KS3 – SoW and Assessment Strategy

I’ve noticed a lot of chatter on Facebook lately about assessment at KS3 and about what to put into schemes of work / schemes of learning.

Since my department and I have spent a lot (a LOT!) of time over the last couple of years completely reworking all of the above I figured it wouldn’t do any harm to share it. It’s a team effort and includes some fantastic ideas and units for which I can take no credit at all. No warranty is given or implied and your mileage may vary!

If you want the resources with none of the reasoning or justification then just head on over to pi.mwclarkson.co.uk and download away. If you DO care about the justification (which I think it quite important, as it goes), then read on.

Thematic Units

For a long time we used to teach a half-term on spreadsheets, a half-term on databases, a half-term on image editing, etc. And the visit each topic again in maybe a year, maybe 18 months. This meant we could spend a good chunk of time focusing on one area, but the retention was poor.

We decided a little while ago to try more thematic units – so we have a unit about my Aunt Mabel who bought a zoo on a whim. She needs a spreadsheet to find out if she can afford to feed the animals, some image editing to create a gift voucher, a database for annual membership, etc.

When specifying the equipment needed for a new youth club the students design a floorplan, create a spreadsheet to track and adjust costs, write to their local MP, learn about networking and create a slideshow to convince the PTA to help fund it.

And so on – the key phrase for me is ‘little and often’. The disadvantage is that students don’t spend a big block of time looking deeply at the skills, so you need to remember to make sure to teach about slideshows and DTP skills, not just expect students to ‘know’ what good design looks like and what specific skills to use.

We’ve also gone for an approach that includes a fair bit of computer science (programming, binary, logic gates, algorithms) but also a lot of multimedia topics (mind maps, storyboards, image editing, comics, video editing, audio editing) and ‘traditional’ IT (spreadsheets, databases, posters and PowerPoints). This is partly because we have 3 routes at KS4 – GCSE CS, Cambridge Nationals Creative iMedia and GCSE ICT / vocational ICT to come, and also partly because we think (as a department) that our job is to help prepare students for life and for their future, not just an optional GCSE that not all will pursue.

Online vs Dead Tree submissions

Being a massive Moodler I’ve been an evangelist for online assessment for years. We’ve tried online discussions, wikis, self-marking quizzes, ePortfolios and much more. And, honestly, we never got it right.

When it comes to work scrutinies I was often tempted to drop a URL off in each box when SLT wanted the books, but ultimately I had to cave. And I admit it – the books are a better solution.

Each student gets an A4+ sized exercise book and they sometimes do work in there, but more often print off an assessed piece of work. It’s not ideal for animations, but you can include a screengrab which is usually enough to trigger a memory from circulating during the lessons and you can also encourage students to annotate or justify their work, demonstrating knowledge as well as skills. In addition, the kids can find their work and refer back to it easily. Having to negotiate a VLE once a week and expecting the kids to really understand the underlying structure isn’t as realistic as it might sound to those of us who use these systems multiple times a day and might well have computing / IT degrees.

It’s not perfect, but honestly I feel the books are the best solution I’ve used so far.

Regular Assessment / Deep Marking / WINS

The policy at my school is that we do a solid bit of marking every 5 lessons / 5 hours. This means that we don’t have to mark every piece of work, but that students are getting regular feedback throughout their studies.

The structure of the feedback has to be in the WINS format (What was good, Improved if, Next steps and then a Student response). I’ve heard of PENS in a number of schools which is very similar (Positives, Even better if, Next steps, Student response).

We also have a grading system that goes MEP – EP – BEP – UP (More than Expected Progress, Expected Progress, Below Expected Progress, UnderPerforming). This is printed on and highlighted.

Given that one of my colleagues will have 330 KS3 pupils next year we had to make the marking manageable – so we’ve produced one pre-populated WINS sheet for each unit with all of the likely comments written in and 3 differentiated questions for students to tackle that are designed to make students reflect on their work at different levels (think Bloom’s).

I wanted to avoid having students working on something for 5 lessons, then getting some feedback, then spending another lesson making improvements and resubmitting it. You end up in ever decreasing circles and lose valuable time for moving on – and with the ‘little and often’ curriculum we’ll be coming back to those skills again soon enough.

