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Award for Teaching Excellence Recipient: William Lau
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William Lau

Greenwich Free School

London, UK

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“Computer Scientists, like all scientists, work experimentally and iteratively on a problem. I teach my students that unlike any other subject, in CS they will spend a lot of time making mistakes, feeling like they are getting things wrong and debugging. Indeed, learning from our mistakes is the only way to learn programming…once students realize that deconstructing a problem is much more beneficial in the long term and makes for better programming practice, they get into the habit of thinking computationally.” - William Lau

 

As a teacher, leader and student of computing, William Lau believes that being a digital native and a mere user of technology is not enough. One of William’s primary aims is to transform users of technology into creators of technology by giving all students the opportunity to think like an expert computer scientist, create, persevere and grow. From nanotechnology to synthetic biology, from wearable computers to self-driving cars; computing will continue to shape the future. Technology is changing at such a rapid pace that in order to thrive and succeed in the Information age, he believes all students need to understand how computers work.

 

A computing teacher since 2006, William has worked in some of the most challenging schools in England, making computing an inclusive subject for students from all backgrounds. William currently teaches at Greenwich Free School in London, where 60% of the student population is male and 51% students come from the poorest parts of the community. By offering an innovative CS curriculum, he helps his students realize their true potential.

For example, in 2013, he encouraged all 200 students at Greenwich participate in Computer Science Education Week. From there, the entire school then participated in the BEBRAS computational thinking challenge. Now in 2017, this 100% participation has been sustained as the school has grown to over 500 students.

For special needs students, he has created a video-tutorials playlist to reduce the cognitive load by providing programming frames---an example program or “proxy task” guides students on syntax and computational thinking.

William has also addressed a significant gender imbalance in his Greenwich classes with impressive results. By modifying the curriculum and changing the perceptions, stereotypes and gender biases of students, his cohort has gone from 15% female in 2015 to 57% female in 2017, well above UK’s national 20% average.

He has guided 50% of the examination year group students at Greenwich to choose CS as a qualification. William’s students have generally achieved excellent A-level exam results with a majority going onto degrees and careers of their choice, including CS, cyber security, IT,  finance, business, film, art, animation and digital design. Three of his former students studied CS at university and one now teaches CS to elementary-age children.

 

William is proud of his student's achievements and runs a successful blog showcasing their work as well as sharing best practices via www.mrlaulearning.com, enjoying 40,000+ views from a global audience.

 

Over the course of his teaching career, William has consciously used the practice of self-reflection to modify, iterate, and improve on his CS teaching approach to help not only further his classes but also help other teachers of CS. As described by a former colleague, Elizabeth Hidson, “William is an innovator and part of the leading edge of UK computing professionals who reflect on their teaching, and shape best practice. He has always sought to develop his own practice and make sure that his teaching meets the needs of his pupils. His reflective practice led him to develop imaginative learning approaches with his classes. I have witnessed him turning challenging classes around and adding value to their progress.”

 

He has helped teachers from various schools to design their curriculum and offer advice about teaching CS, including St Marylebone School, Kensington Aldridge Academy, Debden Park High School, St Peter’s Catholic Voluntary Academy and Harris Academy Schools. As an OCR exam board moderator, he has also moderated the CS assessments of over 500 students at 40 different schools. At Greenwich, he has mentored two CS teachers, both of whom had only taught information and communication technology (ICT) before they arrived at the school.

 

As a Computing at School (CAS) Master Teacher and Google Certified Innovator, William has delivered Computing Professional Development at various UK schools and universities, specialising in curriculum design, assessment design and computing pedagogy.

He has mentored and supported trainee teachers at King’s College London and the University of Roehampton. His interest in teacher development led to him being promoted to an assistant headteacher role at the Greenwich Free School and he has also published a book through Routledge entitled, Teaching Computing in Secondary Schools. The book provides a step-by-step guide to teaching computing at secondary level. It offers an entire framework for planning and delivering the curriculum and shows teachers how to create a supportive environment in which all students can enjoy computing.

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