I Should Be Marking

ICT and Computing in Education

Re-finding my teaching mojo

Back to School – Bluesquarething

So, it’s been a while since I wrote a blog post. But this year I am determined to find the time for self-reflection that I missed out on last year – and forcing myself to blog at least once a fortnight should help me do that.

The return to school after such a long break is always a funny one, and this year I’ve felt less organised than ever. Partly I think I overworked myself last year and really needed a long break, meaning that I didn’t even do the token 3 or 4 days in the run up to starting this year.

And yet, it really doesn’t take long to get back into it. This morning I felt quite disillusioned arriving at school. The same corridors, the same room, the same tip that I didn’t tidy properly at the end of term… and the same requirements to be excellent, to be outstanding, to have engaging, entertaining lessons. I really didn’t think I had the energy for it any more when I rolled up at 8am.

By third lesson I’d spent two hours with my new form, taught a tutorial lesson that didn’t result in me wanting to bang my head against a wall and was starting to take some shiny new Y7s through the intricacies of logging on. I didn’t have time be tired, found myself making jokes the kids didn’t get (is it just me that does this?) and just generally felt quite at home.

This afternoon I met both of my new Y10 classes and was impressed by their work ethic, their ability and my planning (I might be one-sided but I genuinely thought they both lessons were well paced, included varied activities and both actually had a plenary!).

So, while it seemed a dispiriting moment to be heading back to the front lines, it’s actually reminded me of all the things I love about teaching. Interactions with enthusiastic kids, being helpful and supportive, seeing people make progress on a minute by minute basis and all that stuff.

We’ll see how it goes in week two once they’ve gotten a little more comfortable :D

Programming Pedagogy



Radar Chart B Dark

Originally uploaded by Jinho.Jung

I’m a parent. I sit through dance practices, music rehearsals, gymnastics lessons and (in the past) swimming lessons. This leaves me with a lot of time to think (or, if I can find a table, mark).

In particular, I like to see and reflect on how other people teach – especially those who aren’t in a school environment. And increasingly, I find myself comparing programming, as a discipline, to swimming.

Traditional teaching tends to be linear. So I might teach students about variables, then inputs & outputs, then if statements, then loops, then arrays and then file handling. I can picture that in my head like train route – but I don’t think that’s right.

When kids first start swimming lessons the teachers don’t teach them everything they need to know about using their arms, then everything about their legs, and then breathing techniques. First, they get them in the water. They get them to play games, to put their face in the water, to move around in a situation that is comfortable (shallow, well within their depth).

Sometimes the youngsters will be tasked with swimming from one side to another. Sometimes they’ll focus on kicking their legs. Sometimes they’ll have to swim with only their arms. Sometimes on their front. Sometimes on their back. Each lesson will include a bit of this and a bit of that, reinforcing each element a little at a time. It’s anything but linear.

In the same way, I’m starting to think of programming skills in a radar chart. The students start at the centre, with no skills in any particular area. Over time they get a bit better with dealing with variables, then a bit better at dealing with conditionals, another time getting better with loops.

I can see it in my mind as a time lapse animation, the graph flexing in different directions, occasionally even contracting, but generally spreading further and further from the centre.

It’s going to take a bit of work to turn that image in my head into a curriculum, and it’s going to be a case of tweaking rather than revolutionising my practice, but it seems to work for me as a big picture to work towards.

School vs Real World Expectations

Sun Dial

Sun Dial

My Y13 Applied ICT class are busy working away on their multimedia projects. They each create a learning resource in Flash that incorporates text, images, sound, video and animation in order to provide an interactive and engaging tool that teachers and students can use.

Every year they start in September and finish in February, that’s 6 months, and they generally produce really good products that I (and more importantly, they) can be really proud of.

I see them for 3 hours a week, which is equivalent to half a day in an office.

I see them 6 hours a fortnight, which is equivalent to one day in an office.

