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Computer Science GCSE (what is it like?) or Geography

(25 Posts)
BernadetteRostenkowskiWolowit Sat 20-Feb-21 21:13:24

DD needs to chose her options. She is good at both Geography and IT according to her teachers. She normally gets one of the top marks in Geography tests but she finds the subject boring. She thinks she'll find Computer Science more interesting (after reading both CGP revision guides) and she enjoys programming, but thinks Geography may be easier for her as she is good at absorbing and recalling facts. We have been made told that Computer Science GCSE is a hard GCSE and better suited to those stronger at Maths. She is middle set Maths but when she puts effort in, she's in the top half of middle. However, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to keep her interested in Maths as it gets harder. My background is Comp Sci and Maths but I want her to select based on her skillset and interests.

I'd really like to hear about how others DC's have found Computer Science GCSE ?

OP’s posts: |
ChloeDecker Sat 20-Feb-21 21:25:35

Hi OP.

For Computer Science, you need to check with your DD’s school which exam board they are doing as this will determine her experience.

Edexcel: one handwritten paper and one on screen programming exam.

AQA, OCR and Eduqas: two handwritten exams (but one of the papers is about the theory of programming)

The syllabus for all exam boards changed this September gone so there is now no programming project to do. This means that it will be a different experience from what previous pupils will have done.

I teach the subject and I absolutely love it and would recommend it for pupils who love problem solving, don’t mind a huge list of definitions and are fascinated with finding out how things work.

grin

CraftyGin Sat 20-Feb-21 21:31:23

Is she interested in computer science beyond GCSE? If so, the sky’s the limit.

MySaladDays75 Sat 20-Feb-21 21:36:27

My DS is doing computer science (no idea what exam board!) and is in year 9, they do GCSEs over 3 years at his school. He is probably above average maths wise and finds that CS stretches him, but pushy mum that I am i think it will open up more opportunities for him in the long term than other more traditional options.

RedGoldAndGreene Sat 20-Feb-21 21:47:47

You don't need Computer Science at YCSE to do it at A-level or degree. I'm not sure about Geography but I suspect that having GCSE is at least preferred when you study it as A-level or beyond.

Ds is studying CS but his syllabus has no programming as part or the exam.

RedskyBynight Sat 20-Feb-21 22:09:08

I'd tend to say that she should take the subject she enjoys. However ... what is "middle set" maths? At DC's school that would be a student looking at a 4/5 in maths and I think that sort of student would struggle with the logical thinking required for GCSE. However, your DC may go to a selective/higher attaining school and be expected to do better. There were an awful lot of students in DS's GCSE Computer Science class who'd taken it thinking it would be a doss, and really struggled. DS took OCR board and the programming task is compulsory but doesn't count towards your final grade, much to his disgust. So I don't actually think it's great for those that like programming!

DS is in Year 12 and currently taking AS Computer Science (A Level not offered) and A Level Geography, so you can deduce that he likes both subjects smile He does find geography more interesting as a subject and there is a lot of facts involved, so not great if you find it boring! But he likes the intellectual challenge and practical applications of computer science.

ChloeDecker Sun 21-Feb-21 08:05:56

You don't need Computer Science at YCSE to do it at A-level or degree.

Whilst that has been the case, this was due to mostly only independent and grammar schools offering the subject before and therefore, Sixth Forms and universities could not insist on it, to be fair to the students.

Since the inclusion of Computer Science in the Science ‘bucket’ of the EBACC, and the change in syllabus for the new Linear AS/A Level, a great many schools now offer it.

As a consequence, an increasing number of universities, including some Oxbridge colleges and Russell Groups, are offering students one grade lower if one of their A Levels is Computer Science.

Just something to consider. smile

Blubell46 Sun 21-Feb-21 09:29:08

@BernadetteRostenkowskiWolowit

My ds is in Year 11 and is currently doing computing and geography gcse.

He enjoys computing more but does find the programming challenging but enjoys it.

Geography he says is all about learning all the facts, he finds it boring!

At the end of the day, the advice I would give is if it is a choice out of the two, do the subject she enjoys. If she enjoys it she will want to do well and will be determined.

OnTheBenchOfDoom Sun 21-Feb-21 09:30:45

@ChloeDecker is that from this year ie for university entry for 2022?

Ds1 has done Computer Science GCSE and currently in year 13 also doing Computer Science A level. He has applied to do it for a degree.

