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).

Advertisements

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 😀

ICT Films

Abandoned cinema 1962

Originally uploaded by phill.d

At school we have a licence that allows us to show any film to students for no charge.

Thinking about extra-curricular activities, it would be great if kids understood what it was like to have to use dialup to connect to another computer (War Games), or how people viewed the internal workings of a computer (Tron).

I’m thinking about having a monthly #ictfilm screening and encouraging students to come along, bring some popcorn and gain a bit of ICT insight.

Throwing suggestions open to Twitter I got the following suggestions (in no particular order).

War Games
Tron
Short Circuit
The Matrix
Avatar
Sneakers
Hackers
Johnny Mnemonic
The Social Network
The Pirates of Silicon Valley
Terminator
Terminator 2
AI
I, Robot
Bladerunner
War Games 2
Wall-E
Minority Report
2001
Silent Running
Avatar
Weird Science
Gattaca
Total Recall
Fifth Element
Source Code
The Last Starfighter
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
The Net

I’ve not seen all of those, and I’d have to check certificates (is there a way I can exempt the certificate with parental permission as it’s for education purposes, I wonder?).

Any other ideas?

A Programme of Study for ICT

learn

Originally uploaded by Mark Brannan

Programme of Study
Medium Term Plan

It’s taken me ages to write this post, probably moreso than it took me to write the documents below – but anyone who has ever tried to make use of gained time will understand why.

With the official dis-application of the ICT Programme of Study (or PoS – and make what you will of that acronym…) schools have the freedom to teach what they want, how they want.

Some have seen that as a sign that ICT isn’t important and can be, at best farmed out to all of the other subjects, and and at worst just simply dropped without trace. This is, of course, incredibly short-sighted and probably likely to backfire. It’s true that Ofsted are focusing much more on numeracy and literacy, but if you listen to what the DfE are saying, their move to disapply the PoS is nothing to do with ICT not being important – quite the opposite.

People like CAS, BCS, the Royal Society, Microsoft and Google are all telling us, and telling those in power, that ICT isn’t doing everything it should (which is not the same as saying that ICT is no good). And so those in power are giving us an opportunity to do what we want. Not in the way that Mrs. C says “do want you want” when she’s in a strop, but in that positive, empowering way of saying “OK, you show me what you want to do and we’ll see where we go from there”.

In two years there will be a new, officially sanctioned PoS. One that will go beyond *just* using Microsoft Office and Flowol (I know that many people have been doing much more than that for years, but not because of the PoS, and it’s scary how many tales I’ve heard of schools that haven’t gone beyond that). What we do now will influence that PoS, so we need to try things out and push the boundaries a bit. Some stuff will work, some won’t, but that’s a part of education. Right?

Writing a PoS for my department was easy. Really easy It took me about an hour. Why? Well, largely because we’ve always treated the PoS with disdain. We’ve made sure we’ve ticked the right boxes, but we’ve treated it as a pretty low floor and pretty ugh done what we’ve wanted to anyway. Gove says we could have 11 year olds making simple 2D animations in a free program called Scratch? Our Y7s were writing Pong and Breakout clones years ago!

Along with that I’ve written what I have called a medium term plan. Now, don’t tell anyone, but I don’t really know the difference between a SoW and a MTP, but it’s a list of units we might do and how they will fit together to meet my draft PoS.

I think the two documents nicely lead through a 3-stranded curriculum, with digital literacy (using a computer on a day-to-day level) at the core and stretching out through creative skills and computing topics alike. There are a couple of notable omissions, specifically in the form of image and video editing. We do intend to teach those, but as the logistics can be tricky and the outcomes very risky we’ve not included them in the PoS – so there is no stick to beat us with if we fail.

This task is being emulated in lots of other places – check out ictcurric and digitalstudies for just two examples of collaborative SoW, but perhaps this might be a useful pair of documents for others.

Y7 Self Evaluation

I’m just doing some marking and had to post this somewhere. My Y7s have spent 3 weeks using PowerPoint properly (as in Slide Master, consistency, etc.) followed by 3 weeks of using Prezi to meet the same project brief (a GCSE Astronomy revision guide). They then had 20 minutes to complete an evaluation and comparison of the tools.

This is the best piece of Y7 written work I think I have ever seen in my classroom:

I think my PowerPoint Presentation is consistent and organized.I think this because my presentation uses the same layout throughout each slide and it is neat and orderly instead of being messy,unorganized and lacking punctuation.

I made my presentation suitable for the audience because I did not use fun,exciting fonts with animations because this would not suit Year 11 revision. I used consistent colours throughout every slide so that the audience is not to busy checking the slide colours instead of reading the actual information to revise.We used several tools including buttons to add links to other pages so the students don’t need to look at all pages to get to the required information.We also used Slide Master to make sure all of the slides look consistent.For example,if you used Slide Master the background,font and button will remain the same throughout the Slide Show.

