kuchas are ideal for creating revision resources and can also be used to flip your classroom. To find out more about Pecha Kuchas, click here.
7. Use QR codes
What are QR codes?
A QR code (short for Quick Response Code) is a machine-readable code made up of black and white squares.
QR codes are designed to enhance printed material such as: books, magazines, programmes and guides or even displays at museums and heritage sites.
Using an array of free apps and online tools, you can quickly and easily create your very own multimedia-rich QR experiences which can be triggered from a web enabled device.
Suggestions for using QR codes:
- Create an interactive wall display. (e.g. Interactive wall display showing the inside of a computer)
- Create a QR treasure hunt in which students have to collect information about hardware components from QR codes strategically hiden on relevant Input / Output devices around the classroom.
- Create a QR time line (e.g. Create a timeline showing the history of the Internet)
For more examples of how to use QR codes to teach computing theory, click on the links below:
8. Games Based Learning
Game based learning (GBL) is the process of using games to achieve a defined set of learning outcomes. Games that generate data e.g. Kinect Sports and Mario Kart are great for teaching Maths and Statistics. Games that tell a story are great for developing creative writing. Puzzle games can develop problem solving and physics based games such as Angry Birds can be used to explain velocity and momentum.
One game I have used to great affect in Computer Science is Top Trumps. An example of this can be seen here: Teaching Computer Science: Day 3 - Top Trumps (Storage Devices)
9. Gamify your lessons.
Gamification is the process of introducing game-like elements into a traditionally non-gaming contexts to make them more fun and engaging. Gamification strategies include elements such as gamifying grading, incentivising students with rewards and adding competitive elements such as leaderboards.
Zondle (Zondle.com) incorporates many of the game mechanics that embody gamification methodology, mechanics such as earning zollars (zondle dollars) and the use of leaderboards to keep students engaged.
Zondle enables teachers and students to create games to support their learning. Teachers create and set topics on the zondle website for their students to play in games of their choosing. Students can also use the zondle to create their own topics to match exactly what they want to learn.
To find out more, visit: Teaching Computer Science: Day 17 - Testing times! (Binary representation of data)
10. Design a game
Game design, as the name suggests, is the process of planning the content and rules of a game. It also includes the design of gameplay, environment, storyline and even characters.
A great way to engage students in a subject or topic is to get them to create a game to teach others that topic. Students don’t have to have any programming / coding skills to design the game however, game design does lend itself well to the teaching of computing / computer science, in particular Programming theory. Thankfully, there is an abundance of online tools to support game design – not all of them requiring experience or knowledge of coding:
- Gamestar Mechanic uses fun, game-based quests and courses to help you learn game design and make your own video games.
- Game Maker: Studio makes it easy to create great games without having to learn a programming language or spend a lot of time. Many tutorials and resources are available, along with a lot of help from the community.
- TouchDevelop is an online app creation tool from Microsoft Research. Originally designed to develop Windows Phone 7 apps, TouchDevelop has recently been updated as a web app and now allows you to develop Windows Store apps suitable for Windows 8 touch screen devices. TouchDevelop is easy to use and works with several web browsers.
- Kodu is a new visual programming language made specifically for creating games. It is designed to be accessible for children and enjoyable for anyone. The visual nature of the language allows for rapid design iteration using only an Xbox game controller for input (mouse/keyboard input is also supported).
- Scratch is a project out of the MIT Media Lab. It allows users to program their own interactive stories and games with animated content. Scratch is specifically designed to make programming accessible for students (they recommend ages 8 and up). The website hosts support materials, user-created content and sample code to help you get started. The Media Lab has a license deal with LEGO to allow users to use LEGO characters in their Scratch projects.
- MissionMaker allows students to rapidly create visually 3D rich worlds for first-person 'Missions' - complete with sets, animated characters, dialogue and music.
- Stencyl is a free game creation platform that allows students to create 2D games for mobile devices and for the web. The software is also available in paid format. This gives you the ability to upload your finished games to the iTunes App Store.
- GameSalad allows members to design, publish and distribute original games without programming knowledge, and play with others across multiple platforms, such as the iPhone, iPad, Mac and any other Internet-connected device.
- Alice is a free and open source 3D programming environment designed to teach students object-oriented and event-driven programming. In Alice, students drag and drop graphic tiles in order to animate an object and create a program. Alice is great for creating an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Extensive support materials are provided.