Sadly, although interviewed for Cambridge, no offer, however, he does have 4 RG university offers on the table, none of them have dropped their grades from their entry grade for having Computer Science A Level. So they all want A level maths and FM if your sixth form offers it. Warwick still want A* A* A, Manchester still want A* A A.

Just something I may need to know for Ds2 who is in year 10 and loves Computer Science too.

Iamsodone Sun 21-Feb-21 10:54:58

@RedGoldAndGreene our school won’t let you do CS at A level if you haven’t done CS for GCSE and even the. you need to have a 7. This is in an independant school.

@ChloeDecker my DC is doing Cambridge international board for Computer Science
Would you know how it compares with the other boards/papers you have mentioned ? I understand there are two papers : one theory and one programming, struggling with the programming part a little bit. Any tips ?
The school uses code academy in parallel.
DC doing additional maths GCSE and plans on doing A level maths (Edxcel), I don’t think maths is the issue. Thank you

1starwars2 Sun 21-Feb-21 11:39:07

I think maths is really important in computer science. DS strengths are maths and coding, unfortunately his school doesn't do computer science...

ChloeDecker Sun 21-Feb-21 12:02:21

Hi Iamsodone
The Cambridge IGCSE differs slightly in Paper 2 as there is pre release material to study before the exam, which the others don’t have.

I’ve never taught it so don’t know what the current pre release material is but I can look it up if you like?

If your son is struggling a little bit with the programming theory, I would really recommend taking the approach that he doesn’t need to get all marks in every question, just as many as he can.

This usually relieves the pressure that a lot of young people feel that often means that they would rather avoid answering anything in the question as a result and end up leaving it blank.

For nervous students, I always play to their strengths, which is usually being able to write the input and output parts of the algorithm (and leave a gap in the middle)

I would hazard a guess that your son is good at initialising variables (firstname = Bob, for example) and input prompts (firstname = input(“Please enter a name”))
If he writes these at the top of his algorithm, he’ll get a mark.

Then, leaves some space and he can write out what needs to be output on screen (such as, print(firstname) and he will get a mark for that too.

This often helps pupils to feel good about writing something that works and often gives them the confidence to attempt the processing in the empty gap in the middle.

Confidence is the biggest barrier to the programming paper and I would definitely tackle that first!

Chimoia Sun 21-Feb-21 12:05:02

Dd has really enjoyed the breadth of geography which plays to her interests in politics, social science and economics as well as environment and physical geography.

ChloeDecker Sun 21-Feb-21 12:17:09

It’s been getting better for a couple of years OnTheBenchOfDoom.

Kings was the first to do it about four years ago and lots of universities have done it since but often on specific courses on Computer Science or ones relating to it, such as Artificial Intelligence. I don’t know all the colleges at Cambridge who have been offering it but I have had two pupils who did the remote interviews before Christmas and they were offered an A grade instead of an A* as one was in Computer Science (although further maths was also offered one grade lower, just to be transparent).

These were colleges that were moving away from programming in Haskell according to those students apparently so I don’t know if that is the reason.

The year before last, Warwick, Bristol, Sussex, Anglia Ruskin, (Imperial did for one course but not another one) and Exeter off the top of my head.

It’s not universal yet because of course, still not every school and sixth form offer it and they have to be fair but it is slowly making a difference as more computer science faculties get a better understanding of what is actually in the Linear A Level as many still think it is like the old ICT A Level annoyingly.

When I speak to ex pupils, they say they have found the first and second year so much easier than their peers who did not take the A Level and one student last term who got back in touch, telling me they go their first class, said that the final year projects/dissertations were easier than the A Level programming project grin

My personal opinion is that it is absolutely possible to enter a career/degree without GCSE or A Level Computer Science (as did I before becoming a teacher, as it was not offered at my school, back in the 90s) but people may well find it easier having studied it for longer. It’s a bit like doing Physics at that level having never done it before-possible for some but not advised!

ChloeDecker Sun 21-Feb-21 12:18:28

In support of Geography though, I feel that we need Geographers to tell techies what needs to be built/made technology-wise!

