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Go for it! Have confidence in your ability – An Interview with Corinne Sherman

I first spoke to Corinne when we launched Bristol Technology Volunteers and quickly, we decided to partner with Bristol Free School after hearing about the brilliant things which Corinne is doing and trying to achieve. Now, Corinne isn’t very good at celebrating her achievements so I wanted to do it for her because she’s a bloody amazing person who heads up Computer Science and Design Technology at BFS and is having quite an impact on the young ladies to give technology a go!  She is going to keep pushing relentlessly for Computer Science to be at the forefront of everything for the students and to ensure the future generations think and develop with ethical, environmental and cultural issues as a priority.

Could you tell me about your role at Bristol Free School?

I am Head of Computer Science and Design Technology at Bristol Free School and have been working here since 2016. Prior to this, I was Head of Computer Science, Business and ICT for 10 years at another school.

You are a self-taught programmer, how did you teach yourself to code?

Not really sure – it just kind of happened! Actually, thinking back it started when I was at university and I was offered a temp job at Boots HQ in their photographic department and I was asked if I could used Excel and I said yes. I was tasked with designing a basic system to keep track of vouchers used by customers. It was not by any stretch of the imagination an amazing system but it far surpassed my managers expectations and worked effectively and I resulted in my being offered a permanent role during my final year of university. At the same time, I helped my housemate complete his Computing project in FrontPage – you may not think this unusual given where I am now, but I studied Modern Foreign Languages and European Studies at university!
With regards to programming ability now, I would never profess to be an expert but I like to be ahead of the game as much as I can in terms of what we can offer the students and enjoy the challenge of keeping my skills up to standard to support the students to the best of my ability. In my previous role I knew that I needed to change the curriculum offer to ensure Government changes to qualifications didn’t impact us negatively, as teachers or as students. We were teaching ICT at this stage rather than CS, so I taught myself how to use Adobe software such as Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Fireworks, Flash and InDesign proficiently to meet the needs of the qualifications we offered as well as Scratch. We then introduced to Computer Science as well as ICT which meant we had to introduce a wider range of skills at KS3 to prepare students for the new course including a software development units using HTML and Python to the level that was needed to deliver the current curriculum. I found I had the time to learn additional skills and basics in different languages before having my daughter but it is a bit trickier when you become a parent. I moved schools to be closer to home when she was 1 year old but it is harder to find (justify!) the time when you become a parent. I have been lucky enough to be able to redesign the curriculum at Bristol Free School including introducing A Level and discrete lessons in Year 7 and 8 but, like I said I like to be ahead of the game giving the students the opportunity build their skills in programming and theory from Year 7 has meant by the time students reach KS4 now, they are fairly proficient programmers and have a hunger to develop and learn more – I find myself delivering KS4 skills to KS3 students and KS5 skills to KS4 students and are large number are using these skills with ease.

Since you have been head of CS, you have raised the profile for young women to get involved in Computer Science, how have you done this?

Most important thing I did was dispel the myth of what computer science is and the stereotype of computer scientists! Making it clear that it is not just taking computer apart and making games and ‘for boys’ and the new specification at GCSE and A Level helps dispel this myth. The skills developed by learning computer science will ultimately make students better learners in all subjects – analytical skills, problem solving, resilience, thinking ahead, being reflective, understanding ethical responsibilities and of course creativity. Ensuring all students understand this is important so they get the most out of taking Computer Science but demonstrating and creating enthusiasm and excitement amongst girls at BFS is essential – sometimes it is the simple fact that young women that need to believe they can succeed in and benefit from studying Computer Science! And they can see the success that the girls before them have had here which is a bonus. We have also just appointed another female computer science teacher who is a not just a specialist but also a published specialist and we’re very excited about her joining the team. Finally, being female myself obviously helps raise the profile!

What does Bristol Free School do to promote Computer Science to the girls?

I ensure that the curriculum is accessible to all students so avoid any emphasis on one gender or the other. This means all the real life examples we use in lessons must be just that, real life so we use examples from traffic management (eg traffic lights, air traffic control), travel (eg sat navs, driverless cars), health (eg self diagnosis, advances in medicine), education (eg cloud based resources, e-learning) and general lifestyle (eg online shopping, cyber security, gaming, home appliances in particular fridges!) plus the fact that their generation will be responsible for the future development in these areas which excites them! We have worked with Zan Nadeem, founder of Zobotics, to run Girls Only Arduino workshops which have been successful. We also run the Cyber Discovery competition to promote careers in Cyber Security and Bebras Computational Thinking competitions showcasing the success our girls have had in these national and international competitions.

