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).

A generation of amoral hackers?

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The Mirror

I must admit, I chuckled when I saw the article by The Mirror, warning that a generation of “amoral and disruptive youngsters who use their skills to kick against society …with many using the skills they picked up in lessons”.

Anyone who has been in the classroom with a bunch of mixed-ability Y9 students, trying to encourage them to write/adapt a  program to switch on LEDs or play rock-paper-scissors, knows that classrooms aren’t exactly a hotbed of sedition.

However, I find myself in a genuine ethical dilemma when it comes to GCSE Computer Science.

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The new OCR J276 specification includes specific references to online security. As expected you get some stuff on legislation (including data protection & computer misuse), references to anti-malware, firewalls, user access levels and passwords. You now also get mention of encryption, penetration testing and network forensics.

Encryption – no problem. It’s a little vague  but there are no specific mentions of algorithms (as you get at AS level) so I dare say we’ll look at the Caeser Cipher, probably Pigpen and a couple of others – moving up to the purpose of online encryption.

The interesting bit is the addition of penetration testing and network forensics. My experience in this area is pretty limited (I once cracked a neighbour’s WEP key just to see if I could, but that’s about it). Forensics; I suppose I could look at the logs on one of our servers or have a look at ownership of files in Linux but other than that I’m a bit stumped.

The one I’m pondering, though, is penetration testing (thankfully shortened to pen testing in common parlance – I can’t imagine the sniggering this is going to induce). The aim is to try and find vulnerabilities in a computer system. And the best way to teach about it (in general) is by doing it. So, I’ve been looking into methods and software to set this up in a classroom.

I could install Kali Linux on a Raspberry Pi and use it with a home-made LAN that is totally separate from the main network, or I could use the awesomely named MyLittlePwny (based on the PwnPi OS). With a little LAN built up of various Windows boxes, a spare (outdated) Mac and some Pis I suppose I could get the students to explore and experiment. But then I suddenly find myself drawn back to that article in the Mirror.

This year I’ve already had to intervene with some Y10 Computer Science students, one of whom thought it would be funny to copy a batch file that would delete/rename work in the user’s home directory and a couple of others who thought it would be fun to distribute it around the class. Do I really want to give those students links and hands-on experience with a more powerful arsenal?

Of course any lessons on these topics would need to be bookended (and interlaced) with discussions of morality, legislation and the difference between white-hat, grey-hat and black-hat hackers.

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Top Secret

Another option is to make use of free online games (e.g. Hacker Experience or Slave Hack), maybe even looking at some paid-for desktop/mobile alternatives (e.g. the intriguing looking Top Secret, the assembly language simulation TIS-100, the retro hacking classic Uplink, its nephew Hacknet or the bizarre but engrossing looking Else Heart.Break()).

I’m not really sure what my conclusion is yet. I think that lessons in pen testing and identifying vulnerabilities in order to fix them are a good thing in principle. In practice, I’m not sure how akin it is to teaching self defence, only to find one of your students used their new skills to go and mug someone.

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.

The Best Things In Life Are Free (a story about CPD)

FREE BEER 3.3 Ready to Drink!

Originally uploaded by AGoK

They say that the best things in life are free, and yet people regularly pay £200-£400 for a one day course on a variety of topics. Heck, I’ve been lucky enough to charge for running CPD sessions myself, so I’m not writing here to complain!

This last Friday, though, the decision in school was that for our staff development PD day, where previously we have had outside speakers come in and run session on whole-school issues, we would take advantage on some of the that already exists within school. Part of it is that there are pockets of expertise in one particular area and part of it is that some teachers are (naturally) better at some things than others.

Heads of department signed their staff up to 3 sessions a week before the day and the idea was to spread staff around the sessions so we can all feed back in the next departmental twilight (this week).

I signed myself up for ‘Planning for Outstanding’ delivered by a local assistant head, ‘Starters and plenaries’ jointly run by an HE and a science specialist, and ‘Building Challenge to Support Pupil Progress’ by one of our assistant heads.

Feel free to skip a section or two if you like, but as you might have guessed by the title, the day was really, really useful and productive. It did that thing that happens at Teachmeets, the CAS Conference and other events that I would class as the very best I’ve been to – left me enthused and convinced that I have the tools to be a better classroom practicioner.

