Lancaster students head out to a US technology mecca. Bob Harrison reports
Schools are preparing for a seismic shift in the teaching of ICT. Now they have Computing instead of ICT to cope with, and there is a much greater emphasis on computer science under a new curriculum.
While some schools, especially primaries, struggle to prepare for this change, Lancaster Girls' Grammar School has grabbed the bull by the horns. Instead of putting on a course for teachers they are taking 30 students to the hotbed of digital innovation and home of some of the brightest minds in computer science – Silicon Valley, California.
Lancaster headteacher Jackie Cahalin is delighted. “ICT is a very successful subject at LGGS at both GCSE and A level standard," she says, "allowing the girls to be creative as well as learning skills that will assist them in their other studies and future careers.
Girls have to 'adapt their mindsets to overcome problems and find solutions'
"We introduced Computing because there was a clear gap in our curriculum for those pupils who wanted to go a step further and learn how to create a tool rather than use it. Computing appeals to girls who enjoy maths, electronics and science; they find it challenging and have had to adapt their mindsets to be able to overcome problems and find solutions.
"We strive to offer our pupils the best opportunities and the visit to San Francisco is no exception and is set to truly inspire LGGS students to see there are opportunities for women in this field."
The children and teachers leave today (July 17) for a full itinerary which includes visits to the usual tourist spots such as Golden Gate Park, Sausalito, Fisherman's Wharf and Alcatraz but also the more computer-focused trips to the History of Computing Museum in Mountain View, Google HQ, Qualcom and a full day on the Stanford University Campus where they will meet some of the women in the faculty of computer science.
The inspiration behind the trip is Joanne Devlin, head of ICT, computing and business. “I never recognised the 'dull and boring' description of ICT [Michael Gove's] from the teaching at Lancaster Girls' Grammar School," she says, "as we have tried to make the teaching of ICT as interesting, engaging and relevant to the needs of pupils and their potential careers in the IT and digital industries.
"This trip, however, will help to raise the girls’ aspirations and make them realise what opportunities a career in computing and IT could offer them.
The girls and their families are paying for the trip themselves and the school has done a small amount of fundraising (the girls' sweat tops – see pic above – are being sponsored by Toshiba).
Needless to say the pupils are excited about this once in a lifetime opportunity. When I spoke to Year 11 pupil Agatha she was impatient: “I can't wait for the San Francisco trip; there are so many different business and ICT opportunities in Silicon Valley that we will get to experience. This trip is the only trip from LGGS to go to America; I'm so excited.
While Year 12 student Emily says, “The opportunities we are being given are amazing and once in a lifetime, and I feel incredibly grateful towards Mrs Devlin for arranging the fantastic San Francisco trip. The things we are planning to do are overwhelming; I’m still speechless about the whole idea and I still can’t believe I get to take part in something so incredible.
"Thanks to ICT and Mrs Devlin I have realised that I would love to pursue an IT career, and this trip will undoubtedly help me to discover new branches of ICT that I hadn’t considered, and I now can’t wait to get started with my ICT career."
Jo Devlin a member of the DfE's expert group for ICT/computing
So spare a thought for all pupils and teachers who will not be getting this great opportunity and will have to rely on teachers like Jo Devlin who, along with some 30 other teachers, are members of the Department for Education's ICT/Computing Expert Group. They have been sharing their knowledge, expertise and resources – mainly online – to help other teachers who are not quite so clued up with all things computing and computer science. They have helpfully shared a rich and varied set of resources for all key stages so that when the new programmes of study for computing were published this summer, teachers at least knew where to find some help.
Following Michael Gove’s speech at the BETT educational technology show in London in 2011, where he described the teaching of ICT in schools as "dull and boring", the national curriculum for ICT has been revisited and revamped as Computing. Although the then available OFSTED evidence suggested the Gove judgement was harsh, nevertheless the pace of change with technology and the low profile of computer science suggested a review was necessary.
It is difficult to imagine how ICT could have been described as “dull and boring” when you listen to Zhana a Year 11 pupil: “I chose ICT because I want to go into business in the future, and as technology advances I feel that ICT will give me vital skills for my possible future profession. ICT in the past couple of years allows you to be very creative, and as a subject is extremely important, especially seeing as the world is digital. The skills that I have gained after studying for five years at LGGS have made me particularly confident in using a computer and all the amazing software that our school has.
'An amazing opportunity'
"I am really excited about San Francisco; it is such an amazing opportunity. Visiting places such as the Google headquarters and Stanford University, and getting a guided tour, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and because of my fanatical interest in business and IT this will be really eye-opening and give me an insight into what it is like to work in a multinational company.”
One thing is certain – teachers like Joanne Devlin are the real key in turning the language and dull words of national curriculum programmes of study into inspiring lessons and life-changing experiences for children.
“I am so pleased to be able to provide this opportunity for our girls and if some of the materials we have used to teach the girls ICT and Computing will help other teachers and pupils then that is an added bonus,” said Joanne.
You can follow the girls on the trip through their blog, http://lggs2sf.edublogs.org
The expert group's resources for the teaching of the new national curriculum in computing here: https://sites.google.com/site/primaryictitt
Bob Harrison is chair of the DfE ICT/Computing Expert Group and education adviser for Toshiba Information Systems. He runs Support for Education and Training