Tracking Progress / Assessment Without Levels

In order to better track progress all of the subject leaders at my place were tasked with describing the knowledge, skills and application that students would be expected to gain each term, all without using levels. These AWoL sheets are heavily skills focused for us and are broken down into the three strands of IT, Media and Computer Science. They relate directly to the unit WINS sheets and are easily attacked with a highlighter once a term.

In addition we have an overall tracking sheet with the 3 strands, each split into 2 (so IT has data handling and presenting information, Media has creativity and planning, CS has programming and technical understanding). By highlighting these at the same time as the termly sheets we can show overall progress.

It costs a bit in highlighters but saves a lot in blue, black, red, green and purple pen!

I’m not promising it’s perfect, and I would never claim this is the ‘right way to do it’ – but it’s what we’re doing and you’re welcome to use it.

If you do decide to adapt and improve it, please consider sharing and please give some credit to the team that helped put it together (Egglescliffe School Computing & ICT department, past and present).

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Level 3 BTEC Nationals Information Technology

This is a summary of the Preparing To Teach course I attended in May, hosted by Pearson.

First, a little context. I teach in a school where the sixth form has an intake of around 200-230. We’ve offered Edexcel GCE Applied ICT for a long time (must be approaching 10 years now) and it’s done us, and our students, very well. There’s a heavy practical element, with 66% coursework and 33% based on two practical exams (one spreadsheet modelling and one database). We typically get students of middling ability, with some from the very top end. ICT is often seen as a 3rd or 4th A Level to complement the subjects people want to take on (with some exceptions, of course).

So, with the Applied ICT course coming to close we needed to find a new Level 3 course that is suitable for our students. Having looked at a variety of options (OCR Cambridge Technicals, what was A Level ICT, A Level Computer Science and a few others) we thought that the Pearson BTEC in IT was the best fit for our students.

Pearson have held a number of Preparing To Teach meetings, and they have a few more calendared for the near future. A few people on a Facebook group for the BTEC had asked what was said as they weren’t able to get to a meeting. So my recollections are here. I’m writing this without the aid of my notes (they’re at school and its half term, so I’m not). Errors and omissions are mine!

Course Structure

This is all available in the specification at the main Pearson site, but to summarise, we’re doing the Extended Certificate, which is equivalent to a full A Level. This includes 3 compulsory units:

  • Social Media (90GLH, internally assessed)
  • Data Handling (90GLH, practical examination)
  • Synoptic paper (120GLH, written examination)

And one of 2 optional units:

  • Spreadsheet Modelling (60GLH, internally assessed)
  • Web Design (60GLH, internally assessed)

I may have misnamed some of those units but you get the essence of it at least.

By doing the Social Media and Data Handling units in Y12, students can cash out with a Certificate (equivalent to an AS) as those are the only two units in that qualification.

There is a complicated method of calculating the overall grade based on the grade for each unit (as they’re all weighted differently), and as a newcomer to BTEC it is surprising that there is no granular scoring within a grade boundary. I’m used to GCSEs and A Levels where an extra UMS point in one unit counts towards the overall grade. Here it’s a flat score for a Pass, Merit or Distinction with no measurement of a high Pass or a low Pass. It’s a Pass.

Students do also need to pass all of the compulsory units in order to get an overall qualification.

Unit 1 – Synoptic Paper

Strange that this is referred to as Unit 1 when the board recommend that you do it last (as it’s synoptic) or at least long and thin. And it’s not needed for the AS.

The content is pretty much your standard ICT fare. Input and output devices, pros and cons of teleworking, advantages and drawbacks of networking, etc. The level of detail goes beyond GCSE level and a lot of the delegates who are currently running the older Level 3 BTEC were a little worried that their students wouldn’t necessarily do so well with the SAM written paper. Having taken plenty of kids through GCSE ICT which has exactly these kind of questions (though with less technical detail), I’m not too panicked just yet.

The paper is made up of 4 markers, 8 markers and 12 markers (plus some 6 and 10s, but stick with me).

A 4 mark question might be a simple ‘state 2 disadvantages of using 3G to access your work as a graphic designer’. Point and expand, point and expand. Straightforward stuff.

An 8 mark question might be a little more open ended, though with a similar style of question. Here the exam board recommended using PEE grids (Point – Explain – Evidence). These are standard operating procedure within our History department and I suspect English too, so kids should be used to the concept.