So in those 6 months, where they have 20 weeks, or 10 fortnights, they actually have the equivalent of 10 working days to complete the whole thing, from inception to completion.

To produce what they’re doing in a fortnight of working time is (to my mind) phenomenal. I’ve worked with major multimedia providers in the past who would struggle to produce work of this quality to that timescale.

I must make sure I tell me class how impressive their feat is the next time I see them…

 

On being a hard-ass

Strict rules

Originally uploaded by Craig A Rodway

This is an issue that’s plagued me since the start of my teaching career and it’s something I’ve never quite gotten to grips with.

As a child I had a lovely upbringing, but it’s fair to say that my parents had clear and high expectations of my behaviour and general attitude. I had to ask permission to leave the dinner table, I had to listen when I was spoken to and I apparently didn’t know what a good hiding was (or so my mum used to tell me).

I happen to think I turned out OK. I consider myself to be well mannered, respectful of others and I seem to do pretty well for myself in life. Seeing that this model certainly worked in my case I’ve adopted a similar approach with my own children. As my children’s dance teacher once said to me, she knows what each parent is like. Some kids they get 3 chances, some get twenty, mine get told once.

Translate that to a classroom and some kids have recently told me that I like to argue, that I need to lighten up or that they wish I wasn’t their teacher/form tutor. It’s easy to laugh that off as just kids, or say that it means I must be doing something right, but I do wonder.

As a child you make mistakes. You do things and you might or might not realise that it wasn’t a great idea. It might be how many times you can tell the same joke (any parent of a 4 year old will know that they never tire of “knock knock – Doctor Who”), how far you can go with a bit of banter before you cause offence or whether you’ll get away with playing Google Pacman instead of finishing the 3D model of a house you were asked to design.

Yes, we need to steer the youngsters right and help them to make the right decisions (in this case once, not as far as you think, probably not), but we also need to make sure that we create positive relationships built on trust, respect and safety. I worry about how much of a barrier I put up by being too strict, and have expectations about behaviour and attitude that are perhaps not realistic.

As usual this is really an opportunity for me to reflect on my own teaching rather than being aimed at an audience, so I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but I do think I probably get the balance a bit too far to one side and wonder how I can bring it back a little while still being me.

Controlled Assessment Strategies

The Passage of Time

Originally uploaded by ToniVC

How many teachers are spending at least some of their time planning schemes of work, resources and other bits and bobs for the next academic year?

How many of those teachers will sit in 1 hour chunks (or some other arbitrary time period), during which time they start, get stuff done, save and then (whether finished or not) put everything away and start a new task for another hour.

My Y10 computing students have just finished a 20 hour controlled assessment task. 2 or 3 times a week they’ve come into my classroom, logged in, grabbed their controlled assessment booklets and ploughed on with a task. 55 minutes later they get told to stop, save, put it away until the next time – worst case scenario due to their timetable, in 6 days time.

Don’t get me wrong. There are interventions, tips, hints, guidance and all sorts of other things going on – I’m not just leaving them to fend for themselves. What seems ludicrous, though, is that sometimes the students are just building up a head of steam, getting into the zone, getting themselves into the task, when they get the call to save, log off an pack up until next time. That process of getting yourself into the right frame of mind, and into the right headspace to be able to visualise the problems and challenges you’re dealing with, must sap the students’ productivity.

When I have a big job to do, I’ll sit down and do it. It might take me 90 minutes instead of an hour. It might take me 4 or 5 hours. It might take me a few days or even weeks, but it’s very unlikely that I’ll be using pre-defined, 1 hour chunks to get it done. It’s unnatural to do so.

I’m seriously considering booking my students off timetable in order to complete their controlled assessment in larger chunks. Initially I thought about 5 days, Monday to Friday. That would give me time to do some bits that don’t count towards the time and would give the students time to really get themselves into the task.

