Sunday, September 16, 2012

Upskilling, workloads and trolls

Despite all the good intentions in my last post I've not updated this blog since the end of February. Other things have continually taken priority in what has been the busiest period in my teaching career. However today I am so incensed that the exam data analysis and the creation of GCSE Computing resources have been put on one side while I get a few things off my chest.

This is my seventh year of teaching. I graduated with a 2.1 in Computer Science in 1992 and worked for 13 years for a high street bank as variously a programmer, systems analyst, process manager, project manager and data analyst. When I hit my forties I decided that I wanted to do something for a living that would make more of a difference than fractionally increasing the profits of a vast multinational company (an idealist notion but one that given the current state of the banking industry looks more prudent than it did at the time). I therefore gave up my well paid job, retrained as an ICT teacher and am currently Subject Leader for ICT at a community school near Bristol. 

During my time as a teacher I have taught numerous different courses - GNVQ, DiDA, BTEC (currently developing resources for the third version of the spec), OCR Nationals (2 different specs), Digital Cre8tor, 2 different Applied ICT A level courses and now Computing GCSE. In addition I have completely overhauled the KS3 curriculum and contributed to the #ictcurric resource bank. I've taught myself numerous different software packages including various versions of Adobe Creative suite, Scratch, Game Maker, Alice and umpteen versions of MS Office and am continually updating the students resources for each. I've also attended training courses and teachmeets and strive to ensure that my skills are kept up to date in a very fast moving subject area.

This year we had already decided to start teaching Computing GCSE before Gove stood up to make his speech at BETT and I had been using Codecademy and other online resources to brush up on my very rusty programming skills. I was contacted last week by a journalist from the Guardian, Louise Tickle who was looking to interview teachers who were teaching GCSE Computing for an article offering advice to other teachers starting the course. I know that with my background I am in a fortunate position in having a relevant degree and career experience in the IT industry but wanted to stress that it was a steep learning curve for all teachers who had previously only taught the ICT elements of the subject. Here's the article:-

However when looking through the comments I came across the following:-

Now I know all about not feeding the trolls and a quick look through tristanmax's other comments shows what calibre of troll he is:-

I am quite happy with "educational apartheid" as you put it. I see little benifit to throwing thick people amoung the brightest. There can only be one beneficiary of this idea, and that is for the thick kids. Pray tell, how will a gifted bright kid benefit from being surrounded by thick kids? 
12 September 2012

However I am angered by his casual dismissal of all my hard work when he so evidently has little or no knowledge about what is actually happening in education. I am also incensed by the impression that Gove and his like are trying to give, that the state of ICT teaching is the result of weak, lazy ICT teachers rather than the result of endless meddling by politicians. The department of education came out with the national strategy lessons so derided by Gove.  When schools are judged almost entirely by the number of students achieving 5 A*-C is it any wonder that schools and by extension ICT departments have been under immense pressure to go down the GNVQ / OCR Nationals multiple GCSE equivalent courses? The introduction of Functional Skills IT with the Diploma further increased the pressure to teach only MS Office skills. Many of the more innovative SOWs I put together in my last school were replaced by teams of non specialist teachers delivering only functional ICT once I left . Many ICT teachers have been working hard to resist this pressure and have put massive amount of time and effort into developing the ICT curriculum despite the outside pressure to become qualification factories. Most ICT teachers I know are gearing up to teach computing. However with the very rapid introduction of the changes, little or no training available within schools and massive existing workload it is no wonder that they are feeling so stressed about the changes and worried about how to update their skills 

It's great that I'm now getting official backing for the changes to the ICT curriculum that I was making anyway but I'm sick of having this new focus on computing being used as yet another stick with which to beat teachers. 

Rant over - back to my exam data analysis. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Rethinking my thinking

I've had a few setbacks at work this week which left me feeling quite negative. This was topped off by finding that I had been unsuccessful in my application for the Google Teaching Academy. However it was this last event which has turned round my mood and got me into a much better frame of mind with a new project in my sights. While disappointed, I was unsurprised not to get a place as I'd been unhappy with my video which I'd procrastinated on and then rushed at the last minute. So I watched several successful and unsuccessful video applications to gain pointers for next time. What struck me from almost all of them was the innovation and passion for learning that they displayed. Reflecting on my own practice I think I've become too bogged down in the day to day issues which are the reality of working in a struggling school (which has recently gone into special measures). In the terms of the rather corny homily about filling a jar first with big stones, then pebbles and finally sand to see whether it is full, my time has become filled with the pebbles and sand with no room for the big ideas any more.

