Computing · Teaching

Sell Computing A-Level in 3 minutes

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 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Sell Computing A-Level in 3 minutes

  1. At open evenings this year I’ve gone with ‘ Do you want to be an App consumer or App creator?’. Unspoken is the corollary: do you reading to spend money or make money?

  2. Laura

    I am faced with a similar predicament in our school, only with 13-14 year olds (Year 9). Like you I am trying for something memorable. In the past when we have held lunchtime charity fund raising events, I noticed that if I performed something ridiculously stupid and bizarre – the children were talking about it for days afterwards.

    This has spurred me on to my latest venture – which I have not concluded yet. You can hear a draft of it here…

    http://audioboo.fm/boos/597524-teknoteacher-tries-a-hack-rap-to-appeal-to-teens

    One of my pupils already found it and has uploaded it to YouTube – it has already had 150 views in 4 days. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLZewiKOFAs

    The end result should be one of the most bizarre videos a teacher has ever uploaded to YouTube that the children talk about, it will have a live motion video as well. I don’t necessarily advise that you go down my route – but thought it might make you feel some comfort knowing that other colleagues were resorting to desperate measures as well.

    Alan

  3. Same way I did to a boatload of bemused year 11s this year – showed them photos I stealth bombers, games, cars, Asimo (from Honda) and the stock market. Explained that computing runs the modern world, has made more millionaires than you can shake a stick at and that it is a good a level and respected by many universities.

    That and the fact that it’s blummin hard so anyone thinking it is anything remotely like ICT or IT need not apply.

    Make it interesting and worthwhile and they will come – they had better or I’m down an AS Computing class next year!

  4. I think Jonathan’s approach is a good way to go. Unlike many topics, such as Economics, it is much easier to show the impact programming has on the modern world. You can’t take a step without encountering a relevant example.

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