- Quest allows you to create your very own 80's style text adventure games. Quest has a variety of uses in education, within a range of subjects and at a range of levels. Best of all, it's free. Perhaps the most obvious use of Quest is within ICT/Computing. Quest provides a gentle introduction to programming concepts – variables, functions, loops, expressions, objects, etc. – and the visual editor means that students don’t need to remember commands or syntax.
- App Inventor is a great tool to teach programming to high school students. Like Scratch, App Inventor uses a drag-and-drop interface that allows you to assemble block commands and from these, build your app.
1. Presentation tools
- Animoto - Animoto.com - If you have never used Animoto in the classroom to create online slideshows, then now is the time to start. With just a few clicks you can quickly turn your photos and videos into an animated, show stopping, musical masterpiece for free! There are numerous ways in which Animoto can be used in the classroom. Biographies, field trips, digital storytelling, science projects and more can all be captured with this quick and easy slideshow tool.
- Prezi - www.prezi.com - is a Flash-based online app that lets you break away from the slide-by-slide approach of most presentation software. Instead, it allows you to create non-linear presentations where you can zoom in and out of a visual map containing words, links, images, videos, and more.
- Moovly – Moovly.com – If you haven’t used Moovly before, Moovly is a powerful web 2.0 tool for creating animated presentations. Moovly is free to use and enables you to create stunning animated videos that you can share online.
- PowToon – PowToon.com - is an online business presentation software tool that allows you to create free animated videos.
2. Collaborative tools
- Edmodo - edmodo.com - is a FREE 'Social Networking' environment for students, partents and teachers. It provides a safe and easy way for your class to connect and collaborate, share content, and access homework, grades and school notices. In fact, many schools are ditching their VLE's in preference to edmodo. Teachers and students can post messages, discuss topics, assign and grade work. Edmodo also allows you to share digital content such as links, pictures, videos, documents etc. Edmodo is accessible online and from any mobile device via free smart phone applications.
- Blendspace – blendspace.com - This powerful web 2.0 tool allows you to organize and share content such as videos, images, documents and text using its intuitive drag and drop interface. The tool also allows you to create online lessons by embedding content from popular sites such as YouTube, Google, Vimeo, Flickr etc via its built-in search tool. You can also upload content from your computer, Dropbox or Google Drive.
- Wikispaces Classroom - wikispaces.com - Wikis are a great places for students to collaborate on projects. Wikispaces Classroom builds on the collaborative editing features of a wiki but includes some additional functionality to support classroom use, features such as social interaction and formative assessment.
- Glogster EDU - edu.glogster.com - is a fantastic, free, education website for teachers to use with their students. It allows you to create interactive posters that include text, video, hyperlinks, and im-ages. Glogster is a great technology tool to use in the classroom because it is so flexible. You can use it for biographies, time lines, math formulas, instructional writing and experiment results. You can also use Glogster to create resources to support your teaching e.g. Starter or plenary activities.
- Voki - voki.com - is a free service that allows you to create personalised speaking avatars and use them on your blog, website, and in email messages.
- Infogr.am - Infogr.am - is an online tool which enables you to easily create and share infographics. Infogr.am allows you to choose from a set of pre-defined templates which you are able to edit online. Once you have created your infographic, Infogr.am allows you to share it with others or embed it into your own website or VLE. Infogr.am also offer a PRO version which allows you to download your infographic as a high quality .PDF or .PNG file. Infogr.am also allows you to import your data directly from MS Excel or via .CSV file.
5. Quiz making tools
- Zondle - zondle.com - enables teachers and students to create games to support their learning. Teachers create and set topics on the zondle website for their students to play in games of their choosing. Students can also use the zondle website to create their own topics to match exactly what they want to learn, or to view their personal progress. Teachers can also use the zondle website to manage their zondle classes and view progress (with the zondle Gradebook).
6. Classroom response tools
- InfuseLearning - infuselearning.com - is a free online tool which turns any web enabled device into a classroom response tool. The tool allows teachers to send questions / quizzes out to students' devices in private virtual classrooms. InfuseLearning allows teachers to create tests and quizzes in a variety of formats. Students can reply to prompts and questions in the usual formats such as True/False, multiple choice and open ended text answer formats however, thanks to a unique feature of InfuseLearning, students can reply by creating drawings or diagrams on their web enabled device.
- Socrative - socrative.com - is a great AfL app which allows you to create interactive quizzes and surveys. Socrative allows you to choose form a range of surveys and quizzes including: Short Answer Questions, Multiple choice and True or False questions. The most recent version also allows you to add pictures to your questions.
Tags: GCSE, Computer Science
Related: GCSE Theory Resources