Where does your passion for technology come from?

when I was younger (primary school age) my parents bought an Amstrad CPC6128 and I used to enjoy going to the shops, buying my gaming magazine and programming the game then playing it as well as other bits of programming. I kind of lost interest during secondary school and didn’t have any opportunities in school to learn ICT or programming and didn’t give it a second thought other than using the computer we now had (I remember we had an Acorn!) When choosing my A Levels I thought about doing ICT but the school I went to didn’t offer it so went with languages. In my final year at uni, I had an old PC of my parents (think it was the one up from the Acorn at this point!) and even though this was 2002-3, no-one else I knew had a PC in their student house and I was the only student on my course who gave presentations using actual presentation software rather than acetates and an overhead projector!! During my PGCE I used technology a lot to produce resources and ran workshops to fellow trainees in a number of subjects about how to enhance teaching and learning. I took my portfolio along to the interview for my first teaching post and agreed to teach ICT as well as French and from then on I was more passionate about teaching ICT then languages. And this was at a time when we didn’t even have projectors in the classroom – myself and a fellow NQT shared the cost of a portable projector to use in the classroom so we weren’t limited to just using textbooks! After my first year there, I relocated back to Bristol and was appointed as teacher of ICT and became Head of Department a year after.

You have said you want Bristol Free School to be the ‘Best’ for computer science, how are you going to do this? (amazing goal btw)

I am going to keep pushing relentlessly for Computer Science to be at the forefront of everything! Offering an exciting and varied curriculum in which students are engaged and eager to find out more. Other than that, ensure results from GCSE and A Level increase year on year and students make exceptional progress as that is what we are measured on! I am active on Twitter @BFS_CS and in our school newsletter as much as possible to promote the Faculty as well as the school.

Could you tell me a bit about one of your students current projects?

Its hard to choose just one to talk about as I am very excited about all the projects that the students are developing or planning! One that comes to mind is a Year 12 girl who is described going an product to promote earthquake safety in Nepal. She is visiting Nepal with the school in the summer and will conduct market research and my Dad, who is Trustee of The Pahar Trust Nepal, has put her in touch with a contact in Nepal who trains locals in earthquake resilience as well as expertise from Bristol University. I always encourage students to focus their projects on designing that will support others or educate people about an issue as I think it is important that students understand how to be socially responsible when developing software and we have a responsibility as educators to ensure the future generations think and develop with ethical, environmental and cultural issues as a priority.

You are looking for volunteer support at the moment for your students, could you tell me what help you are looking for?

We’re mainly looking for industry experts to guide and mentor students with the programming side of their project for example being available via email or video call to answer questions on how to approach part of their solution or improve their efficiency. Also looking for people to act as clients as the students have to develop a solution for a real problem with a client – this is an area that students struggle with!

What advice would you give to young women who would like to get into technology?

Go for it! Have confidence in your ability – if you enjoy it and are succeeding it is because you have an aptitude for the subject! I wish I was at school now with the qualifications and opportunities that are actively encouraged. I do feel I could have been better advised regarding my options – I didn’t even know about computer science! Get involved in programming clubs and competitions at school as well as online forums and networks. There are so many options out there that you’ll be spoiled for choice!

What has been the biggest challenge getting where you are today?

Confidence in myself and my own abilities! I know I am doing a great job, delivering fantastic lessons and have engaged students who making excellent progress – in fact love my job more and more every day and it is not often you hear that from a teacher! I am very fortunate; I have an incredibly supportive Senior Team and Trust who believe in me and support the decisions I make and I work with fantastic colleagues, amazing students and receive wonderful feedback from students and parents every week. There are a huge number of challenges facing education now, the main one being rapidly falling budgets which make it incredibly hard for schools when faced with rapidly rising costs and expectations on schools but I would not want to be doing anything else.

And your biggest achievement?

All of the above. Making a positive change to young people’s lives!

Thank you so much Corinne. You can drop me a message if you’d like to hear about volunteering opportunities at Bristol Free School and follow Bristol Tech Volunteers on Twitter @Bristoltechnol1


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