So this afternoon I'm making time for some deeper thinking about what I'm trying to achieve and this blog post is part of organising my thoughts for a project I want to get stuck into. My school runs something call iLearn which consists of 6 lessons a fortnight for years 7 and 8. It consists of RS, PHSE and ICT and the aim is to develop independent learning and teamwork skills:- 

As the subject leader for ICT my first concern was that by including ICT in the mix the majority of students had all their KS3 lessons delivered by non-specialists (with year 9 being the start of KS4 / OCR Nationals). This has been limiting the complexity of the lessons that we can deliver. Given the move towards a more computing focused curriculum this is becoming even more of an issue. It also meant that I was delivering RS and PHSE lessons which is not something I felt equipped for.

I think there is a real need to improve independent learning skills and promote deeper learning. Schools are under such pressure to deliver results that it becomes more and more tempting to spoon feed students rather than let them discover the answers for themselves. Many year 7s arrive at secondary school after a year focused on SATs and are already becoming passive, rather than active learners. League table pressure in secondary schools accelerates this so that by the time they get to year 11 many seem incapable of independent work and expect to be told exactly what to do and how for each task. 

iLearn is trying to address this but I feel it needs to be more radical. I'd like to develop more of a Project Based Learning approach which is technology enabled but not technology dominated. Each subject (or better still combinations of subjects) could supply essential questions which could be developed into projects to deepen learning of a particular topic. It would give time to the sort of learning that can only normally be tackled on our infrequent enrichment days and would allow students to join up some of the disparate secondary subjects. It would also improve digital literacy skills which has been a theme I keep coming back to. Typing this I know it is what primaries are so good at but which in many secondary schools we seem to have no time to do. I also know that some secondary schools are already doing this with varying degrees of success. So I need to get researching and thinking and planning to get these vague, half formed ideas into a workable proposal. 

As part of my research today I cam across this video

I need to develop my slow hunch and make the time and space to do so. 

Finally an appeal for help. Have you implemented a similar project? Where should I start? What pitfalls do I need to avoid? What difference has this approach made? All comments gratefully received.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Year, New Enthusiasm

Reading back through the majority of my posts last year you could be forgiven for wondering why I've called this blog The Web 2.0 Optimist. With strikes, gripes and despair over ICT qualifications I've sounded anything but optimistic. The ever present shadow of OFSTED which is a fact of life when you work in a school under notice to improve doesn't give you must incentive for enthusiasm and optimistic thinking. 

Well for better or worse OFSTED finally arrived the penultimate week of last term and whatever the verdict we will at least know where we stand when the report comes out. So time for a New Year fresh start and a large dose of positivity. Time to try some new ideas and shake off the doom and gloom.

This morning reminded me why I love Twitter so much. Over the holiday I had come across via Twitter and thought it looked good. However in the middle of the Christmas festivities I didn't investigate it in any detail. Over the past few days however I've seen it mentioned a few times in my Twitter stream and thought I'd better have a proper look. I'm glad I did. Class Dojo is a free online behaviour management application. You can set up classes by copying and pasting classlists:-

You can also set up your own positive and negative behaviours for each class:-

You can then award points in realtime, either from your PC or from a smartphone as you walk round the class. 

You can keep the application up on the IWB while you are going round the class and when you award a point it makes a satisfying boing noise and updates the running total for the student. I tested it out with my 11 year old daughter and her sleepover mate and they loved it. It also produces summary reports and you can reset the running totals when you like e.g at the start of each term. I'm going to try it out with my classes on Monday and see how we get on. I think it is going to be really useful for focusing my attention on those students who work hard every lesson rather than those whose poor attitude to learning seem to take up more of my time.

After mentioning Class Dojo on twitter I received links from others who are using it in classroom, Mark Cummingham and Matt Fottergill which have given me a headstart in my experiments next week. Matt tipped me off about the students wanting to change their avatars and gave me the opportunity to look up on the help section to see how to do it. I also liked Mark's idea about letting the students award points to others who have helped them or to themselves when they have completed a task and it made me think more about the categories I need to set up. On a technical note, while looking through the help section I noticed that Class Dojo does not run in IE without a plugin. This isn't a problem on my laptop as I have Chrome installed but the desktop attached to my IWB only has IE7 so I need to make sure the plugin will download on the school network before starting to use it in the classroom.

Other ideas in the pipeline. I really like Ian Addison's planning googlesite:-

and am going to be working with a fellow ICT HoD to try and create a similar one covering secondary ICT. 