I think my Prezi Presentation is imaginative and creative while still learning information.I think this because my Prezi Presentation is using the right amount of information to keep the audience engaged while still using some animation but not using to much to keep the audience completely focused on animation.

I made my Prezi Presentation suitable because I used suitable colours and fonts throughout while still using engaging features.For example,I used a zooming in feature which will still intrest the audience,but not too much to drive them to completely focus on the animation.I used many tools,including Path, too choose the direction the Prezi will go,and Theme Master, which helps make a fun,interesting backround and it also makes the fonts remain consistent.

I think that Powerpoint still remains the best revision guide because the animations could still put off the audience even though the animations are subtle.But,I still think that Prezi is the most engaging presentation due to the various fonts and animations whereas I find that PowerPoint is the most useful due to the Home Buttons and Links to send you directly to the required slide.

I found that Prezi was the easiest to use due to the simple layout of the options. This is because everything is set out well because of the simple shapes used.I also found that I enjoyed using Prezi the best because it is a new way to present ideas instead of using a bland,traditional presentation.

I would probably still use PowerPoint due to experience on it,but if I wanted an appealing,engaging presenation,I would choose Prezi.

Don’t Panic!

don’t panic towel

Originally uploaded by norrix

Well, by now you really ought to be aware that the secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, has had quite a lot to say this morning on the topic of ICT and Computing provision in schools.

I’m not actually going to say too much about the speech specifically, but more about the consequences.

What I will say is that the rhetoric and soundbites in the media outlets* had me pretty disheartened first thing – but reading the detail in many of those reports and the speech itself I think everything’s going to be fine (and if you disagree, just go to make-everything-ok.com).

I’ve seen forum threads, tweets and comments all day from teachers in turns ecstatic, perturbed and distraught at the future prospects for careers, subject areas and the academic future of our students.

ICT provision at KS1, 2, 3 and 4 is still compulsory. And so it should be. Students need to know how to use computers to complete tasks – modelling, presenting information, research. This may be delivered in a cross-curricular format, at least at KS2 and 4. It may be taught as a discrete subject.

Maybe this will give SLTs and HoDs the push they need to look at which elements really should be taught in a cross-curricular format. Maybe Science and Maths will be given some formal responsibility for delivering some of the above. All schools now formally have the freedom to choose the most appropriate method. I would more than happily let my Maths colleagues deliver spreadsheet skills and modelling techniques. I’m not suggesting that cross-curricular is the only way to go, but I spend so much of my time making up scenarios to give the skills a context that it does seem there’s an opportunity there.

And what of the Computing side of the curriculum? I’ve been teaching Computing topics at KS3 for years. Initially just when ‘no-one was looking’ (especially the kids), but increasingly explicitly as the years have gone on. And I’m hardly alone. Gove has been quoted suggesting that in the near future our 11 year olds could be creating 2D animations. I started delivering Scratch lessons to my Y7s in 2006 I think…

At KS4, those studying a GCSE or other Level 2 course in ICT can continue to do so and I’m equally certain that ICT qualifications will be around for a long time. With the expansion of Computing topics lower down, there should be more opportunities for Computing to be popular as a formal qualification, and this is a good thing. It’s about choice and exposure.

Some are clearly concerned that Computing is for a niche, or at best a minority. I wouldn’t go that far, but History, Geography, Music, Drama, Art… they’re none of them for everyone at KS4. And again, nor should they be. But now, hopefully, all schools will have Computing at KS3 so that students can make an informed choice, and all schools should be able to offer Computing as a qualification so that students have an opportunity.

What changed today? For me, actually, very little. I had a great discussion with my Y9s about their options (as planned), practiced search techniques with my Y8s (as planned), created radio adverts with one Year 11 group (as planned), had a go at coding a theatre booking system with my Y11 Computing group (as planned) and looked at the TCP/IP stack and common protocols with my Y12s (as planned). Tomorrow will be similar. Y7s creating a database, Y13 creating an interactive Flash product, Y10 video editing, Y12 practising working with arrays – a broad and balanced curriculum made up of essential application skills, creative use of computers and the study of how to make computers work for us.

The future is not what a politician tells us it will be, the future is what we do with what we’ve got.

* BBC News – “The current information and communications technology (ICT) curriculum in England’s schools is a “mess” and must be radically revamped”

Telegraph – “‘Dull’ technology school lessons to be replaced”

ZDNet – “‘Boring’ IT classes face being axed”

I could go on…