The downsides? There’s little time to reflect on the problem. A task that is completed over 3 or 4 weeks has time to permeate, and gives the students time to research and reflect. It may be that, with such a number of subjects (plus all that, not inconsiderable stuff going on outside the classroom), most students aren’t really doing this anyway (my homework tracking book would back that up), I’m not sure.

There’s the logistics of covering my timetable for a whole week, as well as the effect on other subjects of losing their students for a week. If every department did that then it might (MIGHT) be chaos. Or, it might work out really well. Certainly the Geography department take students out for 3 days of fieldwork around this time each year. Why not computing students as well?

Another issue is that time to help students identify issues and to spend some time away from controlled assessment working on them. The OCR programming tasks, for example, come in 3 parts – each progressively more difficult. I’ll usually stop and do a week or two of revision on a particular concept before starting each task, to make the students are fully prepared. So maybe I do 1 day for task 1, 1.5 days for task 2 and 2 days for taks 3, spread out over 3 weeks?

The issue raised here also raises the question of whether the model is flawed for the rest of the year. Carousels, where students learn about Subject A for a half term, Subject B for a half term and then Subject C for a half term, with longer lessons (perhaps a half-day at a time) might be more natural and would allow for longer project-based activities to be explored more effectively. But that might be a post for another day.

Has anyone tried the more intensive approach for longer controlled assessment tasks? Any feedback from those who’ve been there would be much appreciated.

Life moves pretty fast

F Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Originally uploaded by eddidit

Work-life balance is a funny thing (unlike a teacher banging on about work-life balance, which is neither funny nor original). As you might have gathered, my blogging has been suffering of late, as have many other things on my to-do list.

Revision videos for computer science, a unit of work on infographics, Mukoku courses, sorting out a new domain for Mukoku, Raspberry Pi stuff, a computing club, robotics & physical computing, Digital Badges, Digital Leaders and much more have all slipped and slipped.

Part of me feels guilty about all of that, but then part of me feels less guilty than it used to. A couple of months ago we lost Chris Allan (@infernaldepart). Suddenly, and without warning all the work-related things that Chris was concerned about stopped being important. And all the things I had been slipping behind with stopped being important, at least in relative terms. It’s impossible to do everything, and I accept that. But I find it too easy to focus on getting done as much as humanly possible.

That’s a really stupid thing to do.

The most that is humanly possible is more than is humanly sustainable, and if I don’t get the infographics unit written and I don’t update Mukoku as often as I should (currently around once annually!) then it doesn’t matter. Meeting up with @stevebunce, @simfin, @dominic_mcg and @hairysporan for a catch-up at Blakes is (frankly) more important. Occasional post-work visits to the pub next door to the school are more important. And with that balance comes the time and the frame of mind to start reflecting on things again.

So my infographics unit still isn’t written. Mukoku still remains domain-less and slightly out of date. But I’m looking after myself a bit more. Making sure I get some social downtime (even if it is mostly with other teachers). And I suspect my overall productivity might even rise as a result.

Sssh… it’s a secret!



Whisper

Originally uploaded by daniel_pfund

I had a tutorial lesson today. Or maybe citizenship. Or PHSE. You get the jist…

The aim of the lesson was for the students to understand the concept of budgetting. In addition to the central aim I wanted them to appreciate what their finances might be like in the future and to compare their expectations with harsh reality.

So, printing off a semi-random budgetting sheet found on letting agent’s website we proceeded to fill it in as a class. It took the full hour.

We discussed the cost of renting vs buying, shopping at different types of supermarkets, repayments on loans for different standards of car and, with some degree of shock for the students, the difference between gross and net salaries!

At the end of it we packed up, threw the paper in the bin and went to lunch. I didn’t formally assess their work, they didn’t produce evidence of having completed tasks or showing progression in their knowledge and understanding. I would have been graded as Requires Improvement, or probably Inadequate.

And yet, I’m absolutely certain that EVERY student in that class learned something. They might not remember the figures, but they were surprised by how inaccurate their preconceptions about incomes and expenditures were, and they bought into the lesson really well.

