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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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.

Why I don’t want to be a specialist

Specialist

I remember making a blog post a year or so ago about the fact that I was being pulled in several different directions and I wasn’t sure if I liked it. We’ve all the heard the phrase “Jack of all trades and master of none”, and I was worried about exactly that.

When I was first starting out in teaching I came from a relatively technical background of computer programming with a bit of networking and web design thrown in for good measure. I expected teaching ICT to be similar, but quickly found I had to brush up some relatively specific tasks – vlookups in Excel, switchboards in Access. This was OK and while it was a little less technical than I would have liked I figured I knew where I stood.

Then along came iMedia, and suddenly I reading documents that referred to the Rule of Thirds, the Golden Means, Shot Angles and Match Cut Edits as though I knew what the heck was being talked about. I had the good fortune to work with some brilliant colleagues from Thespian Studies (or Drama, as they are more commonly known) who got me (and the students) through the basics. Suddenly the Rule of Thirds was being applied not just to images or videos, but to web design, leaflets, presentations and more. I became the media ‘expert’ in the department (for the time being, although I’ve since been superseded in that role).

I still hankered for my programming though, something I had enjoyed since I first realised you could do more than just play cassettes with a Spectrum. I tried a couple of after school clubs over the years, got involved with the AS Computing course and am single handedly manning the new GCSE Computing as of about 3 weeks ago when my first after-school classes started. My Head of Department is more of a coder than I ever was, but I’m up there.

After two and a half years at the school I was looking to move on, until the Head offered my a Second in Department role that was effectively Head of KS3 ICT on paper (although I still maintain that “Assistant to the Head of Department” is essentially what I was doing within the first 12 months) – and so I’ve had the responsibility for managing, preparing and overseeing the KS3 curriculum for some time.

A lot of people have made mention of my love of cross-curricular ICT. The use of Cloud Computing and Web 2.0 to improve access to software and the sharing of ideas. The use of free and open-source software to provide access for students without £3k to drop on a copy of the Adobe Master Suite. The Techy Tips newsletters that I wrote for a while (I’m so far past deadline on the last I’m declaring a hiatus) seemed reasonably popular with a few. My Mukoku resource sharing site is not the central hub for resources just yet but I’m getting a fair bit of traffic and feedback.

Did I also mention that I’m the lead teacher on the AS and A2 ICT courses? And in charge of the school website since a colleague and I redesigned it from scratch 3 years ago?

So I have lots of hats, and it worried me for a long time that I was a master of none of them. What a load of tosh.

OK, I’m no Stanley Kubrick, but not that many people actually know what a Match Cut Edit is. I’m not the best in the school, not even the best in the department, but I can get kids to understand and even apply the rule of thirds, to understand why a low angle shot is menacing and a high angle shot makes the subject look meek. Second best at programming still means I can hack the PHP on the school website well enough, write enough Python and Java to get me up to and including the AS Level Computing standard without having to stay up until 3am. I genuinely think that our KS3 Programme of Study and the resources we have made are pretty sound and while I’m not spending as much time as I have in the past trying to push out ICT ideas to the rest of the staff, I’m still dropping the odd URL in pigeon holes and mentioning particular tools and sites when I get the chance. So yes, I am a “Jack of all trades” – but I think I’m pretty good at most of them. And if I ploughed all my time into programming, or into media, then my life would be a lot less rich and my skills far less useful. So sod being a specialist in one field. Why not just aim to reach the level of “damned good” in all of them?

Web Design in WordPress?

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Image: eisenrah

In Y8 our students do a web design unit. We do a little HTML, introduce Dreamweaver, plan a 4-5 page site and build it using templates and tables. The end result is, largely, not very good. We’ve tried a range of contexts; ‘choose your own’, ‘rock bands’, ePortfolio of DT work – and the result is always a plain looking website that isn’t finished and students that don’t really understand what they’ve done or how to do it again. Those that have their own website outside school generally use a website builder to do it, and feel a lot more ownership of it (that said, they’re also not very good in general).

On the other hand, what I do in terms of web design usually involves Moodle, WordPress, Joomla or some other CMS (Content Management System) in which the design and the content are separated. I hack a round a bit with CSS, I change images, I install the odd widget or external module. The individual content blocks (like this) are either written in a WYSIWYG editor or done quickly in Kompozer and the HTML cut and pasted in. Although I both have and do write website from scratch, it’s pretty rare these days.

A third option would be to us an online website creator – Google Sites, Wix, whatever else is equivalent to Geocities. The students use these as easy ways to quickly create a website – the reason being that they are easy. The problem with that is that the underlying skills are not being taught and there is little or no understanding.

So what skills do we want the students to pick up? HTML coding, how to set out content (whether through CSS, DIVs or tables), the nature of embedding media (tags linking to images, videos, etc.), hyperlinks, design principles…

There’s no reason why you couldn’t do this with WPMU blogs. Students choose their own theme, customise the layout, change the banner and add the bulk of content as pages rather than posts and use the blog feed as ‘news’. The hardest task would be the logistics of setting up the software on a server and getting the LDAP authentication working.

Any thoughts?