The 12 mark questions are your longer, essay style. Here it was suggested we look at connectives and sentence starters – although I think you might as well go the whole hog and take a good look at VCOP as a literacy strategy. It will take a little time to train the students up and it might be wise to speak to people from other departments who are already running courses with these types of exam for some good pedagogical support – but it’s manageable and less intimidating than it might seem.

Other than that, there’s not much else to say, really. There is a SAM paper on the website and it’s worth reading the spec carefully to make sure you’re covering all of the content (I’d come across a LAN, WAN and mesh before, but never a PAN).

Unit 2 (or is it 3?) – Social Media

I really like this unit. I really like this unit. It takes something the kids are aware of but don’t fully appreciate, and gets them to think about it and use it within a context. And it’s relevant.

There is a sample brief which it is recommended that centres use, though it is not even slightly compulsory to do so. The idea is to teach them some stuff on social media, and about how businesses use it and what kind of posts generate the most interaction (or ‘traction’ if you’re into corporate doublespeak). Why is Boaty McBoatface so popular? Are people more likely to look at a post with a picture, a video, a hashtag? Etc…

Then you give the students a context. The sample is about giving a presentation to a local chamber of commerce (locally we have an enterprise unit with 5 or 6 startup shops in one building , each with a 3 month lease at virtually no cost – by the end of which time they can rent somewhere with their established business or fold without going bankrupt). This lets them show off their understanding of how social media is used. The students don’t need to do the presentation, and the scenario doesn’t need to be real. A PowerPoint presentation with presenter notes (for added detail) would be sufficient.

The second part of the assignment is that the student has now been approached by one of these companies to actually manage their social media campaign for them. The students should ideally work for different companies and these can be real or made up. Parental involvement is fine, and my idea is to alter this so that students are running the social media accounts for a department within our school.

Students should do some analytical work looking at the interactions their posts have had. Some social media services will provide these, but I suspect most students will have to manually collate the date – how many likes, how many reposts, how many comments, etc.

Some people had concerns over allowing the students to have real control over social media. I can understand this, and it is a risk. I know my students well and I’m happy that with a stern briefing, much discussion and a signature on a acceptable use policy my students will be trusted to take the reigns of a real social media account. Pearson are happy for centres to run an internal social media platform (e.g. Yammer) or even something totally made up (e.g. Fakebook). Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles can be heavily locked down, and it is fine for friends and family to fake the interactions – though the student should discuss this in the evaluation.

Database Exam

I’m giving up completely with unit numbers now. They do matter in terms of admin but the link to the spec is above.

The database exam is something we’ve been doing for years with GCE Applied ICT. As before, some of the long-time BTEC folks were concerned about the examined nature of this unit, but it’s not something I’m going to lose sleep over.

The assessment is a 10 hour exam, completed as you choose over a 1 week window. It needs to be arranged as a proper exam, with JCQ rules on invigilation, etc. It is not controlled assessment. The questions will be consistent on each paper – here is a scenario and a flat data file, normalise and great an ERD, write your data dictionaries, plan your forms and reports, create your tables, import your data, create specific queries, evaluate. Only the scenario will change, though there won’t be any pre-release.

Students are expected to use something like Access (the Applied ICT said you MUST use Access – this one at least looks manageable in OpenOffice Base or potentially other relational database management software). They can use wizards, etc. and with good preparation and practice I suspect they will do just fine.

Those who haven’t been teaching the old Applied ICT course will find a treasure trove of past papers for the 6957 unit from that course.

Modelling and Web Design

We didn’t really look at these, though they will function in a similar way to the Social Media unit. Teach them some stuff and then give them two assignments – one to show understanding and one to plan, create and evaluate.

Administration

I think I was the only person at my meeting who wasn’t a long-standing BTEC teacher, so the admin side of things was new to me. I’ve heard many horror stories but it doesn’t seem so bad once you get the procedures in place.

You need a plan. You should plan to do some teaching, then release an assignment. The students should have a fixed deadline for this and once it comes in you should have your own deadline for marking it, and then getting an Internal Verifier (IV) to moderate it. Once internally verified you can give the marks out and, if there is a good reason, you can grant a resubmission to some students (though this shouldn’t be the norm – there should be a compelling reason). A bit like CA at Level 2, you can give general advice on what is needed but not specific ‘do this, add that’ kinds of comments. The resubmission then need to be back within 10 or 15 days (there was some discussion over whether this is calendar days, week days, days with a timetabled lesson and whether the clock is ticking over half terms, etc.).

