CAS Manchester Conference 2016

@CompAtSch @CAS_Manchester conference 2016 – my review.

CAS Regional Conference – Manchester

Saturday 15th October 2016, University of Manchester


This was my second Manchester conference, and the best so far. There were over 100 delegates from all over the North of England, Midlands and Scotland. Presenters included Master Teachers, University Tutors and Education consultants with many years of teaching experience. I chose workshops on 3D printing, “Flowgorithm” flowchart software, Flipped Learning and MicroPython, and they were all excellent. See lots of pictures from the conference here on my Storify, and read on for details.

3D Printing with Tinkercad

Carl Simmons of Edge Hill (author of Teach Computing which is on every PGCE syllabus) demonstrated the Ultimaker 3D printer and some tools and pedagogy. image001We then had a hands-on session and I designed a Halloween pumpkin with Tinkercad – a free web-based 3D design tool which is pretty easy to get to grips with.

According to Carl, 3D printing is great for teaching algorithms, process flow, creativity and optimisation (efficiency of algorithms etc.) and of course, emerging trends in technology.


Ellie Overland of MMU (see banner image) introduced this new, freeware software tool that provides a drag-drop flowchart editor, but then converts to program code automatically. It’s a game-changer in many ways, and there were several delegates who were worried about the impact on controlled assessments, might the students just use this to generate their code?

I like the fact that among the languages the program supports (Python, Java, javascript, Ruby) it does pseudocode. It’s not Edexcel standard but it’s still potentially a useful tool. I may introduce this tool to our Y8 scheme to complement the Flowol work and link up the pseudocode to flowcharts and program code. Try the program for yourself (free download), or have a look at this video I shot on the day.

Flipped Learning and MOOCs for GCSE

One of the best workshops, the presenter Alan O’Donohoe is an education consultant with 20 years ICT/CS teaching experience, and now runs the “Exa Foundation”, a not-for-profit organisation providing support for teachers of Computing across the UK.

Alan introduced “Flipped Learning” to his classes many years ago. This is the principle by which students learn independently outside the classroom (i.e. for homework), and then present their learning to the class. In Alan’s model for GCSE Computer Science, he provides an online learning environment called a “Massive Open Online Course” or MOOC, and the students use this to learn the week’s topic, and each creates a single page “Mind-Map” style summary of their learning. Alan marks these, taking about 1 minute per student. He then has one session each week where the students present their learning to their peers, which Alan facilitates ensuring that all the material is covered, and the rest of the week is free for project work.

I think it might be worth piloting this with one topic in KS4 higher ability classes, and I’ll consider how I might do this with a Y9 class in the Spring term.  In the meantime, Alan is simply a mine of useful resources, which he collects here at the memorable URL of

At that page, there are 7 pages of links and notes, way too many to list here, but these are my highlights:

  • Lots of free Python books
  • Skulpt – Python in the browser, can be used on any computer, students can do programming homework anywhere, no need for IDLE or RDS connection to school. See also Repl.It
  • Various webinars as CPD for teaching computer science.

On the next pages I explore the MOOC.

J276 MOOC Overviewimage003.png

Alan’s latest MOOC, based on the current OCR spec J276, is available to all schools for the nominal fee of £100 per school. Considering Codio is upwards of £1000 just to learn coding, this sounds extremely good value for a whole GCSE scheme!.

As Alan advised, all the UK exam boards overlap at least 80% of their spec, so the fact it is OCR-based does not make it irrelevant. See the image on the right to see what topics are included in the MOOC (the more practical topics are not included as they are not suitable for flipped learning).

MOOC abstractimage004.png

A typical MOOC topic page looks like this, with several links to research resources, and embedded videos to watch. The student uses these resources to learn the topic, and creates a summary page to show they have understood the topic. They then present in class what they have learned. This is Systems Architecture Topic 1: The CPU.

Flipped Learning

Alan has had such success with this technique, he describes it as like “changing square wheels for round ones”.

Whether we go “flipped” or not, the MOOC resource is excellent.

Using Mu and Micro:Python

Dave Ames of Edge Hill ran this session. We used the free “Mu” editor to program a Micro:Bit. We used the Raspberry Pi as the development platform, and later connected up the Micro:Bit to the Pi and used it to interact with Minecraft.image005.png

Mu is an excellent editor, and the Micro:Python language is the same familiar Python we use in IDLE.

The session included programming both the Micro:Bit using Mu, and programming the Minecraft-Pi API using just IDLE, and then connecting the two bits of hardware together, to make the Micro:Bit cause actions in the Minecraft world. You can see my videos here and here.

I am currently gathering fun and useful activities for a Micro:Bit club and I’ll add this to the list.


The conference was excellent, I exchanged contact details with several local teachers and maintained strong relationships with local universities. There were other displays including a Lego Rover programmed via a tablet in a logo-like language, and news that the next Manchester Hub will feature a Micro:Bit session with a 25-lesson scheme giveaway for free.  Feel free to comment below if you have any questions.


By mraharrisoncs

Freelance consultant, teacher and author, professional development lead for the NCCE, CAS Master Teacher, Computer Science lecturer.

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