I also want to get contributing more to #ictcurric resources as I've been somewhat distracted of late:-

I'm off to London on Friday afternoon for the BETT Teachmeet and then the show on Saturday. I'm particularly looking forward to the teachmeet takeovers and putting some faces to twitter ids. Couple of BETT ideas:-

100 faces project might be an idea for a joint school blogging project for yr7 or yr8 - family photos with an interview or written piece about the person - can we get faces from 1 year old to 100 years old on a joint blog.

Also want to checkout Mirandanet and have applied to join

And if that lot doesn't keep me busy, I've also learnt to crochet over the holiday which I'm really enjoying. There - now that's a little more positive. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Radio Times Logic

I don't normally do short blog posts but couldn't tweet this in 140 characters and it's something that is bugging me.

Spot the difference competition:-

Fact - older people are more likely to buy the Radio Times

Fact - Older people are more likely to die

Self evident fact - The Radio Times kills people

From the TES this week quoting OFSTED:-

Fact - 'Some schools have outstanding or good teaching'

Fact - 'Many of these schools have good or outstanding behaviour'

Self evident fact 'Therefore good teaching leads to good behaviour'

Quote from my 11 year old daughter:-

'If you behave you get exciting lessons, if you don't behave you get boring lessons'.

I'm working at what could be described as a challenging school. We failed OFSTED last year and were given notice to improve. OFSTED are due any day now. If we fail this inspection it's special measures. 

I moved to my current school 12 months ago to take up the post of ICT Subject Leader. Prior to this job I was half way through the AST process. I tried loads of new and engaging stuff in the classroom and thought I had it sussed. At my current school I've had 12 months of trying to engage students and found myself adapting my teaching to manage behaviour as the primary focus. I'm gradually trying to get back to the teaching I was delivering at my last school but it has been a massive struggle. Real life fact - you cannot deliver exciting, engaging lessons if student behaviour is poor. You close down lessons to minimise opportunities for disruption. Out of the window goes group work and interactive learning. In comes strictly controlled tasks and very directed teaching. I hated it but it was the only way to survive.

I am sick and tired of being told it's teachers' fault if students don't behave - we haven't prepared lessons well enough, entertained them sufficiently or jumped through enough hoops. I plan all my lessons, mark all the work promptly, give feedback as constructively as I can, constantly research and update my skills but if a student decides not to engage or to kick off there is little I can do about it other than follow my school's behaviour policy. 

Briefing this week from SLT re final OFSTED prep:-

'Remember it's not about how well you teach, it's about about how well students learn'

Final quote from my daughter:-

'So your whole career is on the line because of how children behave? God you are in trouble!'

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Just Like That

I've had quite a good start to the term. True we have an OFSTED inspection due imminently and everyone is a little on edge but overall the students seem much more settled and motivated and I've been enjoying my teaching. I've stuck around for a second year which seems to be helping and our behaviour for learning policy is also starting to have an impact. 

Then an email that I almost deleted without reading has turned everything upsidedown again. The email was from the Edexcel ICT subject advisor which I subscribe to for BTEC updates. The email in question concerned DiDA, a course I've not taught for several years.   As I was glancing through it make sure there were no references to BTEC I came across this paragraph:-

As you know, DiDA qualifications are 100% internally assessed. This means that in their present form they will cease to be counted in performance tables from 2014. You will need to bear this in mind when deciding which ICT qualifications to offer in Key Stage 4 from 2012 onwards. If you teach DiDA over 3 years you need to be aware that your current Year 9 pupils’ results will not contribute to your school's league table results when they reach the end of Year 11 in 2014.

Now while we do not teach DiDA we do teach OCR Nationals in year 9 and 10 (with no core ICT in year 11). OCR Nationals are 100% internally assessed in the same way that DiDA is. I knew that the current specification was being replaced at the end of the school year to fit with the new government requirements but the final accreditation date for the current specification was summer 2014 and I had no reason to think that the results would not still count in the league tables. The new specification is not yet available and is for first teaching in September 2012 so all year 9 have started on the current specification. Despite my personal views on the OCR Nationals course I have built the course up to the students stressing that they are working on GCSE level coursework and that they would get their first GCSE by the end of year 10. They have responded well and are working hard and producing work of a good quality. Suddenly, just like that, the rug appears to have been pulled from under us.

One of the driving reasons for the introduction of the ICT OCR Nationals as a core subject at KS4 at our school was to improve our 5 A*- C results. We are under notice to improve, to a large extent, because of our current 41% 5 A*-C GCSE results. A qualification not contributing to these headline figures would be hard pushed to justify it's curriculum time. Added to which, what message is sent out to employers / colleges if the course is not a 'proper' GCSE. OK the students would still get a qualification but what would it be worth?

