Supporting #TeachToo A-Level and BTEC Curriculum Co-design & Supported Delivery

Picture of Danny Lancaster

Test Analyst

5 minute read

Our team contributed to Manchester Digital's TeachToo program - a collaboration between further education institutions and employers. The program aims to bridge the skills gap between school and employment.

There is a “disconnect” between what is taught in schools and what skills employers would like to see [source: Baker Dearing Education Trust, 2017]. There is also a shortage of people entering our profession within the UK entering the industry.

Teachers have a lot to do to inspire pupils and keep them focused on their work; the curriculum covers a lot of skills and concepts, and for students, it’s unclear how the skills are used in industry.

Sigma was asked to work alongside other digital agencies in the Greater Manchester area, to support Manchester Digital with the TeachToo program.

TeachToo is a collaboration between further education sector providers and employers. We had two goals:

  • Give pupils some exposure to the tools they would be using in industry, via a series of masterclasses
  • Support the delivery of key curriculum areas to show how they are used in industry, leading to a set of reusable resources

These goals support three purposes:

  1. Inspire students to move into an IT career
  2. Show the range of careers available
  3. Introduce the learners to some of the terms they would come across in our industry

Sigma was involved in the prep work for the delivery, helping to identify the systems and tools:

  • GitHub – we identified a need to show both pupils and teachers how to use GitHub for source control and how to stay safe using it
  • JavaScript – giving pupils an introduction into developing in JavaScript; enabling them to experience a programming language widely used within our industry.
  • Databases – exploring why and how databases are used.
  • Testing – allowing the learners to discover some of the principles of testing.

Rachel Breeze – Curriculum co-design workshops and Software Development Lifecycle BTEC Unit 6

Why did you do it?

As a STEM ambassador and CoderDojo mentor, I was delighted when Sigma was asked to support the TeachToo initiative.

I wanted to give the pupils from Tameside College a chance to learn some terms and principles we use in the software industry, so that if they were to go on to apply for apprenticeships they could demonstrate a background knowledge.

I also wanted to show any female students attending the course that it is possible for them to have a career as a developer, as research has shown that a lot of people won’t consider a career in software development unless they have met someone else in that role.

What did you get out of it?

A two-hour session involves a lot of preparatory work, so I gained an appreciation of how hard teachers work. I also gained some confidence, I was worried about presenting to 17 - year - olds, but they were a lovely bunch of learners.

As liaison between Sigma and the TeachToo team, I also gained some organisational skills and an understanding of how hard scheduling is!

What did students get out of it?

As part of the session, the learners had to design a website for a sweet shop; they learned about architecting the site. I was delighted when groups explored service design concepts and also ensured the site had accessibility features and search functionality for different dietary requirements.

Shane Prendergast - Client Side Customisation BTEC Unit 20

Why did you do it?

I went through the traditional route of college and university. I then entered a profession that I love waking up for every day. However, it left me with a lot of debt and looking back it perhaps isn't the best route to take. I wanted to offer the students my thoughts on this matter and give them some insight into why I have so much passion for my job.

In addition, it was something I hadn’t done before and I was keen to test myself and take something away from the experience.

What did you get out of it?

The planning and session itself was a huge learning curve but I felt I did well to think on my feet and tailor the session as I got to grips with the students and their abilities.

I would like to think I made an impression on the children and perhaps gave them something to think about, or gave them more drive to come into the industry. It made me feel great when some of them thanked me for my time.

What did students get out of it?

I found it hard to relate to many of my early coding classes at university so I set out to make something I knew they would all be familiar with.... a WhatsApp clone.

We made a very basic prototype and I demonstrated some fundamentals of JavaScript (JS) that are used in the world's most popular apps. I wanted the students to understand that by picking up these skills, they too could make apps like this.

Feedback from the students

“I enjoyed the whole session”

“I really enjoyed feeling challenged without feeling completely confused”

Elizabeth Buie – Human Computer Interaction (HCI)

Why did you do it?

I’m passionate about HCI and user experience, and I wanted to show the students that this kind of work is interesting, challenging, and personally rewarding, and that it can really make a difference to people's lives.

What did you get out of it?

I learned something about how to interact with teenagers and young adults in communicating my experiences and my thoughts on HCI work. I was pleased to see how many ideas they had for improving the designs of some apps they use.

What did students get out of it?

They selected an app from a short list of social media apps for mobile devices. They then worked, either in small groups or on their own, to sketch design changes to improve that app from their own perspective. This activity drew on their own experience of using the app they selected, as well as on principles of designing digital products to support usability and a good user experience. I also showed them a recent salary survey for “user experience designer” jobs in the UK, and they seemed excited about the possibilities for a career in this field. Of course, my photo of the International Space Station and my reference to my previous NASA work got their attention as well.

Feedback from the college

A massive thanks on behalf of myself and Tameside College, it has been a great experience for our students, and the Computing department as a whole has been hugely enriched through participation in the TeachToo initiative through Manchester Digital. Personally, I have learnt a lot from the experience and hope to maintain the momentum it has produced.

The curriculum covers multiple disciplines and having an expert in a specific area come into the classroom and share their knowledge, experience and real-world applications is an excellent motivational tool.

Sigma industry experts were all really knowledgeable and passionate about what they did. This came across.

The Future

We are looking forward to more collaboration with Manchester Digital as part of their Digital Futures Initiative.