I ‘decided’ before the day that it was going to be a good one and that I wasn’t going to be cynical about being told how to teach by my fellow teachers. While I mean that, it also tells you something because I initially had to decide not to be cynical. I can safely say that no conscious descision was involved in deciding that it was a genuinely powerful and incredibly worthwhile day.

Right then, gushing over, here is a breakdown of the 3 sessions (which I summarise largely for my own reflection, but also with the hope that others can steal the same ideas for themselves).

Planning for Outstanding

In this session we looked at how we can use our in-house lesson plan to plan effectively for learning and progress. This sounds a bit dry, and it’s hard for it not to be, but after the talk about Ofsted and standards and what Ofsted expect to see and how we can make sure we plan for it, the best thing to come out of the session was a really interesting version of a lesson plan that the kids get to see.

The idea is that you produce an A4 or A3 document that looks like a lesson plan but that lasts for a whole topic of work. You have aims and objectives, key words and a place for pupil and teacher comments at key stages (say three times over the course of the unit). This allows an opportunity for providng (and, perhaps mildly cynically) evidencing AfL and students’ responses to AfL. I say mildly cynically as it saddens me that we have to produce evidence for Ofsted. That said, I think that overall it leads to a positive result as this kind of back and forth can only, really, be useful for the students.

The really intriguing section, though, is the bottom half of the page. Here you have a 3 x 10 grid (assuming a 10 week topic, adjust as necessary). For each lesson there is a satisfactory, good and outstanding description of the lesson outcome (e.g. I can create a 3D drawing of a house, I can create a 3D drawing of a house and use textures to make it look realistic, I can create a 3D drawing of a house with a range of extra features such as a garden, fence, hedge and swimming pool). You could rename these as All, Most, Some; you could use grades A-B, C-D, E-F; you could use levels 4c/4b, 4a/5c, 5b/5a.

Each student gets one to stick in their books (I know, I know, ICT, I’ll come to that) and this is their primary document throughout the project. Now it’ll take some time to prepare and you need to allow some freedom for course correction along the way, but it’s basically a whole SoW mapped out from the pupils’ perspective. I’m very, very seriously considering giving it a go.

Starters and Plenaries

This was a really, really fun session. It wasn’t run by anyone above me in the food chain (which always takes the politics out of the equation) and we more or less had a load of ideas thrown at us and we got to have a go at them. Nothing makes a session like this greater than having practical things to do and much fun was had. Here is a run down of some of the ideas we tried out:

Stand Up Sit Down – Students have 4 cards pinned together on a keyring, lettered A B C and D. Stick 15 questions on a slideshow and everyone has to show a letter. Get it wrong and you’re out (but still have to play). Be still standing at the end and get a merit, sticker, sweet or some other reward.

What’s The Image? – Print a picture, get it laminated, cut it into odd shaped pieces and instant jigsaw. Starter is to assemble the picture and deduce the topic of the lesson or kick off a discussion.

Loop Cards – A bit like dominoes with a question on the right and an answer on the left. The cards go round in a circle so read your question, whoever has the answer asks the next. Time two teams or pit whole classes against each other in a time trial.

10 Questions – One volunteer (or victim) has to answer 10 questions asked by the teacher. The class don’t comment but give a tick if they think the answer is right and write their own answer if they think it’s wrong. Discuss the answers but it takes some of the pressure off the need to be right all the time.

Mystery Bag – get a cloth bag or even a box. Put objects inside that relate to a topic and students have to feel their way around and either guess the linking theme or suggest 5 more items that could be added.

Guess The Logo – Pretty simple idea, get osme logos related to the topic and remove enough detail to make them less obvious.

Question Answer Question – Write out a list of 10 questions. The students have to first answer the question, then write a new question that leads to that answer (which you can’t do if you don’t understand the topic).

Artist’s Easel – Provide a paragraph of prose explaining a method or process (e.g. how an email gets form one computer to another). Students draw a diagram to represent the process, highlight (say) 9 key words and finally perform a diamond rank or similar.

Memory Board – Put 10 or so words on the board. Give students 20 seconds to remember them then hide them. Students have to explain all of the key words on paper or whiteboards.