I could have built in more activities – learning checkpoints, scaffolding, differentiated resources and mini-plenaries. And in many cases those tools are incredibly useful. But every once in a while I like to just spend the full lesson exploring something and not necessarily weighing the pig every 10 minutes to see if it’s gotten fatter.

But I’m in the middle of my appraisal, so sssh… it’s a secret! ;-)

What does Computing look like?

Computer Science

Originally uploaded by Lower Columbia College

Has anyone seen the new Computing programme of study*?

I’m betting lots of you have heard about it, and a few of you have read it.

If you haven’t, you really should – it’s only short. In fact, for KS3 it amounts to 9 bullet points. Nine.

Most ICT teachers will probably look at it with dismay, or at least some trepidation. First, the DfE have ditched “ICT” and replaced it with “Computing”**. And the bullets cover topics such as computational abstractions, sorting algorithms, boolean logic and the fetch execute cycle to name but 4.

There are a few… addendums? Caveats? A couple of points to make, at least.

First, ICT has not been ditched. ICT, as a subject title, is seen as being devalued in the eyes of the DfE. I’m not getting into my own point of view on that, at all – it is what it is and while I appreciate that some feel angry, undermined and under-appreciated, that’s not what I want to talk about right now. The DfE has rebranded the subject as Computing – which isn’t the same thing as ditching it entirely.

Take a look at bullet points 8 and 9:

“undertake creative projects that involve selecting, using, and combining multiple
applications, preferably across a range of devices, to achieve challenging goals,
including collecting and analysing data and meeting the needs of known users”

&

“create, reuse, revise and repurpose digital information and content with attention
to design, intellectual property and audience.”

That sounds a lot like ICT to me. Looking at presentation software, designing documents for hardcopy (i.e. posters and leaflets), spreadsheet modelling, data handling with a database, web design, image editing, video editing, audio editing, digital creativity – it’s all in there.

It’s written up in a pretty vague way – but then it’s meant to be. The PoS is supposed to be slim, and vague. It provides the pegs on which we get to hang our curriculum. Again, I have my own opinion on the sweeping changes being brought in by the DfE in the last few years – but we are where we are. The government wants schools to have more independence. Here is an outline of the kind of stuff we want you to do – you fill in the blanks.

And most ICT teachers, and most ICT departments, should feel comfortable with their own curricula to meet those two criteria. The fact that it represents 2/9 bullet points (22%), doesn’t mean that it should equate to the same proportion of curriculum time.

So what about the other 7 bullet points?

“understand at least two key algorithms for each of sorting and searching; use
logical reasoning to evaluate the performance trade-offs of using alternative
algorithms to solve the same problem”

Well, that’s potentially a half-term’s work. To do it properly I’d probably want to build up to it over the three years – looking at algorithms in general and sorting algorithms in particular as part of a wider context (or I could try and sell the pupils on a unit of work all about sorting data – but I’m not sure they’d find the prospect as exciting as I probably would***). I doubt highly that anyone is suggesting we spend as much time on the bubble and shuttle sorts as we do on the whole “ICT” curriculum as it was.

Think back, those of you who’ve been in this game more than 5 years or so, and you may recall the KS3 National Strategy. A lesson-by-lesson programme of study for the whole of KS3. Many schools took it as a prescribed scheme of work that must be followed at all costs – when in fact it was designed as a starting point for schools lacking enough specialist ICT teachers. Here was a set of resources you COULD use as a starting point, and build upon until to meet your students’ needs and your staff expertise.

I see this new document in the same way. There are 7 new things that you might not be familiar with if you’re not a computer science specialist – so we’ve put a good bit of detail and a good bit of emphasis into them to make it clear and to give you a starting point. There are also two bullet points at the end to cover the stuff you already know – and we’re not going to patronise you on those ones because we trust you to know what you’re doing.

I’m sure some will accuse me of being naive (a criticism I’ve faced more than once), but until someone tells me that I’m wrong, that’s the way I’m planning to read that document.

