Computing » GCSE

Tutoring GCSE Computing

Posted 4 days ago by Alice Farrell

I love Computing because it’s a great mix of creativity and practicality, and there’s nothing that brings me more satisfaction than when somebody shows an interest in it. The students I come across are not always enthusiastic about Computing initially, but I see tutoring as an opportunity to show them how fascinating it can be. Some of my students have loved exploring the world of computing so much that they’ve taken it further than school – even if that means just working on their own projects.

Preparing for your first tutorial

Your students will have different requirements depending on their exam board, so it’s important that you get a full understanding of the specification and what needs to be covered before you begin planning your lessons.

The next step is to establish whether your student wants to focus on theory or coursework for the first few lessons. In my experience, students will either need a lot of help with understanding their code, but minimal theory help, or vice versa.

Coursework

As part of their GCSE, students have to do a programming project – this will usually be a piece of software designed to solve a hypothetical problem. This will involve a lot of code for the student which is backed up with a series of documents that you would expect from any standard systems development. The idea is to give the student a taste of real software development.

For coursework tuition, communicate with your student and find out what ideas they have already and how familiar they are with the relevant programming language. Often students will need a better understanding of programming, so educating them on coding concepts and how to apply them will be your focus for the first few lessons. Make sure the programming language they’re using is one you’re familiar with. Students aren’t required to go into huge depths for their projects, but it’s important that you’re able to teach the basics of the relevant language. I would recommend preparing example pieces of code to explore in lessons with the student to help them learn it.

communicate with your student and find out what ideas they have already and how familiar they are with the relevant programming language

The most common language you will see is Python. Most exam boards offer this as an option, and teachers like it because it is easy to teach basic programming concepts with and it is well documented and supported. For web-based projects the most common language is PHP, but boards accept a wide range of languages so it is usually a matter of what the student (or teacher) chooses.

Theory

If your student wants to focus on theory, start by asking them if there are any particular topics they want to look at. If not, then use the exam syllabus to establish a list of topics to cover and ask if the student would like to skip over any. Most of the time students will want to cover everything to ensure that they have learned all the material necessary for their exams.

I usually structure my lessons as follows:

  • Introduction:

    A short recap of what we covered last week, and introduction of what I’m going to cover in this session;

  • Teaching:

    Communicating the relevant information about this week’s topic in an engaging way (rather than just speaking as a lecturer, try to ask the student questions and keep them involved);

  • Application:

    Working together to go through some exam questions related to the topic ;

  • Conclusion:

    A wrap-up with the student where I give them the opportunity to ask any final questions or go through any part again.

Exam preparation

In the lead up to exams, I would strongly encourage that you go over some exam questions with your student, either choosing questions topic by topic or going through whole papers together.

Students tend to trip up in exams due to poor exam technique rather than poor knowledge of the syllabus. As you explore exam questions with your student, make sure you focus on how to fully work through the paper, not just how to just answer individual questions. Students usually need advice on how to word their answers to the essay questions, and you should establish a recommended structure for them to use.

Students tend to trip up in exams due to poor exam technique rather than poor knowledge of the syllabus. As you explore exam questions with your student, make sure you focus on how to fully work through the paper, not just how to just answer individual questions.

I would also recommend that you come up with some techniques to help students keep things simple in their exams. For example:

  • Writing out all working for mathematical questions;

  • Fully writing out the 8-bit binary to decimal conversion, including subtracting the number every time a ‘1’ is placed in the table by the student. This helps prevent errors commonly seen in these questions;

  • Writing out the hex table such as A = 10, B = 11. A lot of students assume they have this memorised, but in exams the stress of the situation can cause issues with this;

  • Playing ‘computer’ by using trace tables on questions that don’t ask for them;

  • Checking the difference between two algorithms line by line to find what the question is asking for.

How to teach coding

Students will often come to you with resources from the internet that will provide them with chunks of code and expect them to be able to immediately interpret and understand it. Encourage your student to think about how this code might be used in different contexts so students are forced to apply their knowledge in a practical way, rather than understanding it as a purely abstract concept.

Another useful technique is to show your student a piece of code that is broken, and work through how to solve the problem together. This will encourage them to learn how to fix any problems which they might encounter whilst coding on their own.

Resources

As mentioned previously, it’s useful to download past papers, mark schemes and the controlled assessment documents. Always keep a copy of the specifications to hand as they contain everything you need to teach.

The AQA specification is changing, and you can find the old one here and new one here

For OCR, you can find the old specification here, and the new one here

Pearson Edexcel lock their latest papers, but sometimes you can find them if you search the web. You can access the old and new specification here and here, which contain some materials.

WJEC are changing specification also but I have included the old one as the majority of questions will still be of use.

There is a wide range of websites where you can find ‘code challenges’ for your students to complete. These sites offer support for many different languages and challenges, and are a great resource for students who want to build their general programming skills:

Beyond this I would recommend that you pick up a copy of the relevant exam board’s revision book (usually found on Amazon). They are usually cheap, and are a useful resource for reviewing all of the topics on the syllabus.

FAQs

Programming is too hard! Can you teach me?

A lot of students find it hard to keep up with the pace of learning in class. They’ll find it much easier to keep up when learning one-on-one with you, and you should encourage them to work on their programming outside of lessons.

How can I improve my programming skills?

Students should take time outside of the standard tasks they’re given in classes or as coursework to consolidate their coding techniques. Writing programs and scripts or finding code challenges online should be beneficial in helping them to remember techniques.

I feel like I’m forgetting how to write code

Students will say they’re forgetting ‘how to write code’ - what this usually means is they’ve forgotten the syntax of the language they’re learning. Even professional programmers need to check the documentation on how to use a specific part of the language sometimes. What’s important is that your students understand the code they’re writing and can read what they’ve written.

Why I love tutoring Computing

Enjoy it! If you don’t enjoy tutoring computing then chances are your students won’t, in which case they will switch off and lose interest. Take your lessons at a pace that suits both of you, exploring a topic in depth rather than just looking at the surface.

Written by - Matthew Marsden

Matthew Marsden is in his first year studying Computing at Lancaster University, and has completed over 50 hours tutoring experience with MyTutor.

Schedule a call back from one of our consultants

Arrange a call back

We use cookies to improve your site experience. By continuing to use this website, we'll assume that you're OK with this. Dismiss

We look forward to meeting you

+44 (0)203 773 6025

james@mytutor.co.uk

Thanks, We’ll be in touch in the next 24hrs.

mtw:mercury1:status:ok