Weakest Link – Odd one out game, stick 4 pictures on a slide and get students to identify and justify the odd one out. Especially good if you make the answer ambiguous.

You Say We Pay – Slideshow of images related to a topic with obvious names written underneath. One (or two if you want some competition) pupils sit with their back to the screen and have to guess the object. Those giving clues aren’t allowed to use any of the words on the board.

What’s In My Head? – At the end of a lesson have a picture of a head with some key words behind it (unseen). Pupils list the keywords they think you will have included and then you can reveal the answers or get students to elaborate on their suggestions.

What’s The Question? – Based on jeopardy, have a series of answers on the whiteboard and students have to work out the questions.

Guess Who – Just like the Churchill advert (Am I…. Genghis Khan?). Laminate some A3 paper, cut into strips and apply velcro to make a headband. Laminate some people, objects or ideas and away you go.

True/False – Write some HARD true/false questions. Two teams have a go at guessing the answers – teams because this encourages debate and discussion about WHY the answer is true or false. They’re tough questions so there’s no shame in getting it wrong and even if guessing you have a 50/50 chance.

Scrambled Letters (this was my favourite) – laminate 3 copies of the alphabet per group (groups of 3 work well). Each person should have one copy of every letter. Set a question and the winners are the first group to spell out the whole answer. Teachers (at leasT) get HUGELY competetive. And it hits the literacy agenda too.

Dominoes – Produce domino cards with words relating to the topic in hand. Students have to play the cards however they want as long as they can justify the links in the context of the topic.

Diamond Rank – Produce 9 cards or key words. Students (preferably in groups) organise these into 1 most important, 2 very important, 3 important, 2 less important and 1 least important.

Missing Object – Create a slide with 15 or 20 objects. Then a blank slide, then the same slide with 1 object missing. It’s surprisingly difficult to spot the missing object.

As well as those, check out ContentGenerator, Quiz Busters and Triptico for loads more white-board based ideas

Building Challenge to Support Pupil Progress

This was another great session, with a good mix of theory and practical ideas. Initially expecting it to be about G&T students I actually found myself being given a whole range of strategies that fit in well with my minimally invasive strategy. They’re mutually exclusive in the sense that I have to be invasive enough to set specific tasks, but the principle of encouraging students to think and learn for themselves is on the same wavelength. The workshop leader even started with the same sat-nav metaphor I used with my Y8s last week.

The theory stuff included why we need challenge (e.g. top football teams raising their game against their closest rivals) and what happens if we don’t have it (no sense of achievement, slow progress). We looked at the fixed vs growth mindsets and examined questioning strategies (which I have always found to be a weakness of mine). The Pit is an idea whereby if you draw a graph of clarity vs time you start just positive (concept), dip way down (conflict), start to turn a corner (construct) and shoot out higher than ever (consider). The idea is that by tackling tricky concepts without being spoon fed you get confused, but then work your way back up and ultimately understand the topic far better. All of the practical tasks below are designed to support this pattern.

The practical stuff that supported this could largely fit into the previous session as well, although some tasks were too long to be thought of as plenaries and starters. not all, though, by a long shot.

TarsiaGoogle it and you’ll find a website that lets you input key words and spits out triangles that fit together by linking two things together. Like a domino but with more complexity and more thinking involved.

Concept Mapping – Something that many of probably come across, but I hadn’t. List key words randomly around a piece of sugar paper then draw lines to connect some of them. On the lines write (in prose) about the links and explain them. After a few minutes, swap with another group and you can’t make any new connections, but have to expand on the previous ones. Perhaps repeat once more and then go back to see what has happened to your original map.

Which Wordle Words? – Use Wordle or Tagxedo to create a uniform word cloud and have students select just 5 of the most important. Then make them rank them or use them in a sentence. Tagxedo has the added benefit that you can mouse over the words and they will pop out on the screen so you can highlight them interactively.

Thinking Tube Line – Grab a screenshot of a train line (preferably with a branch somewhere) and remove the station names. Have one concept at one end (e.g. freedom) and one at the other (Internet). Students then have to fill in the station getting from one to the other. It may end up as a journey or a continuum, or something else. Surprisingly tricky to do and if you do get a high flier finished early then add a thir word at the end of the branch (safety) and get them to think a bit deeper.