My school’s KS3 ICT/computing curriculum is made up of 3 strands – digital productivity (e.g. MS Office type stuff****), digital creativity and computer science. Creating a computer game? You need to design it (creativity), build it (computer science) and advertise it (productivity). Find the user manual for any computer game and have a look at the credits – see what the different people have contributed to the game. I bet a lot of them have done some ‘coding’ at some level – but I bet a hell of a lot have done all sorts of other work – all of it done on, or with, a computer. That’s the model I’m taking at KS3…

* http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/n/national%20curriculum%20consultation%20-%20framework%20document.pdf, pp. 152-155

** I know that, technically, only English and other languages should be capitalised as proper nouns, but I think it helps differentiate between general stuff relating to anything computer based and the specific subject area we’re talking about.

*** I’ve met Tony Hoare, who invented the Quicksort algorithm – I doubt the kids would be as humbled as I over that experience!

**** Doug Belshaw quite rightly picked me up on this point within about 30s of hitting the “post” button. I don’t want to amend the post too heavily as this isn’t the point I was trying to make, but his criticism is fair. Nomenclature is a big deal – just ask teachers whether we should call our subject ICT, Digital Literacy, Computing, Computer Studies, Computer Science, IT or something entirely different – then step back and watch the argument ensue.

I accept that being productive is not about using PPT and Word. I was trying to rapidly differentiate between a set of topics – a set of topics that are never truly distinct anyway. Does making a poster fit into productivity, or creativity? Ultimately both, but for the sake of trying to categorise things I’m going to lump it in productivity – with a tacit understanding that layout and design are key principles involved.

Communication and collaboration would fit into productivity, as would turning a machine on, managing files & folders, eSafety, etc. Call it digital literacy if you prefer. Call it Hungarian Basket Weaving if you prefer! And I apologise for making the reference to MSO (although I’m leaving it there – I don’t believe it editing all of my mistakes out).

Assessment and Feedback in ICT

Marking

Originally uploaded by Pkabz

Apologies for the lack of posts recently, but real life has been taking over of late.

Thankfully, I was emailed today asking about how I deal with assessment at KS3 so I can kill two birds with one stone.

The email wasn’t so much what or how I assess, but how do I communicate this with the students and how do they respond to it. In many subjects a stuck in sheet at the front of the book serves to maintain a persistent and consistent platform for feedback and responses – but in ICT lessons we don’t use exercise books, and I’m loathe to start just for that reason.

We could always give students pieces of paper, or have them filed in the room, but this seems similarly arbitrary and far from ideal.

We did try using Moodle for a good few years, with a course set aside just for assessed pieces of work to be uploaded and feedback given. It required one upload assignment for each assessed unit and while the feedback was persistent (students could always go back and look at it) it was still very unidirectional.

Since about the middle of last year we’ve been using the Moodle Dialogue Module. While I was loathe to start adding non-core modules because of the hassles involved in upgrading further down the line, the functionality really couldn’t be found any other way.

Installation and setup is simple, although it’s virtually essential to be using groups*. I find it easiest to get the students to initiate the dialogue (you need to be enrolled as a teacher for the students to see you) although you can start a dialogue with an entire group at a time.

Both sides can write messages and upload files and the conversation is private between you and the student. This way the student can upload their work with a brief self-assessment, you can leave detailed feedback and they can respond. Every 3 or 4 lessons we bring the students back to the dialogue and look at what their specific targets are and can measure their own progress.

We’re also in the process of designing some large display boards with level descriptors so students can refer to these as they go.

It’s not perfect, and one of the bugbears is that impatient students will hit the submit button 3 or 4 times, creating 3 or 4 entries that can’t be edited or removed after the 30 minute grace period.

On the whole, though, it’s working very well and in the whole discussions and working parties on assessment and feedback our system has been praised by SLT – so it can’t be that bad!