Obviously the first step was to find out whether OCR Nationals were affected in the same way as DiDA. So I checked the DoE website and the OCR Nationals website - nothing mentioned on either. So I contacted fellow ICT HoDs and tweeted out to my PLN. General feedback was no I must be wrong, surely the qualification would still count or we would have heard about it. People seemed pretty confident but I was having trouble identifying a definitive source for this confidence. I contacted my OCR Nationals moderator who passed by query up the line. The response was as follows:-

'My understanding is that the Government, cannot change the
rules once the qualification has been accredited and this will only
come into effect after 2014, however, I do not know for sure and this
is not something that we should be giving advice on, this must be left
to OCR.  Please suggest to your team member that he/she directs the
Centre to contact OCR directly to find out the position this way no
wires get crossed.'

However as a friend pointed out:-

It’s true they can ‘t change the rules regarding GCSE equivalence points for already accredited qualifications BUT they CAN change which qualifications they will or won’t use in league tables at any time.

So we phoned OCR directly to find out. Only it turns out they don't know either and may not know for sure until January. However it was not sounding hopeful. Our supplementary question about which units are likely to stay the same under the new specification could not be answered either. We are promised a call back in the next few days but are left in limbo. Are we teaching a course which will have little or no value, either for the school, or for the students themselves?

So I am left weighing up the options with little hard information to go on. Carrying on with a course whose results will not count in the league tables is not feasible for a school in our position. I have only 1 hour a week for two years so am well short of the 180 hours required to deliver a traditional GCSE.   Short courses and other 1/2 GCSEs such as Functional Skills will no longer count in the tables either so they are not an option. So I seem to have only two options:-

  1. Try and guess which units under the current specification will be largely unchanged under the new specification and switch from teaching unit 1 (which is the core unit and will have to be externally assessed) to a unit which could be entered for the new specification. My choice here would be the website unit (although it could end up as a controlled assessment unit). Then register the cohort for the new specification next year and do the externally assessed unit in year 10. However if I guess wrong I will not have time to get the students through the course as we do not have year 11 to fall back on.
  2. Scrap core ICT and revert year 9 back to KS3. The school is looking for more core curriculum time for English and early discussions indicate I could trade core time for an additional options block offering Computing GCSE and a level 1 ICT course. This together with my two existing BTEC groups would offer a fully differentiated ICT options choice and allow the majority of students to gain an ICT qualification suited to their needs. However this would mean telling the students that their hard work so far had been largely wasted and that they would not after all be working towards a GCSE in year 9. It would also leave a large hole in my year 9 SOW.
To give me a breathing space to try and decide the best way forward I have decided to switch all students to working on the OCR Nationals website unit. If I had a KS3 year 9 I would be teaching website design, it may count towards the new specification OCR Nationals and for any student choosing the  BTEC course as an option it would not take much work to convert it to the BTEC website unit. 

However as curriculum planning and options choices are well underway I do not have more than a few weeks to make a decision. Whether I have any firm information to help me make the decision by then is very much in doubt.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reviewing Year 8

Having spent yesterday looking at year 7 I next needed to review the year 8 curriculum. Again it had been written piecemeal last year and I needed to get a handle on the big picture. I'd also run the same topics for year 7 and 8 for part of the year. There were several reasons for this. From a pragmatic point of view it cut down the amount of resources I had to write. It was also less new material for non-specialists to get to grips with. Finally I needed to make sure that year 8 did not lose out on covering topics such as Scratch programming and Rafi-ki. However this means that I have a lot more work to do with year 8 then year 7. I was also very aware that we had not done any data handling in year 8 last year and therefore had only covered the sequencing criteria of AF2. However I had covered more of the impact of IT on society criteria from AF1 and gone into more depth on the internet research criteria for AF3.

Once again I started by mapping out the different topics. There were six, each lasting approximately a term:-

  • Web-sleuth ( research/ reliability / bias )
  • Rafi-ki - online communication
  • Presenting info - tied in with producing a leaflet for Bristol zoo which the students had visited that term.
  • Scratch programming
  • Impact of IT - social media / digital divide
  • Web creation - google apps / research project
This mapped out as follows:-

The topics in red are those that the students have already covered in year 7. When mapped against the APP criteria it showed clearly the main gap was the AF2 data handling section:-

I've decided to start year 8 this year with the Impact of IT topic and to update it to include a lesson on the role of social media during the recent riots. As part of this I'm going to get students to produce a presentation arguing for or against increased regulation / control of social media. I'm going to use this ppt which I found on Nick Jackson's Use of IT SOW on #ictcurric:-

Death by PowerPoint
View more presentations from Alexei Kapterev

And also this one from the same source:-

How to make effective presentation
I'll follow it with a beefed up Web Sleuth unit and then web design which I'm going to revamp and make more of a web campaigning unit rather than have students create a website on a subject of their choice (this can move to an extended homework project). 