A sample will always be called for the Social Media unit, though this might typically be 3 or 4 students per cohort, even for fairly large cohorts. The optional units may or may not be sampled depending on the luck of the draw, but 3 samples out of 30 is a lot less than we send off now so I’m not worried about that.

And I think that’s about it!

No doubt I’ve missed something off, but it’s worth reading the specification and having a good look at the sample assessment material (SAM). Pearson are also producing a load of delivery guides and other resources to help teachers.

My plan is to have 2 teachers, with a 60/40 split. The bigger portion will be coursework with any time remaining afterwards given over towards exam prep (especially in Y13 where it’s a 120 GLH exam and a 60 GLH coursework unit). I’ve not picked an optional unit yet.

Flash (as in Gordon, not Marvel?)

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Flash Mob – JD Hancock

Actually I mean the software. Or the plugin. Which is a big part of the problem.

“Flash Banner Ads Banished By Google”, heralds the BBC. And bang goes another nail into the lid of the coffin of a software tool I have spent years getting to grips with. This morning I saw some comments, not for the first time, suggesting that schools, and teachers, should not be “teaching Flash”.

Well, I agree, and I disagree. Teachers shouldn’t ‘teach’ specific software packages – I don’t ‘teach’ Photoshop, or Fireworks, or IDLE, or Sketchup. I hopefully teach image editing techniques, programming, problem solving and 3D modelling. It might seem a trivial difference in phrasing, but the intention it conveys and the techniques used in the classroom are very different.

As for consigning my very expensive Flash licence to the dustbin, I’m not quite so sure.

There are a couple of issues here besides pedagogical nomenclature, and while my first instinct was to defend the software with which I have a long love/hate relationship, it bears some pause for thought.

  1. Are we talking Flash the program, or Flash the plugin? The program allows me to create multimedia products – whether I choose to focus on stop frame animation, tweening, embedding of other media types or scripting. Once finished then the natural output format is a SWF file, for which you need a Flash plugin.The Flash plugin has been plagued with security holes and its demise has been clear to see for years. The newer HTML5 standard means that you no longer need to play Flash video, and Flash banner animations (the subject of today’s BBC news story) is certainly well on the way out.

    However, even in my lowly CS3 incarnation of Flash the program (released in 2007 and superseded by several newer versions) I can export projects as a Flash Movie (SWF), Quicktime video (MOV) or animated GIF (along with a host of other formats, though I find those less useful). So the animations that my Y12 students made this half term can be embedded into a website as GIFs, providing all the functionality with none of the security holes or controversy. I could create the same animation in Fireworks, but find the interface more clumsy (and that’s before we get onto the Fireworks vs Photoshop discussion on obsolescence).

  2. The Flash plugin is not dead yet! OK, it’s not a forward thinking technology. Neither is VGA and look how much fun in schools has been spoiled by having to fudge a HDMI to VGA adapter, with Raspberry Pis. There are pros and cons in looking forward and also in using what works NOW. Yes, we want to prepare students for the future, but training them in HTML5 versus teaching them principles using current tools that are mature and stable is not a simple problem to get around.

    In the meantime the Flash plugin still works, and will for some years to come. So I can still teach about frame by frame versus tweening, still Rotoscope (thanks to David Philips for showing me that one!), still help students create complex interactive products that use a range of multimedia and interactive techniques and can still get them all to work in a web browser.

  3. The alternatives aren’t (IMO) great just yet. I have some software that is great for frame by frame animation (I Can Animate, Pivot, Fireworks). There is very little out there that does tweening well (I’ve played with Swish in the past, but haven’t seen much else). There are various languages out there for scripting (VB, VBA, Javascript, Python) but none that I’ve come across that will let me combine the animation and the scripting together (and I don’t just mean a script that will play an animation, or not, but one that I can embed into the animation). Ultimately, HTML5 may well allow me to do all this, but there is no package, or set of packages, that will let me achieve what I want THAT I HAVE FOUND (I do keep looking, but tell me if you know of one!).

We do have an obligation to keep a little up to date with what we are teaching, but the skills and techniques transcend (or underpin – depending on your visualisation of choice) the tools we choose.

I find it fascinating that this comes in the same week as teachers are celebrating the release of the Usborne programming books from the 80s, surely a much more significant example of outdated software and hardware (though certainly still valuable despite that).

