As a teacher, I am often looking for the best extra-curricular opportunities for my students, but I also have to consider the amount of time it takes to set-up/arrange/implement. I found the CyberFirst competition through a newsletter e-mail last year and have found the set-up of the competition to be the perfect blend of immersion for students as well as flexibility for teachers.

Allowing students to team up and tackle a series of online challenges (which are not easily solved through typical Googling methods) is a fantastic system. It really interests the younger years when the challenges have that pattern-finding / treasure-hunting element to them.

With the qualifying round being online, I found that it took very little of my own time to arrange and I knew that (if they wanted to) they could complete the challenges at home. When you have a student interested in your subject, you want them to get as much time as possible out of it! This competition really helped to get the most out of the students.

Another area of this competition which I greatly admire as a teacher, is the sheer number of challenges at their disposal and the fact they can attempt them in any order. There are a lot of competitions which follow a very linear fashion (maybe a weekly challenge gets released) but I find that this can often deter students from engaging as the gaps are too far apart or it
doesn’t challenge them quickly enough.

The Girls’ Experience of the Competition…

When we arrived at the venue for the final, you could tell that everyone invited was thoroughly excited to take part (even on a Saturday!).  Fair conditions were set out and the rules were clearly explained, the girls from our school couldn’t wait to get stuck into the challenges after a short meeting about the plan for the day.

When the girls were seated for lunch, you could tell the competition had been a success as they couldn’t stop talking about the puzzles they still had to complete. I was amazed at how engaged they were with it, and I felt the interactive leaderboard really spurred them on further.

The girls honestly couldn’t believe that they won the North-East final, and were even more surprised at the prizes awarded to them, which I believe will only further inspire them to think about a career in Cyber Security.
Hopes for the future…

This competition is extremely well planned. However, from my experience there appears to be too few competitions/events for KS4 and KS5 (14-18). I think these events at younger years encourage students to study Computer Science, but you are still competing with the Maths and Science subjects for a career, and more events within KS4 and KS5 will help encourage a career in Cyber Security.

Conclusion: A brilliant competition (for teachers and students), but we need more like it at GCSE and A-Level to help steer them towards a career in cyber security, rather than just an interest.

Michael O’Connor, Lead Teacher of Computing at Durham Johnston Comprehensive School