GCSE topics now available on Isaac Computer Science
04 January 2022
Welcome back everyone to a fantastic new year with the National Centre for Computing Education. Here’s some great news to kickstart your teaching for 2022: we’ve just released 8 new topics of GCSE Computer Science content through the Isaac Computer Science programme. We now cover approximately 25% of topics in the GCSE exam specifications, and have new introductory videos that will help your students to easily digest the concepts involved.
The GCSE content is seamlessly integrated with our A level content, allowing you to toggle each on / off as needed.
This gives you the flexibility to:
- set GCSE level content to support A level students who need a bit of help
- set A level content to stretch more advanced GCSE students
We sat down with the Isaac Computer Science team at the end of last term to find out more about the new release, what's coming up this term, and what the future holds for the programme.
Duncan Maidens, Director of Computer Science Education
Hi Duncan. What does the new GCSE content mean for teachers and students?
Teachers and students will have free access to comprehensive coverage of GCSE Computer Science to support their learning and practice. The platform has filters that enable users to focus on the GCSE content that is relevant to their chosen awarding body, while also seeing the wider curriculum and continuation into A level. This enables teachers to set questions that are organised by topic and difficulty, to home in on areas of general difficulty for their class, and to identify where a specific student is struggling. While answering the questions, students are given increasingly supportive hints and specific feedback to address common misconceptions.
Alongside the platform, there is also a new GCSE events programme for teachers and students which will ensure they get the most out of using the platform.
How does the new content complement our existing GCSE provision at the National Centre for Computing Education?
The GCSE topics on Isaac Computer Science are the only student-facing part of our overall GCSE offer. We anticipate it bringing a wealth of knowledge and alignment with it to complement our programme of KS4 support.
For teachers, the Isaac Computer Science GCSE topics are a useful set of subject matter topics and questions that are mapped to each of the awarding bodies’ specifications (AQA, OCR, EDEXCEL, EDUQAS and WJEC). They perfectly compliment the Teach Computing Curriculum KS4 resources that are meant to be delivered by a teacher in a classroom. We see the Isaac Computer Science content being used for revision and homework setting, for quick tests of knowledge, and for taking student learning beyond what they have learned in class.
The offer also fits in well around the NCCE’s existing secondary teacher certification programmes that offer a fantastic range of face-to-face and remotely taught courses, and online training.
What does the future hold for Isaac?
Under the current contract, we will be continuing to develop GCSE content to have full coverage of all topics ready for September 2022. Beyond that, we hope to continue to expand the content and map it to other qualifications as well, both in the UK and the wider world. We are passionate about offering a truly comprehensive and detailed learning guide to the amazing world of computer science.
Allen Heard, Senior Learning Manager (GCSE)
Hi Allen. Could you give us an insight into what it has taken to get ready for the GCSE launch?
Our programme is unique in the sense that it offers students an opportunity to continue studying computer science at home, or in their spare time, while tackling exam-style questions that give personalised feedback based on the answers they submit. This in itself is highly valuable as students are guided through their misunderstanding to a correct solution without us giving them the answer. The rollout to integrate GCSE into the mix is very exciting as the impact is potentially huge! The real challenge in facilitating this has been ensuring that the content is suitably integrated with our pre-existing A level content. This has involved lots of work across the team to produce content pitched at the right level for learners without reinventing the wheel where content already exists.
The entire suite of A level content is being reviewed and reworked. Then we’re adding GCSE content on top of that to provide a comprehensive offering for students at all levels. It’s meticulous and extremely time-consuming work, but we are proud of the topics that are now live. They are a testament to the hard work and dedication of the whole team to bring Isaac Computer Science to a much broader range of students and teachers, all for free.
What aspect of the platform that has recently gone live are you most excited about?
Throughout the whole process of developing and integrating GCSE content, we were mindful that the content had to be accessible and engaging to all students in a way that prompted them to want to learn more. One of the most impactful developments has been the inclusion of video demonstrations and animations that really serve to drive concepts home in a way that is supportive and digestible for learners of all abilities. A great deal of time and effort has gone into the production of these, including scripting, design, recording, and editing to allow learners to develop their skills through laser focused content that pinpoints the learning outcome for a given concept.
What can teachers and students look out for over the next year as more content is added?
New content will be rolled out at key times of the year. You’ll see 50% of the GCSE content available by the end of March, and 100% available by the end of August. Students should look out for the topics they find most challenging and tackle the many questions that are being added that will really give them the opportunity to test themselves in preparation for their examinations. Teachers should certainly check out the new question finder feature that will allow them to create topic specific game boards for their students, packed with questions to gain an insight into where their students need to develop their skills and knowledge. We are really looking forward to seeing the positive impact Isaac CS GCSE has on students and their learning experience.
Professor Alastair R. Beresford, Project PI
Please could you introduce the Cambridge University team, and what they/you do for Isaac?
I lead a team of nine amazing people who work on the Isaac learning platform. We are based in the Department of Computer Science and Technology at the University of Cambridge. The platform is used to run both isaaccomputerscience.org and isaacphysics.org, and this means we work with content teams at both the Department of Physics as well as the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The content teams produce all the text, questions and videos on the site as well run the events and outreach programmes. We focus on building the underlying software to support the content teams and enable learning to take place with our users. We also run the platform and make sure it is reliable, secure and usable. All the software we write is open source: you can view it on GitHub if you’re interested.
Can you take us through some of the content and structural changes involved in getting the GCSE content live on Isaac?
We already had experience at supporting GCSE content with isaacphysics.org, however we decided that we needed to revamp the way we retrieve and present content to our users. Our new approach has led to improvements with both Isaac Physics and Isaac Computer Science and helps us make sure we provide the most relevant information. This was a huge piece of work, and I’m very proud of the team – they took this all in their stride and delivered it on time in September.
What has been an exciting aspect of it/what is new?
The platform is always changing as we’re constantly looking for ways to improve. We have weekly meetings with representatives from both Physics and the Raspberry Pi Foundation to prioritise changes and updates to our systems to ensure students and teachers can get the most out of the materials we provide. We also have to track changes in technology: as new browsers and new database technologies come out we need to assess them and adapt our platforms to suit. For example, we’ve been through various database technologies over the years, including MongoDB, Kafka and PostgreSQL and I’m proud that our users have been unaware of these changes behind the scenes – from their perspective things simply continue to work as normal even though significant updates have taken place.
You’ve been involved with the project from the start. What is the thing you are most proud of when you look back at the programme?
I’m most proud of our users, both teachers and students. It’s simply amazing to see the level of interaction our platform has and the improvement in learning outcomes as a result. On isaaccomputerscience.org, our users have created over 50,000 accounts and submitted nearly 3 million question attempts. Isaacphysics.org, which has been running for much longer, has had even more impact with over 400,000 accounts and approaching 90 million question attempts.
I remember delivering a lecture course in Cambridge a while back where I asked undergraduates to put up their hands if they had used Isaac while at school. I was amazed that most of the audience put up their hands. It really demonstrated to me the reach software systems can have. I am proud of our continued growth and I’m really looking forward to seeing what 2022 will bring!
Thank you Duncan, Allen, and Alastair.
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