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).

Re-finding my teaching mojo

Back to School – Bluesquarething

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

A Programme of Study for ICT


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.

TMNE10: Objectivity

The Game

Context: Teachmeet Northeast took place on Thursday 9th December. Each day I’m blogging about one thing I learned at the event.

I didn’t catch the name of the presenter for this one, but we had a 2 minute nano presentation on learning objectives and the idea that we really do it back to front. My learning objectives are always written;

  • What:
  • How:
  • Why:

This, to me, has made sense. It’s not had the jargon factor with WILTS and other acronyms and it is simple to put together when planning a lesson.

It’s an interesting thought, though, that I might have it bass ackwards. I taught a lesson today in which I used the same headings but in reverse.

First, I considered WHY we were doing this lesson. Why had I built the lesson plan the way I had? What was the point? In this case it was because problem solving in a fun way leads us nicely into thinking about algorithms and how to program computers, but that’s almost incidental to the blog post.

Next, I wrote down HOW we were going to do it. By what mechanism. This answer was very similar to the ‘how’ had I written the objectives the other way around – by using a game called Light Bot 2.

Finally I wrote WHAT we were going to do – in this case solving problems using loops.

It took me a while to appreciate this way of thinking. It’s easy to simply write the objectives as normal and then flip them, but that kind of misses the point. The point is to think about WHY you’re doing the lesson. This lesson. Right now. That should be the fundamental crux of the lesson. You build the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ around that. If you start with the ‘what’ at the centre then you’re not teaching skills, you’re just completing an activity. Tail wagging the dog. You can pick your own cliché.

Equally I think this is important for the students. They will often turn up and ask ‘What are we doing today?’. Really they should be asking ‘Why are we doing this lesson?’ and only then trying to work out how to get there.

I think there’s a pretty strong argument in there. And I might try rewriting my objectives this way round for every lesson in the future.

Image attribution: The Game Originally uploaded by v@lentina