Is Flash the program as irrelevant to students as Flash Gordon? Or, like the Marvel version, is there still a good use for the franchise? Flash is undoubtedly on the way out, and I fully expect to be teaching the same techniques and principles using different software tools in the future. Until I can find a mature and stable product that does what I need, though, I’ll be using Flash for a little while to come.

Just say Yes!

I wonder how many times I’ve had a good idea (or a bad one) and managed to talk myself out of it. It’ll just make more work, I’ll look stupid when it falls through, I won’t pull it off, someone else would do it better than me.

I remember, some years ago, being invited down to the Emirates to do a 15 minute talk on collaborative technology. I think it was because I started a shared slideshow on Google Docs to collect and share ideas for non-techie teachers but I’m really not sure.

I’d never stood up in front of other teachers before, I was on sage or role model, I’d never even been to a conference. I read the email, read it again, thought for about 30 seconds and replied yes and hit send. I did it quick because I knew that if I thought about it I’d say no.

I didn’t know what I would say, what I would recommend or how it might be perceived. And I’d have to wangle the day out of work. But if I said yes quickly then what the hell, I’d just have to make it work. And I did.

15 tools in 15 minutes turned into a 10 minute rush through as they were running late by the time it was my turn, but it went down very well. It led to my first Teachmeet (where I further compressed it to a 7 minute version – mostly by skipping all the pauses to breathe I put into the original), a further series of sessions (including a visit to BAFTA) and ultimately, gave me the confidence to run all kinds of CPD sessions that have kept me sane.

At the same time, I’ve had lots of ideas for after school activities. I’ve bought sewable, wearable Lilypad kit, PicAXE robots, Arduino kits, Raspberry Pis and more. But my Y11s need coursework catchup time. It means more work when I am flooded with marking. It doesn’t provide ‘measurable impact’ for my appraisal. I’m tired!

However. In the same way that my CPD sessions, my CAS work and my other ‘extra’ stuff keeps me sane, running this kind of stuff is a big part of why I became a teacher in the first place. Not to get people through exams, or controlled assessment. Not to make sure my PP, SEND, Level 4, Most Able and other cohorts make the requisite demonstrations of progress according to their KS2 data. Not to convince students who ‘don’t like IT’ that they should engage for 60 minutes a week because I want them to. Those things are important, but the thing that really gets the blood flowing is working with enthusiastic people who want to know more about something.

I did that in passing before I was a teacher, and it was what made me look into a PGCE. It’s why I like running CPD for teachers. And it’s why, when I saw a tweet showing a wind speed graph at the Forth Bridge during a storm I decided I was buying a weather station, talking to the science department and doing something with students.

It’s early days, and I’m not sure I have a clear end goal – but then the end goal isn’t really the point. I’ll find some interested students, we’ll do some stuff, get lost along the way and we’ll all learn something. I don’t really know what I’m doing – so it may all go horribly wrong. It will undoubtedly cause more work for me. And I’m sure there are others (@tecoed) who could do it better. But if I don’t say yes quickly then it won’t happen. And that would be a great shame.

This is not a CPD session

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Jam Packed Roadshow, Darlington, January 2015 – Mark Clarkson

This Saturday I will be spending 6 hours at school.

Why? Because I’m launching the first Teesside Raspberry Jam – a hopefully regular meetup for people interested in Raspberry Pis.

teessidejam.eventbrite.co.uk

I say first, because I’m not counting Alan O’Donohoe’s excellent JamPacked roadshow that came to nearby Darlington last year. That was a fantastic event, and one I attended as a parent and a tech nerd rather than as a teacher. But it sowed a seed in my mind, and this year I’m determined to do more of the stuff I enjoy.

So, this Saturday I am inviting ANYONE who has an interest in Raspberry Pis to come to my school any time between 10am and 2pm. Turn up late, leave early, bring a friend, whatever works. It’s for children, adults, parents, teachers, nerd, geeks, newbies, the uninitiated, the hackers, the builders – anyone.

I will have some Pis, some robot arms, power and networking. That really is it – no program to stick to, to objectives to be assessed.

As a result of my typical network reach I’m expecting it will be largely populated my teachers from the area and pupils from my school. It would be GREAT to have a wider reach, but maybe that will come later if we can establish this as a regular (monthly?) event…

Please do come if you can, and please do spread the word.

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…

 

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.