* Top tip: Set up the groups before you enrol the students and give each group a unique enrolment key. Put a different enrolment key on the course and when students sign up with their class’ enrolment key they automatically appear in the right group.

What Ofsted are searching for

Coast Guard – Search and Rescue Demonstration

Originally uploaded by U.S. Coast Guard

At last week’s ICT2012 conference I was really looking forward to hearing from the DfE and Ofsted, both of whom were sending representatives. Sadly both had to pull out, however all was not lost and the organisers of the conference managed to find a number of colleagues who had undergone recent ICT thematic inspections.

The thoughts below are an amalgam of what was actually said, what I remember being said, the hastily scribbled notes I made and a few bits of input from elsewhere. I don’t claim that they are accurate or gospel, but assume that any mistakes, errors or ommissions are mine.

Create an Open Curriculum at KS3

Rather than specifying exactly what is going to be learned and exactly how it is going be be learned, allow students to explore problems, identify strategies and form their own solutions. This is brave, and risky, and challenging. But without that challenge there is little actual learning, and what there is is superficial.

BYOD

One school was praised for having an open Wifi network at a policy towards BYOD. I’m not 100% on this one personally, but I can see that allowing students to use their own mobile devices as a platform to engage and extend learning could well be a positive thing. I think that security, data protection and the risks of loss and damage are significant – not to mention the digital divide. And for me it is moot as the whole school policy of no mobiles is very unlikely to change in the immediate future.

Comparing Tools

Rather than teaching students how to create bullet points in PowerPoint, encourage them to thnk about alternative ways of presenting information to a given audience. Compare Prezi, PowerPoint and ComicLife and you’ll have students who are in a much better position when it comes to tackling real problems productively in the future.

Digital Leaders

The idea of getting students to take on some responsibility – either through completing donkey work on the VLE, sharing techniques with students, running staff INSET or even running sessions for parents – has been one I’ve been keen on since I first heard about the idea. It currently resides on my ToDo list somewhere below “plan tomorrow’s lessons” and somewhere above “solve world hunger”.

Documentation

Yawn… I know, but a solid SEF and Quality Assurance document mean that you are reflecting on your department’s practices and you know where you have flaws and what you have to do to fix them. There is an element of hoop jumping (OK, a lot of hoop jumping), but both documents ultimately lead to an improvment in provision for the students. So suck it up and get it done!

Curriculum Mapping

In many schools ICT is an option at KS4, but the PoS was (and the subject as a set of knowledge and understanding) still is mandatory. One school was praised for clearly mapping the old PoS to non-ICT subjects at KS4. Another was awarded outstanding with no mention of this despite having no mapping in place. We don’t have it and while it is on my ToDo list it, probably lies only just above solving world hunger and just below dusting the ceiling…

eSafety

This is a key topic right now. It’s one thing to have curriculum based eSafety lessons, to have digital leaders running INSET for parents and having clear policies in the department handbook – but that still isn’t enough to get you outstanding (apparently). Criticism of the department that did all of the above included the lack of a CEOP button on the front of the VLE. All schools should (I’m not sure if it’s mandatory, but I think it will help a lot) have someone who has attended the free CEOP half day workshop. The issue is not just one of “have you taught it”, but more of “is it embedded and understood at every level within the school”. Do the teachers know how to deal with students accessing inappropriate material? Do the students know the likely consequences? Are staff and students alike aware of their digital footprint? Potentially, it never stops, but the odd lesson on not sharing your password and not giving your phone number out simply won’t cut it, is the message.

And that’s about it for now. Very little mention in there about teaching and learning, but I think that’s because that applies to everyone. It’s not that it doesn’t need saying, but here we’re looking at the ICT thematic elements. Outstanding teaching, learning, pace, progress, measurement, awareness, subject knowledge, behaviour and all of that other stuff is still essential. This just has to sit on top.

But remember, as gruelling as all this sounds, if it were easy we’d all be going home at 3, collecting our gold plated pensions and live our lives oblivious to what stress really is :-D

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