Iamsodone Sun 21-Feb-21 12:20:24

@ChloeDecker
Thanks so much I think you have nailed it. His issue is with the ore-release papier, he has been getting over 80% on the paper 1 which I think is theory only (and no programming)
The expectation from the teacher is that they should be programming all the time for pleasure in their free time and DC has been treating it like a traditional subject so he does the work that he is given like in maths for instance.
I can see that he definitely has been loosing confidence surely and steadily, there is a disconnection with the teacher as she doesn’t really seem to teach them, she seems to give a few instructions and let them get on with it, whereas in other subjects they get taught, corrected, get feedback with a progression plan etc
Is that the nature of the subject that students gets on with it? And we missed that when choosing subjects. In his class the kids who are doing well don’t really need the teacher because they have always been coding since very young in their spare time.
Thanks so much

ChloeDecker Sun 21-Feb-21 12:33:47

I can see that he definitely has been loosing confidence surely and steadily, there is a disconnection with the teacher as she doesn’t really seem to teach them, she seems to give a few instructions and let them get on with it, whereas in other subjects they get taught, corrected, get feedback with a progression plan etc
Is that the nature of the subject that students gets on with it?

It can be but it shouldn’t be.

There is a lot of pedagogy around the best approaches to teaching CS but unfortunately, there are just so few specialists with the right background to have the time to learn them and use them as their main focus is on learning the subject themselves (graduates with a Computer Science degree will earn a lot more, more quickly, with better work conditions after graduation, so most don’t even consider going in to teaching, let alone continue after training once they have received their bursary)

This means that it can be taught by ex PE teachers, music teachers, biology teachers or business studies teachers (which is no bad thing in itself and I have had some great colleagues this way but does mean it can take time for them to find their feet).

So I don’t know what the background of your son’s teacher is and it may well be that they have plenty of knowledge and experience but may have been struggling with the remote learning and how best to deliver that.

I have taught no practical programming in the last 6 weeks for that reason as I know I can’t effectively provide the immediate feedback and support for programming errors when I cannot see their screens.

In the meantime, it helps to think of learning to program the same as learning an instrument. It certainly needs frequent practise but also benefits from one to one and immediate feedback, which is possible with one to one music lessons but not possible in large classes doing programming remotely.

Until we are physically back in school, I would encourage your son to nail their theory parts of programming first. Get those definition of what variables, functions etc are and practise on his Codecademy account for the rest.

This means that when he returns and does more exam style questions, he will find them easier.

BernadetteRostenkowskiWolowit Sun 21-Feb-21 12:53:32

Her exam board for Comp Sci would be OCR.

I think she is probably on target for 5/6 in Maths GCSE. She got 107 in her Maths SATS in KS2, so whilst not her strongest subject she fell within the top 34% nationally in Year 6.

I have heard that Comp Science is hard and better suited to those who are strong in Maths (on target for 6/7+) , which is why it's putting me off for her.

She takes after her Dad who is extremely good at IT but like her, was more drawn to English/History/Geography as subjects. I was much stronger at Maths and Science, but he is MUCH better at IT than I am. We both work in IT. He is extremely good at his job. I'm average.

ChloeDecker in terms of the Computer Science GCSE, do you feel their Maths needs to be strong to able to cope ?

OP’s posts: |
Econometrics Sun 21-Feb-21 13:00:03

DD is also facing this choice and also with OCR. We've looked at the exam paper and teaching specs and on the page it looks pretty dry. Geography comes out much better. My DD's maths is very good and I think she could do well in CS (both CS and Geography get better results than the average in our school) but it doesn't exactly sparkle. Perhaps it's one of those things that is more exciting in the teaching?

ChloeDecker Sun 21-Feb-21 13:55:16

ChloeDecker in terms of the Computer Science GCSE, do you feel their Maths needs to be strong to able to cope ?

No I don’t think excellent Maths skills specifically are essential (and a lot of schools consider those good at modern foreign languages instead).

There is no calculator allowed anymore so the maths involved is all things you can do mentally and often ‘how would you calculate’ rather than actually having to provide the answer.

I would say that the better students are the ones who can think logically/step by step and are organised with their work//deadlines. There is a lot to have to remember so it helps if students do that as they go along.

As there is no ‘coursework’ anymore with the OCR exam board, as long as your DD is happy learning lots of theory, she will love it and there is much less pressure to get ‘every bit of code perfect’ now and more about how they actually approach a problem and gain resilience to work towards it.

There are no essays so it also helps to know that if she likes lots of 1-2 mark questions, she will like the papers!

ChloeDecker Sun 21-Feb-21 14:01:12

We've looked at the exam paper and teaching specs and on the page it looks pretty dry.

I guess it could be but there are only so many ways you can ask something like ‘what is an operating system?’ grin

In the teaching of that, of course, we include things like how operating systems have evolved (and we use simulations of Windows 95 for example!) and how different ones can be loaded and operated on (Raspberry Pis help with this because Apple and Microsoft like to hide these all behind icons/logos). It is definitely not ‘Here is a textbook, now learn the definition’.