Folded Opinion Line – A twist on a classic. Have ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’ on the back wall and students stand according to their opinion. Get the left-hand half to step forward, turn around and shuffle to the far end – the most extreme on the right is facing the most central, and the other most central is facing the furthest on the left. Each side must talk for 30 seconds without pause or interuption about why they chose to stand where they did and at the end they decide on a (potentially) new place to stand.

Challenge Cards – Rather than rewarding quick finishers with more work at the same level, give them a card with a question. A really tough question. Maybe give KS3 students a GCSE question, or GCSE students an A Level question. How does the Internet work? When is it OK to ignore copyright? What is the definition of a computer?

6×6 – Produce a 6×6 placemat of pictures or key words (or both). Students roll a die to select the row and the column, ultimately collecting two pictures. They then have to explain the link between them in the context of the topic at hand. Surprisingly engaging and more-ish.

What If? – What if the Internet broke tomorrow? Students consider the question and suggest 3 things. Now ask which is th emost likely, the most appealing, the most concerning?

Bloom’s Taxonomy Planner – There are a few versions of this around. Print one out and stick it near your desk or wherever you plan. You could devise questions for your lesson plan or make them up on the hoof, but by having the starting points at your fingertips you can tailor the level of challenge to the progress of the students. Struggling? Ask some basic knowledge questions. Doing well? What about some application or analysis? High fliers? Jump straight to synthesis and evaluation.

Thinking Dice (URL)- This wasn’t actually included in the session but following a brilliant session by Steve Bunce at the Optimus Education ICT2012 conference last week the whole department are getting some thinking dice. 6 brightly coloured dice with question starters ranked by their level according to Bloom. Get the students to come up with the questions for you. Weaker students can start with the red – the most able with the blue and purple. At £10 a throw (no finaincial gain for me, I promise) I think they look pretty good.

Matching Words – Start with an unrelated topic (e.g. cars). Individuals (in teams of 4) have 60 seconds to write down as many words as possible. The team captain then reads out their list and ONLY gets a point if EVERYONE in the group has that word. Repeat for a related topic and add the scores. In theory, all teams should do better on the second attempt, and they are surprisingly reluctant to cheat.

So there you have it. 34 ideas by my reckoning. That’s even more than you get at an average teachmeet, for an entire staff and at a total cost of £0. Easily the best value CPD I’ve had this week.

Teachmeets are awesome

Pub

Originally uploaded by sunflowerdave (professional loungist)

This post is about Teachmeet North East 2012

As I said a post or two ago, we need to recognise (well, I need to reassure myself) that we can’t all do everything. And after a bit of a crappy first half of the week I wasn’t 100% certain I would pay my £12 rail fare and give up my Thursday evening to go up to Newcastle and talk shop for the evening, albeit in the function room of a really nice pub.

But, as with every Teachmeet I’ve ever been to, I’m really, really glad I did just that.

For those not familiar with the format, a load of teachers organise via a wiki to meet up somewhere for 3 hours or so, and a number of them agree to do either a short 7 minute talk, or an even shorter 2 minute talk on some aspect of classroom practice. A tool, a tip, a technique – anything at all.

It helps if you can get someone like Vital or Northern Grid to chip in a few quid to hire a room and provide some nibbles.

And what you get is a load of teachers who are startlingly passionate about education, and about learning, and about being better at what we do.

It takes a bit of nerve to stand up in front of other teachers, but actually it’s a very positive atmosphere. If the topic doesn’t interest you, it’s only 7 minutes. And in the many Teachmeets I’ve attended, I can count on one hand the topics that didn’t grab me. I have to take my socks off to count all the ideas I’ve nicked.

As one friend of mine said just last night, “This can’t be CPD. I enjoy it.” And he’s got a point. While I’ve taken positives from some of the INSET work in school and some of the courses I’ve been on, I’ve never had as much fun OR learned as much OR been inspired as much OR been as engaged as much as happens at Teachmeets.

