Like all subjects, at some point during the year you need to prepare for the school open day. This is your chance to shine within the school and the community. Don’t see this a chore, see it as a chance to prove why your department is great – it could lead to more prestige in your subject, more funding from your headteacher, and even more benefits beyond. Here is a checklist of things to do.
#1 Get students to help
The first thing to do is to organise some students to help out.There are two types of student. The first is the salesperson. These will probably be year 8s. If they have had a fantastic time in year 7 then they can talk about this. They should be selling how great it is if a parent’s son/daughter attends the school. Before the day get them to remember their best bits of the year. This is especially good if any of them attend an after school club and enjoy it. If your year 7 classes weren’t great then perhaps use a different group of students.
There are two types of student. The first is the salesperson. These will probably be year 8s. If they have had a fantastic time in year 7 then they can talk about this. They should be selling how great it is if a parent’s son/daughter attends the school. Before the day get them to remember their best bits of the year. This is especially good if any of them attend an after school club and enjoy it. If your year 7 classes weren’t great then perhaps use a different group of students. The best way to persuade these students to stay is to let them know that it will be like a computer club. Biscuits will often sweeten the deal (literally).
The second type is the helper. These can often be A-level students or year 11s who are happy to be around and help. Being older they are also more capable of sticking a poster straight onto a wall, or getting a message to someone. These students are often persuaded by the fact that you’re spending two years together and there will be numerous times when they will need your help. They’ve just chosen your subject at a higher level – they should be keen.
#2 Focus on one room
There is no point opening up four classrooms to show that you have lots of computers. Every school has computers. Far better to show one room that is amazing and a centre of amazing activity.
For this reason, focus your attention on one room. This is where the teachers and students will be, this is where any demonstrations are.
The chances are that the Head of Department has the best room, this is a perk of the job! So, another win for them, this is most likely where you should focus your attention.
#3 Classroom displays
Your classroom displays are important. They need to look professional. If there is more than one teacher then you can either assign one person to take on this role, or you can work together and significantly reduce the workload. If you are struggling for time, then get some decent backing paper and label the walls with year groups or topics. You can then say how you intend to fill the walls during the year (and actually do this so that next year it looks amazing).
If you are struggling for content, then put a note in your diary that certain year groups should do posters at the end of the summer term. I have done this with year 7 doing “future technologies” and year 11 doing “CPUs” and the results are often truly amazing. You can fill a wall by only using the very best entries.
#3.5 Ceiling displays
If your classroom is already looking amazing then consider the ceilings. Could you hang items from the ceiling? On a basic level these could be laminated keywords or images with their name on the back. On a more advanced level you could hang computer hardware such as hard discs and mice (obviously be very careful with health and safety here!). Hardware (especially if it does something) hanging from a ceiling or on a wall can turn a classroom into a treasure trove if ideas.
#4 Student work print out
This isn’t essential as most parents aren’t that interested in sample work which will be done in 4 years time. But it only takes a few minutes to print some of your best controlled assessment from years gone by. This is useful if any parent wants to be impressed at the level of difficulty or the fact that you can stretch your students.
The best open days will have activities for the students to solve. Some ideas might be solving a murder with boolean logic or solving a binary number on the board (even better if they win a sweet). One of the best activities I’ve recently heard of was having old technologies such as a floppy disk, zip disk etc and getting them to match them to the year they were invented. Apparently, dads love the activity and nostalgia!
If you have cabinets outside for displaying work then these should be made to look professional. They are best if they contain student work, but a few professional posters or print outs can be used if you are running low on time.
Unfortunately, statistics are everywhere in teaching. But here is a time to make them work for you. What was your A*-C pass rate? Where did your students go after A-level? What were exciting projects your students worked on? Have any of your students made money online? What percentage of girls do you have taking the subject? It is unlikely that you will be amazing at all these aspects, but that it the beauty of statistics – you can pick the ones that make you look good. Remember, in many cases you are showing the effectiveness of your department and subject to the head teacher as much as the prospective students and parents.
#8 Catch up sessions
I’m a big believer in saving time. Do you have any students that you can identify right now as needing more time for controlled assessment? The open evening is a great opportunity to get them back. I have always been surprised at how, even challenging children, can come back and behave amazingly when it is open evening. Given that you aren’t allowed to help students for Controlled Assessment this is the perfect chance for them to sit in a corner of a room and do some work. Get them to set some targets that they will achieve in the two+ hours they have available and then they can work towards them. The sales pitch that has always worked for me is that “you will be able to get ahead of many other students in the class if you come”. For someone demotivated at being the furthest behind this is an attractive option.
#9 Computer hardware
Children (and adults) most love objects that they can touch and feel, especially if they don’t own them and haven’t seen them before. So hardware is by far the best thing to show on an open day. Oh bot! (a robot head that students build) can be used to greet children as they enter a classroom. Lego NXT can have a game of robot wars. Edison robots can run around on the floor following a maze. Arduino can turn LEDs on and off (or build a working mobile phone if you’re adventurous). Makey Makey can allow children to touch bananas to play a piano. There are endless opportunities for hardware being demonstrated – the only exclusion is a row of PCs with Windows on them – this is not going to excite anyone!
If you have a department with more than two teachers working in it then there is little point in you all being there at the same time. During busy periods this is worthwhile, but allocate a period of time for teachers to go and do something else. One of the best things to do is to go and see other departments. You can always get ideas for better displays and activities which you can adapt for the subject for next year. This might even be a time to get a key decision maker such as a deputy to come and look at all your hard work. Show them around, show them your amazing department. Ask them how you could improve… and then a few days later they will be far more receptive to whatever it is that you ask them for.
#Bonus tip – Build relationships with schools
Remember, that just because open day or open evening lasts only a few hours, that doesn’t mean that your relationships with primary feeder schools need to. One of the most successful years I had was when we put up a green screen and had an image of each pupil who came into the Computer room with the background changed. (This was in the days of ICT, so it may need to be adapted for today’s Computing curriculum). Once taken, we recorded their name and the school they were it. We then printed and sent all the student photos to each primary school to hand out. We also said that if any of the primary schools wanted to discuss collaborating with us then please contact us. Not only did this keep our school and department in all the feeder school’s minds, it also led to me having half a day off each week to do a session for Gifted and Talented students in a local primary school (our Gifted and Talented students also went to help out). So remember that you can keep the relationship with schools or parents going after the evening ends. And you’ll find that almost no other school or department does this.