Reinventing High School Computer Science

Resources that deliver CS concepts so they are relevant to students.
Jeremy Scott

In August 2011, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt came to Scotland and declared that he was “flabbergasted to learn that today Computer Science isn't even taught as standard in UK schools. Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it's made. That is just throwing away your great computing heritage.”

This was music to my ears, because I’d just been asked by The Royal Society of Edinburgh (Scotland’s national academy) and the British Computer Society to exemplify the teaching of Computer Science (CS) to high school students in Scotland and beyond. A new national curriculum also provided an opportunity to cement CS and computational thinking firmly within the curriculum and reverse a recent decline in uptake.

To reinvent our subject, we must provide students with an experience of CS that’s accessible and exciting. What better way than to tap into the Scratch revolution?
But CS is too difficult for most early high school students, right? Wrong! Scratch changes that.

Drawing upon the latest pedagogical research, I’ve created three extensive resources (based around Scratch and BYOB, as well as MIT’s App Inventor), that deliver CS in a way that’s relevant to students’ own digital lives. Introductions teach the history and theory of computing. Screencast tutorials teach program creation. Discussion-based questions and algorithm design reinforce computational thinking. And a project enables meaningful interdisciplinary learning – a cornerstone of Scotland’s new curriculum.

Results were better than I could have hoped for. Pilot schools reported huge improvement in student engagement, classroom discipline – and interest in taking CS further. Students were also better-prepared when progressing to text-based programming languages.

The materials have received widespread acclaim and form a flexible resource that any teacher can use and adapt. They are available from: