Being safe online is an issue that has come to the forefront of social and political debate and is now a vital skill needed to navigate the virtual world.
We aim to prepare our students for the risks they face when engaging with computers of any sort; whether it be phones, computers, gaming consoles or any other type of online device. Students are taught how to protect their personal data; health and safety rules in place when using ICT; what to do about cyberbullying; how to identify online scams and copyright laws that must be observed. Hopefully, this will enable them to be smart, savvy, responsible users of the internet.
Our year 7 computer science students are moving towards the use of computer technology in a way that is far more sophisticated than was previously taught at key stage 3 level. In order to keep pace with the ever-evolving demands we have of computers in our life, the emphasis is now on teaching students how to program using code. In year 7, this skill is first introduced using basic block programming software such as Scratch and Flowol. These block programming and algorithm design software packages teach pupils the basics of computational thinking in a way that is visual, interactive and fun. Learning how to use Scratch and Flowol helps to embed the basic principles required to program computers using more complex programming languages.
Learning the basics about hardware and software is a topic that has been taken from the previously known IT curriculum. The topic teaches students the fundamentals of what makes a computer and helps pupils identify the role of peripherals in the input and output of information. We also touch on different ways of networking computers. A topic that we explore much further in the later stages of the curriculum.
Computing students in year 8 continue to build on their programming skills using Kodu, a block programming software program. Kodu encourages pupils to use far more sophisticated methods of programming techniques than scratch, allowing users to create a personalized virtual world. Characters can be created and programmed to move on command and event driven games can be initiated. This requires users to employ both computer logic and creative thinking in a way that is engaging and fun.
The use of databases is explored using Microsoft Access, a key skill in data management. Pupils are expected to sort, search, and filter information within a database in a way that is accessible and organised. Students are taught the skills to eventually create their own databases ensuring that they have a sound understanding of technical features such as data types and primary keys. We then follow this up by introducing SQL and showing how it is used within industry to manage large scale databases.
Students then get the chance to program a miniature computer known as a Microbit. Pupils find this a hugely exciting task, whereby a small computing device made up of programmable LED’s can be manipulated to play games which are not only fun but deeply effective in teaching users how to code. Using a variety of different programming techniques a wide array of projects are created.
Following on from visual and block programming, the students move on to text based programming and enhance their programming techniques in python. These skills and their enhancement are done each year enabling students to create their own projects and ensure they are ready for the larger exam tasks in KS4.
Students are introduced to Python, a high level programming language with vast and far reaching capabilities. Pupils are taught the basics such as how to create a program that follows a sequence of events, prints a specified text and how to apply character positions in order to help the computer identify specific inputs.
Data representation, a topic that is briefly studied in year 8, is now explored in much greater depth. The module gravitates around 5 key areas; Binary, Hexadecimal, ASCII, sound and images. These areas provide detailed insight into how humans have managed to teach computers to break down large and complex information into simple numbers, which can then be used to execute a command. Mathematical skills certainly come into play in this module.
Algorithms and pseudocode is an area of study that goes hand in hand with Python. Students will be expected to use both algorithms and pseudocode to plan each step of their python program. This ensures they have a clear grasp of what their program is about; what problems it wishes to solve; detail any problems they may face and check to see if their final program meets their initial success criteria.
The hardware, software and logic module aims to provide an analysis of how CPU’s work, referred to as the brain of the computer. The fetch-execute-decode cycle will be explored by pupils to investigate how it is used to break down information and store data for images. Students will be taught to draw in pixels, helping them understand the process of how images are formed and displayed by a computer. Many other crucial parts of a computer will also studied to provide students with a good understanding of how computers work.
Networking essentially explores how computers connect to each other and the protocols in place to achieve this connection. Connecting computers remotely has its dangers, namely hacking. Students are taught how these vulnerabilities can be used by hackers to intercept data. However, pupils will also learn how computers can protect themselves from such vulnerabilities by learning about different types of encryption.
Network security is an area of study that expands on the networking module, delving deeper into threats such as malware; phishing scams; DDOS attacks and preventing hacking by using such things as firewalls and anti-virus software. All such methods are a vital safeguard in ensuring that data is kept safe and secure from prying eyes.