Students gain immense satisfaction from seeing the success of their efforts and even if our first attempt is incorrect the computer tells us that there is a problem and asks us to correct the code – significantly less depressing than just seeing a red cross on a piece of work.
From the short introduction in the Fourth Form (Year 9) through to the most advanced A level projects, boys develop their ability to define a problem, work out how to address it, then create and test a solution. Programming skills and theory give students access to more complex, interesting puzzles.
We follow the Cambridge International iGCSE, a course which helps pupils develop their coding skills and understanding of how computers work. It is run as an option subject with about a quarter of the year group choosing it.
AS and A level
Students study for the AQA specification, relishing the opportunity to write code as part of the exam (“that was hard, but it was fun!”) and to engage with a substantial project for A Level. Computer Scientists are often, but not always, good mathematicians and the AQA course certainly appeals to the mathematically able.
Many boys enjoy computing without following it as an exam course. Informal groups spring up that follow their own interests and the enthusiasm for robotics can really light up some engineering projects.
For the hard core computer scientist, we encourage boys towards the Olympiad competition where we often have a couple of boys make it through to the final. For the last five years, we have averaged one member in the UK team of four. We also have boys entering a cyber-security competition (making your computer safe against hackers), an app development club (mainly focussed on developing games) and talks from external speakers – recently these have included talks on artificial intelligence, drones and the technology behind bitcoins.
After St Paul’s
Old Paulines of course use computers in countless ways and some achievements are exceptional. For example, the Houser brothers founded RockStar Entertainment, creators of Grand Theft Auto, and Oliver Riordan, now Professor of Discrete Mathematics at Oxford University who (amongst other discoveries) solved the Eternity puzzle, winning £1 million.
Some problems you might meet in Computing
Some problems are solved by coding, others by pure computational thinking. Problem 1 is not too hard. Problem 2 is quite advanced and needs systematic thinking of the sort that Computer Scientists need to use. Problems 3 and 4 are just examples of programming challenges you might meet.
1. You are a hotel tour guide. Tourists staying in your hotel expect to be taken on a tour visiting all the city’s attractions. You have been given an underground map that shows all the locations of the attractions and how you can get from one to another using the underground network. You must work out a route that starts from the hotel and takes your tour group to every tourist site. The tourists will be unhappy if they pass through the same place twice. They also want to end up back at their hotel that evening. (from CS4fn)
2. In England the currency is made up of pound, £, and pence, p, and there are eight coins in general circulation: 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 (100p) and £2 (200p). We could make £2 in the following way: 1×£1 + 1×50p + 2×20p + 1×5p + 1×2p + 3×1p How many different ways can £2 be made using any number of coins? (from Project Euler)
3. Write a program that outputs how many points you would score in a game of ten pin bowling, given the number of pins knocked down by each ball (if you don’t know how the scoring system works, google it).
4. As you make more progress with programming you could try your hand at some competition questions – try http://www.olympiad.org.uk/
Computing Science Staff Members