Loreto College pioneering best-practice in computer science education

On Monday 17 December, Loreto College played host to a Java programming course for teachers, facilitated by Computing At School (CAS), the representative body for teachers of Computing across the UK.

The course was lead by Loreto’s Head of ICT and Computing, and local Chairman of CAS, Mr Clarke Rice. A wide range of schools was represented, with teachers travelling from other local schools, and as far away as County Kildare.

This course was in response to a growing demand from pupils and the IT industry for more programming to be taught in schools. Indeed, software development accounts for 25% of job vacancies in Northern Ireland. The high turnout for this course is testament to those ICT teachers who want to move from a traditional ‘Microsoft Office’ model of ICT towards the rigorous problem-solving techniques that Computer Science develops. As well as Greenfoot, other successful examples of teaching programming in the classroom were discussed.

This interactive course used Greenfoot, an environment for teaching Java through games development. During the day, teachers were introduced to Java and through Greenfoot’s friendly interface were quickly writing Java code to power a game. While creating virtual crabs that eat worms and that are chased by randomly scurrying lobsters might first seem like an unusual teaching method, the ability to program these develops fantastic analytical skills in students. Once mastered, these skills are transferable to many programming scenarios, including entertainment devices, mobile phone apps and the many hidden computers that facilitate every-day life, such as the telecoms infrastructure.

Since introducing Greenfoot in Loreto, Mr Rice has noticed significantly increased student motivation. Local employers and universities have also commented on the significant difference they see in students with well-developed programming skills, compared to those who have followed a traditional ICT course.

Thanks are due to CAS and the University of Kent for providing course materials and software.