Yes, Gove took away a lot of the assessed practical elements. However, the OCR exam board still require centres to provide at least 10 hours of a sustained practical programming experience (we are going to be programming game using Pygame this summer term if we can) it just isn’t assessed. This does mean though, that the joy of coding can be shown without the fear of assessment hanging over them.

That’s just my opinion though and it would be a good question to ask your teacher as to what kinds of projects they will offer for those 10 hours.

Econometrics Sun 21-Feb-21 15:04:46

Interesting that you mention being good at Languages as DD likes and is able at them too (she really isn't one of those perfect MN children who are brilliant at everything I hasten to add).
Good question to ask about the programming project, thanks.
School don't demand GCSE CS in order to do the A Level, but if you don't do the GCSE how well will you be able to assess whether you want to take it further..... Basically she has five things we need to cram into 4 slots - and a 99.99% chance of getting the first 4 choices!

PatienceVirtue Sun 21-Feb-21 16:09:11

@ChloeDecker - sorry don't want to derail the OP, but you see like you know a bit about it. DS swapped further maths for CS at the last minute in September. We and the school were fine about it but I'm now thinking it was a mistake as FM seems to be a requirement for so many courses (e.g. economics) and CS isn't on any lists, even for CS itself.

He's doing maths, CS, physics and geography. Might drop physics but is coping fine at the moment. Am I right in thinking places like Warwick, LSE and Cambridge will look unfavourably if he applies for something like economics without FM, given that they offer at his school?

It feels a bit bonkers to me because I would have thought CS would be useful for anything. He's still unsure what he wants to do but it might be geography or some sort of economics/geog combo? If he wants tip-top uni will CS be so much worse than FM?

Sorry very muddled thoughts/question.

PS he's vg at CS and absolutely crap at foreign languages.

ChloeDecker Sun 21-Feb-21 18:04:24

Ultimately, it’s the grades that matter PatienceVirtue and if you think your DS is on course to getting good grades in Computer Science, then stick with it. Further Maths for most courses is not a requirement, only facilitating and therefore, a B grade in further maths would not be better than an A grade in computer science.

However, it is always best to speak to someone directly, at your chosen places, to see what they recommend and what they will bend for. Some of my students have had success this way, rather than relying on the information on their web pages. Especially for Cambridge as each college has their own approach to computer science. Some are very theoretically maths still and some prefer the practical side more. Speak to the colleges that you are interested in and they can let you know.

Overall, there is still no hard and fast rule about what every university will choose to do and they do have to be fair to students at schools or colleges who don’t offer computer science.

Iamsodone Mon 22-Feb-21 10:35:21

ChloeDecker

*I can see that he definitely has been loosing confidence surely and steadily, there is a disconnection with the teacher as she doesn’t really seem to teach them, she seems to give a few instructions and let them get on with it, whereas in other subjects they get taught, corrected, get feedback with a progression plan etc*
Is that the nature of the subject that students gets on with it?

It can be but it shouldn’t be.

There is a lot of pedagogy around the best approaches to teaching CS but unfortunately, there are just so few specialists with the right background to have the time to learn them and use them as their main focus is on learning the subject themselves (graduates with a Computer Science degree will earn a lot more, more quickly, with better work conditions after graduation, so most don’t even consider going in to teaching, let alone continue after training once they have received their bursary)

This means that it can be taught by ex PE teachers, music teachers, biology teachers or business studies teachers (which is no bad thing in itself and I have had some great colleagues this way but does mean it can take time for them to find their feet).

So I don’t know what the background of your son’s teacher is and it may well be that they have plenty of knowledge and experience but may have been struggling with the remote learning and how best to deliver that.

I have taught no practical programming in the last 6 weeks for that reason as I know I can’t effectively provide the immediate feedback and support for programming errors when I cannot see their screens.

In the meantime, it helps to think of learning to program the same as learning an instrument. It certainly needs frequent practise but also benefits from one to one and immediate feedback, which is possible with one to one music lessons but not possible in large classes doing programming remotely.

Until we are physically back in school, I would encourage your son to nail their theory parts of programming first. Get those definition of what variables, functions etc are and practise on his Codecademy account for the rest.

This means that when he returns and does more exam style questions, he will find them easier.

@ChloeDecker
thank you ! our teacher seems to have had a late in life (and recent in time) career reconversion from the private sector, was still NQT when the lockdown started, surely that hasn't helped. I don't doubt the knowledge is there, it's more the vocation/pedagogy that does not seem to be there.
thank you so much for all the tips and taking the time to answer. really appreciated !!

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