Over the next week or so I’ll be commenting on a few of the specific presentations that have given me pause for thought, but for now, take this as a massive plug to find your nearest Teachmeet (there are loads of them) and get yourself some first rate CPD.

It’s OK to miss things

layup

Originally uploaded by Kilgub

My best mate at school was a huge music fan. Dave had thousands of albums by bands I couldn’t even pronounce, let alone remember. He was always ready for the next big thing, spotting the likes of Pulp and many others long before the likes of you and me had come across them. I was fortunate to borrow a few CDs now and then – I distinctly remember him introducing me to Nirvana, and many other groups you’d likely never have heard of – but I was never really up on the whole music thing.

I always felt slightly envious of him – because he never missed anything. He knew exactly what was going on and always kept his finger on the bleeding edge (I do love a mixed metaphor).

In the years since then I’ve met lots of people like Dave. When I first started teaching I worked with Darren Smith, an early Moodle adopter who seemed to be very well up on where ICT in schools was going. When I first got into blogging it was all about Islay, and Islay Ian was my go-to guy for all things Web 2.0 and technology in the classroom. Once I got into Twitter it was the likes of Doug Belshaw who seemed to be the kind of person who knew exactly what was going on and somehow managed to keep lots of fingers in lots of pies, while still maintaining excellent classroom practice.

And as great as Darren, Ian and Doug are, they’re also pretty daunting as exemplars. Like my friend Dave, they seem to never miss a trick, to always be up on the next big thing and they can easily make the rest of us feel, if not inadequate, certainly less successful.

A couple of years ago my morning routine used to consist of reading through all of the overnight tweets in my timeline, lest I miss some key conversation or idea. Then going on to my RSS reader and seeing what was going on in the blogosphere. I couldn’t bear the thought that I would miss out on something.

Of course, that’s ridiculous. There are bound to be conversations I’m not part of, blog posts I don’t get to read and ideas that pass me by entirely. That’s as it’s always been and how it should be. It’s OK if I don’t hear about a piece of software before a colleague, or if someone in the staffroom is sharing a new online tool with me instead of the other way around. And it is important that I take time away from reading up on ideas and actually try using them in the classroom (that and eating, sleeping, spending time with my family…).

What brought this to my mind is the collection of tweets, blog posts and the Teachmeet livestream coming out of the NAACE conference over the last few days. I’m not really involved with NAACE, although I know many who are. And for a moment I felt guilty that I wasn’t spending my Saturday watching the Teachmeet being beamed out live. And that I hadn’t followed who was presenting what throughout the conference. But if it’s important or key, I know that some very good people will make sure it floats to the top. Because the good ideas do tend to do that, and those very good people are on the case.

And at the next Teachmeet, I’ll try to do the same. I’ve not been to one yet that hasn’t resulted in a number of blog posts and many tweets – and those who aren’t there might pick up on one thing or another. Or they might not. And we’ll all cope, because it’s OK to miss things. We’re only human, after all.

Using Google Spreadsheets for pupil motivation

Drew Buddie asked teachers to suggest their favourite three minute apps and, being me, I suggested two.

For sheer enjoyment there is the excellent Isle Of Tune, a tool for creating your own beats and loops with a virtual map and cars. It’s a lot more addictive than it sounds and it’s great fun.

For teaching and learning though, I suggested Google Spreadsheets.

My iMedia students have to complete a number of coursework tasks for each unit, and keeping track and getting the students motivated can be tricky.

About 18 months ago, however, I hit upon an idea. I set up a quick Google Spreadsheet with student names down the side, tasks across the top and colour coded the cells. Red means not attempted, yellow means attempted and green means good enough.

The spreadsheet is then published globally (with an insanely long and unguessable URL, for security – although no surnames are present anyway). Google will also give you some code to embed your spreadsheet into an existing web page – so we have the grid embedded at the top of each unit’s course on our (Moodle) VLE.

As well as making it quick and simple to see where students are at a glance, it has been a real motivator. Some of the more ‘challenging’ students now see it as a competition to get the most greens up as quick as possible.

Although I use this with pass/fail tasks, I see no reason why the idea couldn’t be adapted to suit graded pieces of work too. The colours could relate to personal targets, or could relate to A*/A, B/C, D and below, depending on your needs.