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Power of creativity helps Wirral school during COVID-19

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They are clearly doing something inspirational at Calday Grange Grammar in West Kirby, where GCSE computer science is regularly over-subscribed.

There’s no doubt that computing is important at the school. It’s so popular that the department sets a cap on the number of students opting for GCSE computer science.

It’s also clear that being digitally responsive has helped them cope with the adjustment to online learning in the current coronavirus crisis.

Remote learning is second nature

Nicola Mounsey, the lead computer science teacher at the school, has seen her role expand as she’s helped to set up a virtual learning environment for her colleagues.

“For our students and the Computer Science team, our online teaching is really not too far from our normal way of working,” said Nicola.

“We use Google Docs and Google Classroom normally - so we were well set up for the switch. The biggest difference has been adapting the Y12 research for the Non-Exam Assessment (NEA) course work element of their A level.

“We've also utilised online programming environments lower down in the school than we would normally do but the students are able to email us for support. So far, it’s working well.

“We have had to put more detail into our online guidance though, because we’ve missed the face-to-face element.”

Cross-curriculum support

Another key part of Nicola’s role in establishing an ‘online school’ has been to support teachers in other departments.

“For many of our staff this means 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.”

Becoming more tech-savvy will be a ‘silver lining’ to the current crisis for her colleagues: “I’ve had lots of teachers saying, ‘I didn’t know we could do that – it’s amazing,’” said Nicola.

Of course, using a virtual learning environment with GCSE computer science students means that any platform is put through a rigorous test.

“My students always find a way to test any system! While testing Google Meet, we had some of them saying ‘look I can mute the teacher!” she said.

The power of creativity

Currently Calday Grange has around 70 of its 900 students coming into the school  with teachers providing cover via a rota and the tech team helping to provide some light touch support for the students who are in school.

“We are trying to provide a fun and relaxed environment for the students who are in school and I know that we’ve had the Google Virtual Reality headsets out!” said Nicola.

It’s that sense of creativity which has helped to create a thriving computer science department, that sees it as one of the most popular options at the school.

“We must be doing something right – our computer science GCSE is so popular. We have to put a cap of 60 computer science students, in two classes of 30.

“I joined as a computing teacher in 2013 and since then I’ve spent that time building up the department. Now we’re over-subscribed for our GCSE course,” said Nicola.

“We also enter a lot of competitions as a school, such as the Bebras Computing Challenge, Cyber Security Matrix challenge.”

It’s clear that the school draws on a wide range of resources to enhance the curriculum as well as challenge the students.

“We use a mix of programming options and use Python from Y7. We find that a lot of the Y7 students have used Scratch at primary schools and are really ready for Python. We try to think of ways of engaging students in imaginative ways,” said Nicola, who is also a senior examiner on Paper 1 AQA.

“We look at what really ‘grabs’ them. A few years’ ago, it was all about learning bits of code, now we try to give them a lot of creativity.

“For instance, we used one activity, to design a flag, which is part of the NCCE’s modelling data unit. Many students went on to create some really interesting pixel art. We try to allow them as much creativity as we can.

“We give them the skills, and then give them the freedom to explore.”

Photo courtesy of Calday Grange Grammar School