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I Belong in computer science: Pete

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A photo of Pete smiling in the classroom with the text "I Belong in computer science: Pete"

We recently caught up with Pete, who has supported his school to complete our I Belong: Encouraging girls into computer science programme, to see how he got on, and why he thinks it's important more students (paticularly girls) study computer science.

Why do you think it's important for girls to be in computer science? 

Jobs in cybersecurity, data science and artificial intelligence are far too important to leave to any individual gender, race or religion. We need the best talent to enjoy creative skills in computing at every stage so that any student can picture themselves thriving in a computing career: using their tech skills to make the world a better place. Making computing more accessible for girls benefits boys too; everyone benefits from an inclusive, accessible curriculum delivered in an engaging, creative way. Choosing to study Computer Science can be really empowering for any student when they realise it can enrich and empower a future in business, politics, research, healthcare or management. Why shouldn’t girls have those opportunities too? 

Why did you choose to participate in the I Belong programme? 

I’m a white, male computing teacher who’s getting older and less relatable every year! I don’t think you have to be female to be a feminist but my lived experience is limited and privileged. If I want my students to be inspired to use their computing skills to make the world a better place then I owe it to them to ensure that the people I hold up as examples and role models look like them, sound like them and show them that they too can succeed. Taking part in the I Belong programme was an attempt to go beyond tokenistic gestures to reflect on how resources, schemes of work, homework, pedagogy, competitions and clubs can all be reviewed to create a culture in computing where anyone is welcome. Anything is possible if they’re willing to invest the effort and creativity. 

How has the encouragement from school leaders influenced the success of the program? 

We have a brilliant team of sixth form student leaders in school with both male and female STEM advocates who champion opportunities for students to get involved with extra-curricular clubs and competitions as well as acting as great role models for younger students. The staff senior leadership team fully support our participation in the I Belong programme: they often call in to STEM club to encourage the mixed robotics teams and meet with computing competition winners to raise their profile within the school with the aim of inspiring more students to follow in their footsteps. School leaders have also supported us in requests to run trips and collaborate with other local schools, parents and industry partners to ensure the programme has impact in the classroom and beyond. 

You have mentioned that you are running the First Lego League and CanSat competitions with girls. Could you possibly tell us more about that? 

Last year two mixed teams of students competed in Lego robotics challenges and prepared and presented creative solutions to environmental problems. It was brilliant to see students with SEND having fun, growing in confidence and seeing the links develop between science, technology, maths and computing. Their success last year meant we had a huge waiting list of students wanting to get involved this year. The competition works by building and coding a Lego Spike Prime robot to interact with a series of obstacles and challenges. It’s a brilliant way of promoting teamwork, resilience, creativity and problem solving. 

CanSat is even more exciting: we’re building and coding a drinks-can-sized satellite that we’re going to take to Elvington airfield to launch 1km into the sky. As the satellite descends on a parachute it’ll transmit sensor readings that we will collect, process and visualize. Only a small number of students can be directly involved in the satellite launch but we’ve already had over 100 take part in outreach lessons where students design parachutes and test them by throwing programmable devices out of the window whilst plotting the accelerometer readings in real time. 

How has the programme helped your school? 

The I Belong programme has provided us with ideas, resources and training that has helped the Computing department adapt the way we plan and deliver lessons. Training that staff complete is accredited and celebrated. The buzz created by competitions, challenges, trips and clubs is infectious: many students have said their choice of secondary school was influenced by the First Lego League activity at the Y6 open evening and hearing about students who’d won big national prizes in other competitions. The I Belong programme helps give focus to our efforts to give students a platform to thrive, regardless of any limitations they perceive to be in the way due to gender, race, religion or special educational need. It’s also been instrumental in our completion of the Computing Quality Framework which has helped us review the effectiveness of our curriculum, staff development, leadership and extra curricular provision. 

You have also mentioned that you have been prioritising creativity and collaboration. What does this look like, and why is it important? 

I’m convinced that Computing can be the most creative subject that students study at school. I’m a big fan of music, dance, drama and art but I don’t think they hold a monopoly on creativity. Writing code can be perceived to be a dull, individualistic activity but it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s exceptionally rewarding to design, write and test your own software especially if you can work with others to explore how it can be used in business, politics, education, healthcare or leisure. Creativity happens when students have autonomy and choice within the classroom projects and activities. Collaboration can be through debate, discussion, feedback, as well as team projects. When students collaborate or feel like they have a creative choice in how to shape their work their motivation and sense of satisfaction skyrockets. Too much unstructured creativity or collaboration can limit productivity, but students love to take pride in what they’ve created for themselves. Collaboration makes those activities more memorable and meaningful. 

What aspects of I Belong have resonated with you the most? 

The I Belong programme includes an I Belong Champions scheme, bringing schools together to give more girls a strong foundation for further academic and vocational study, better preparing them for higher education and future careers through achieving success in GCSE Computer Science. I’ve really appreciated being part of a peer supported network of like minded Champions: it’s been great to read about other people’s success stories and share ideas for how we can promote inclusion and diversity for the benefit of all our students. Seeing the statistics in the I Belong online CPD brought home how essential it is that we invest in Key Stage 3 Computing before students choose their GCSE options. We need to invest sufficient curriculum time for Computing to ensure that creativity, collaboration, curiosity, compassion and careers links aren’t squeezed out. 

What about the Teach Computing Curriculum do you enjoy the most? 

Using the Teach Computing Curriculum is a brilliant starting point for the department to have a high quality, consistent set of resources that maps across the whole national curriculum programme of study. It ties in to the bursary funded CPD available from the National Centre for Computing Education, it’s free to use and it means that we can discuss ideas and collaborate with other schools who are using the same resources in way that we couldn’t when we used our own units. 

Could you tell us a little bit about your computing clubs? 

STEM Club runs after school on a Wednesday and Game Dev Club runs in the same slot on Thursdays. STEM club is for Y7-9 who are currently working through First Lego League but older students share the space to work on the First Tech Challenge whilst being around to both support and mentor younger students and inspire them with what’s possible as a next step. We start with a STEM related register question: students write their answer on a shared document to earn a ClassCharts positive for attending before working in teams on their competitions and challenges.  

Game Dev Club is a space for students to work independently or in teams to design and create games in Scratch, Unity, Blender or python. Each week we have a competition to design or create something like the best 3d Christmas tree or most creative animated flashing reindeer nose. Competitions like the PA Consulting Raspberry Pi, DressCode, CyberFirst or AstroPi are a great way to add pace and purpose to club sessions.  

How has it shaped your future aspirations for teaching computer science? 

I’m not a fan of marking and the admin associated with teaching can be demoralising and all-consuming. It’s so important to hold on to the parts of the job that are enjoyable, have the most impact on students and give the most satisfaction to me as a teacher. In February I’m taking a group of girls to London to meet policy makers and tech leaders to discuss how we can remove the barriers and create the opportunities that encourage and support more and more girls to enjoy success in Computing. On days when I want to quit and find an easier job I don’t have to look far to see a student who inspires me and appreciates the opportunities that the I Belong programme promotes.  

What would you tell someone who is considering signing up to the programme? 

Do it! Get a colleague to sign up too, at your own school or find someone else via CAS or the STEM Community site. It doesn’t take much time, it doesn’t cost any money but it does force you to create space to think how to do things better: a more inclusive and accessible curriculum isn’t just better for students: it’s much more fun to teach too.

Thanks, Pete.

Check out our page for more information about how you can encourage more girls into computer science in your school.