Back to school with Isaac Computer Science!

09 September 2021

As Isaac Computer Science enters its third academic year since launching in 2019, we felt this was a great opportunity to take stock of our achievements over the past year, hear from some of the experts who work to bring you our events and content, and share some of the exciting things that are coming up this term.

Before we do that, we want to start by celebrating you: the teachers and students who make our programme possible.

Since September 2019, over 2,600 teachers and 37,000 students have joined the Isaac Computer Science community. With all the ups and downs of the last 18 months, we want to say thank you for your continued support and use of Isaac as you navigated remote learning.

We are all massively impressed by your efforts and proud to have supported you all during this time.

Laura Sach, Senior Learning Manager (A level)

Hi Laura! What has your year been like?

The past year has been a busy one for A level students, and also a busy one for the Isaac team as we work to add more content and questions to the site. We now have more than 600 published questions, and more are being written every month as you may have noticed from our monthly gameboard competition.

That’s awesome! What are some of your highlights?

Highlights from the past year include the introduction of real code to the site — we now have Python and C# code in the recursion topic and we are working on adding these languages (and more) to the other programming topics. We have also enjoyed running the Enigma challenge, and we've given out 442 Raspberry Pi Desktop Kits to the lucky prizewinners across all of our competitions. The Isaac workbooks have proved popular with 12,770 being sold, and a new edition coming soon which will incorporate all of the new questions we have added since the first edition.

What are you excited about that's coming up this term?

We've just introduced a new quiz feature that introduces previously unseen questions as a 'baseline' test across multiple strands of the curriculum, for students joining an A level course in Year 12. Later on this term, we will be introducing specification maps to cover three new A level exam boards — CIE, Eduqas, and WJEC. We will continue to work on completing the material for these specifications throughout this academic year. We have also put some improvements in place in order to help you find the questions for a particular concept much more easily by linking them directly from the page. This will be followed in the coming months by the implementation of the 'question finder' which allows you to quickly and easily filter questions (for a sneak preview take a look at our sister site, Isaac Physics!)

Fergus Kirkpatrick, Events Project Manager

What has the last year been like for you, Fergus

2020/21 was a challenging year with so many changes to school circumstances but we were delighted to see so many teachers and students engaging with our online events. In total, we ran over 100 events that covered a wide range of A level topics and were attended by over 1,000 students and over 600 teachers.

What are you excited about this year?

We are super excited to be piloting events for GCSE students in the autumn term and reaching new audiences. We will be running sessions for teachers to learn how to use Isaac with their GCSE students and make the most of the newly available resources.

We will be continuing our successful programme of A level events, including two Student Discovery events with BT on 24 November and 7 December. We will be replacing our teacher mentoring with a new event series that focuses on ‘preparing to teach A level computer science’ which will cover programming fundamentals and key A level concepts like object-oriented programming. The series will feature examples of teaching schemes, tips, and advice from experienced teachers about how to set up and manage your course. Check out the events page to find out more.

Allen Heard, Senior Learning Manager (GCSE)

Hi Allen! Could you give us some insights into the work that has taken place to get Isaac GCSE ready for teachers to use?

Work began on Isaac Computer Science GCSE for the secondary content team in February this year. Following on from the success of Isaac Computer Science A level, the team was incredibly excited to be involved in producing content for this predominantly student-facing offer. A huge amount of planning and preparation had to be done prior to undertaking the content writing process. With five examination board specifications to consider, the mapping of these topic areas against each other alongside the consideration of how this would affect the content already live for A level proved to be a long and complicated process that at times created more problems than it solved!

Integrating Isaac GCSE content into the platform would require a lot of communication between the whole content team and the University of Cambridge tech team to ensure that before we began, the back-end structure was understood by all, this included some neat tagging work on their part to dynamically display content on a shared page to a user based on their level of study.

With the bulk of the preparatory work completed the team could finally focus on producing content. Using what already existed for A level as a guide, the secondary content team embarked on producing content for the first two topics — computer systems and programming fundamentals. Having previously written all the lessons and resources for the Teach Computing Curriculum, we were mindful that this content needed to fully support that in order for learners to be able to make concrete at home the material learned in the classroom.

We were mindful that the content needed to be as eye-catching and engaging as possible to maintain students' interest, so we decided to produce a one minute introductory video for each topic to set the scene and provide a real world context. Posing a question at the start, these videos aim to pique the interest of the learner to read on and find out more. Using our experience of producing video lessons for the Oak National Academy, we began planning out the format and scripting of the videos. Thankfully I work with some amazingly talented people and the videos they produced were outstanding!

With lots of work ahead of us, and GCSE content being published regularly at key milestones between now and August 2022, we are extremely excited to see how the content will be received by teachers and students across the country, and we eagerly anticipate feedback on their experience of engaging with Isaac Computer Science.

Thank you Laura, Fergus, and Allen!

Sign up to Isaac Computer Science today to discover our latest learning resources, events, and competitions.

One last thing…

Have you read our new interviews with Alice Ashby and Salome Tirado Okeze for our new ‘I Belong in Computer Science’ campaign? We passionately believe that whatever your race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or neurodiversity, everyone belongs in computer science.

Over the next few months, we will be interviewing young computer scientists from a range of diverse backgrounds - like the two pictured above - as well as commissioning their portraits to create a fantastic new poster series.

Help spread the message by sharing their stories on social media and requesting your own high quality, free, A3 posters (pictured) to put up in your classroom!