CAS Hub: Next Steps in Python

With extra revision lessons after school, marking exams, writing reports, reviews, school productions to prepare for, and curriculum planning for next year; the Summer Term can be one of the busiest for teachers. So, you can probably predict the responses I received yesterday after school when I asked a large group of teachers how they were feeling. “Tired”, “Tired & hot”, “A little ill” and “A day nearer retirement” were just some of the responses I received.

In that case, you may well wonder what persuaded nearly 40 teachers from around the North West to spend their Thursday evening at our school? Answer – To attend a Computing at School Hub meeting of course, to take their “Next Steps in Python”.

It was after our last CAS Hub Meeting on March 1st, “An introduction to Python”, when I read participants’ responses to the evaluation questionnaires that I realised there was a clear appetite for more Python. The responses were unanimous in tone, “more hands-on please”, “Can we have more Python please?”. In response to the requests, we changed the focus of the hub meeting to focus on Python again.

After posting the listing for our event on the Eventbrite website, I was amazed to see all 30 tickets sell out within 24 hours and the waitlist started filling up. From experience, I have learnt that people regularly purchase free tickets with every intention of attending, but then in the days leading up to the event, the demands of work and family life can make this difficult. Making a calculated allowance for a proportion of ‘no shows’, I decided to mimic the practice of airlines and hotels and oversell by offering an additional 10 tickets to our waitlist people. In the end, we had 39 people turn up and three last-minute cancellations.Regretably, this meant that the room designed for 32 children felt rather cramped with 39 adults all moving around.

After registration and coffee, I started our meeting with an ice-breaker activity designed to allow participants an opportunity to network and get talking. They were asked to answer a range of questions using post-it notes provided and then place them in the appropriate place around the room. Questions ranged from “Why are you here?” to “When do you teach Computing?”

Following this, I introduced myself and my key motives. I am Alan O’Donohoe, @teknoteacher on twitter and my mission is ‘Computing Science for everyone’, not turning everyone into a computer scientist; rather, allowing them to experience what computer science is for themselves. I explained that next to my wife and family, my other loves are Scratch & Python, to the extent that my wife is convinced I am having an affair with the Scratch Cat. While I believe that Scratch is an amazing tool to engage learners of all ages into the world of Computer Science, Python is both an excellent language to learn how to program with and powerful enough to be used by developers world-wide to make amazing things happen, the Google algorithm for instance.

Referring back to the “Hello World” program from our last meeting, I presented my class with 5 variations on the Hello World program and asked them to work with their partners to predict which would work and which would fail. Then after asking volunteers to explain their reasoning, I asked everyone to try the code in Python to test their predictions. This produced some interesting revelations.

Our next exercise, based around the concept of conditionals, required the class to type in the code for a simple maths quiz in Python; “What is 2 + 2?” The class were then asked to extend this program to include questions with increasing levels of difficulty. Since we had a real mix of ability and experience in our class, I asked experts to add in a score function to their quiz that would award points for correct answers. Some solutions involved casting variables as strings or integers. Partners were encouraged to support and challenge each other.

I got a real buzz watching our learners supporting each other, not relying on the teacher too heavily.

The meeting closed with a questions session, with questions such as; “Is Python suitable for teaching GCSE Computing?” Answer- most definitely. “What age do you start teaching Python at?” Answer- as soon as the learner is ready, we have experienced teaching this level of Python to Year 7, and some younger. Some may feel that it is more suited to Year 9 and above. Finishing ahead of time allowed me to promote some other ventures such as The Hack Rap, Hack To The Future and the upcoming Raspberry Jam spreading around the UK

Resources- Before August 2011 I had never encountered Python, then I discovered the book ‘Invent With Python‘ by Al Sweigart. The book is one of many free books available online for free – and it comes highly recommended from me.

Once again, feedback from participants was highly positive afterwards and late into that same evening I was still receiving kind tweets and emails from participants thanking me for the event. The sense of achievement experienced by all involved means that more than 24 hours later I am still buzzing from the event.

More CPD – The majority of feedback forms this time still requested more time, or a much longer event. In response to demand, my school (Our Lady’s) has persuaded me to offer more of the ‘Teach Computing’ courses next year as well as a full day course in Scratch and a full day in programing with Python. More details of training courses here

CAS Hubs – There is a network of Computing at School hubs around the UK and there will be one somewhere near you. You can get involved by attending, supporting and contributing; you could even start your own hub. This was our fourth event; our first one year ago had only 8 participants. Our events have grown in size each time and now we are having to turn people away because demand exceeds our capacity. If you would like to know more, contact Simon Humphries (CAS) and Claire Davenport (BCS) who are very welcoming and supportive.

If you are heading to any conferences in June or July, I expect to be speaking at Westminster Briefing, Computing at School Conference, The Guardian Teach Computing event, The BFI Media conference and The Schools’ Network Achievement Show it would be great to meet up with other like-minded people.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Barbra Webber says:

    Very useful event Alan and thanks very much for making it so engaging. Only downside was it wasn’t long enough! Looking forward to more and have ordered the book you recommend so I can get programming more.


  2. simonpj says:

    Alan you are a star. Thanks for organising this.


  3. simonpj says:

    Alan you are a star. Thank you for organising this.

    Simon Peyton Jones


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