One year, I rocked up at school on the 1st September and a huge (but not too huge) set of amazing A-Level pupils walked in the door eager to learn about recursion, black box testing and the intricacies of 8 bit binary. Then I woke up and realised that was all a dream and I had to devise a way of selling Computing A-Level to the whole of Year 11, in three minutes, during an assembly in January. Wowzers.
“You should definitely do Computing – the department has all the latest technology”
I think when I first became a teacher I grossly underestimated how much selling and persuading is necessary to encourage students to do your subject. When first confronted with this task three years ago, my shoulder demon protested “but I’m a techy person, I didn’t sign up to be a saleswoman!”, although this is perhaps a rather feeble excuse given that a) I chose to be a teacher and therefore pretty much “on show”, and b) other techy people (Steve Jobs?) seem to make a damn good job of selling things. So eventually I stopped whining to myself and got on with the task of creating the obligatory Powerpoint presentation to go with my “Computing is not the same as IT” talk.
The first year we decided to go with the serious version and just explain what the subject was and why it was different to what had gone before. We were rather spectacularly upstaged by the presentation for Italian AS which contained equal measures of humour and pictures of hot Italians. Damn.
Last year, we decided to go down the entertaining route too, which actually proved rather profitable. Students who did not even choose the subject still remember and ask me about the first slide – the oh-so-hilarious “There are 10 types of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who don’t” joke – mostly because they DIDN’T GET THE JOKE AND WERE CURIOUS!! Yes! This is exactly the kind of interest I wanted to generate, a curiosity to find out more. I will always remember a particular lecture from university which was a module on the programming language Lisp where the lecturer implemented something to do with traffic lights. (I bet you are probably thinking “you can’t remember it that well” – /rasp to you.) Well, what I do remember is that after it had been explained it all seemed so simple and obvious, and yet so clean and, dare I say it without sound like a maths geek, beautiful. I wanted to know more. It’s a bit of a tall order to impart such a revelation in three minutes, but I’m going to try.
One thing which scares me a little bit is that no matter how good my 3 minute pitch is (and happily we also have some “taster lessons” this year too), I will not be pitching to parents. I know that the perception of Computing is hopelessly muddled in with that of ICT as a “doss subject” and a “subject Universities don’t like”, and our challenge can be ably summed up by the Computing at School website. A friend who is an Economics teacher told me that in the first week of the new term, he asked everyone in his Economics class to tell him why they had chosen that subject. He was very surprised at the answer from a lot of pupils, particularly girls, which was “because my Dad thought it was a good idea”. I really hope that Dads out there like Computing as much as they like Economics.
Anyhow, I thought I would ask – since there are probably a lot of us in the same boat – how would you sell A-Level Computing in 3 minutes? Leave a comment or tweet me @codeboom so I can shamelessly pilfer your ideas 🙂