Students have had a grounding in programming via Scratch in year 7 so it's time to delve deeper using this Stanford University site:-

We will then move onto using Python via this site:-

By having this after Christmas I will have more time to provide CPD to non specialist teachers and also ensure that we have Python installed on the curriculum computers.

So the curriculum is shaping up as follows:-

I've got data handling down as the fifth topic but at the moment it's there because I feel it ought to be rather than because I want to do it. More thought required on what that's going to be. I'm going to finish the year with a Google Sketch-up project based on the SOW by Mark Clarkson, again from #ictcurric.

Finally I came across this video last night on @theheadsoffice's blog. Got me wondering what would happen if we allowed students, say a lesson a month, to work on whatever they want to. Would we get learning or just playing on games? Might experiment and find out.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Reviewing Year 7

This is a thinking aloud post following on from the previous post. My ethos in designing the KS3 curriculum is to get the students engaged and challenged and to get away from a MS office training mentality. At the same time I have to cover some of the basics of modelling, data handling etc and the use of MS Office applications which will support the students across the rest of the curriculum. My aim is to incorporate web 2.0 applications as appropriate to support learning and to push the boundaries re computing as opposed to ICT by introducing programming and impact of IT topics. I don't really follow the national curriculum but I do try to cover the ICT APP levels as we have a statutory duty to report levels and I also feel APP gives a good structure around which to build a curriculum.

This is my SOW for year 7 (changing quite a bit at the moment)

Year 7

I started by reviewing the current year 7 SOW for ICT. The SOW had been written piecemeal last year and I needed to have a look at the big picture and see what had worked / not worked and where the gaps were. I had 6 topics which were broadly a half term each:-

Getting Started - logging on, networks, e-safety, presenting info e.g. e-safety poster, Wordle, editing images
Rafi-ki - online learning community - online communicating, home page design
Presenting Info - house-style and target audience - Time magazine front page, leaflet for Zoo
Scratch Game programming
Digital storytelling - Storybird, interactive ppt, image editing using Fireworks, stop-go animation
Dream holidays - google apps, spreadsheet modelling, glogster, publisher leaflet

These topics mapped out like this:-

I ringed the times I used MS Office applications in orange and other applications in green.

Mapping the topics against APP levels gave me this coverage

Overall I'd covered all level 3 and 4 APP criteria. For level 5 I hadn't covered 'Identifying benefits and limitations of using ICT both inside and outside school'. For level 6 I hadn't covered 'Exploring the impacts of of the use of ICT in work, leisure and home' or 'Devising a data handling solution to test hypotheses that use technology to reduce input error'. I hadn't covered level 7 or 8 at all. In general students had only one opportunity to meet AF2 criteria whereas they had multiple opportunities to meet most of AF1 and AF3. The presenting information and digital storytelling topics didn't really cover any criteria that hadn't already been covered by other topics. In the case of the presenting information this was a bit of a filler topic, which, if I'm honest, was recycling old material while I was concentrating on KS4 resources. Digital storytelling was a fun topic using some of the applications I'd come across online such as Storybird and Pixlr. Storybird had gone down particularly well and had been picked up by the English department and incorporated into their SOWs. 

At the end of the summer term I had conducted a student voice google form to get feedback on what students had enjoyed / not enjoyed, a self assessment on how confident they felt about the different topics and what else they wanted to find out about. From this it was clear that the Dream Holidays topic had been particularly well received (although as it was the last topic it may have been that it was the only one some students could remember). Storybird and Scratch also got the thumbs up and to a lesser extent Google Apps and Rafi-ki. However for Dream Holidays several students mentioned enjoying creating a PowerPoint of their dream holiday which was not part of the SOW and raises questions re the consistency of delivery. On the negative side lots of students disliked Scratch and / or Dream holidays with the feedback for Scratch in particular being that it was too hard. I need to review the differentiation for the Scratch SOW and also possibly need to look at the CPD needs of some of the non-specialist teachers. In terms of what students wanted to learn more about creating websites and more on games programming came top of the list along with Sketch-up and video editing (I'm ignoring those who wanted to do more PowerPoints).  

I feel the strongest elements of the current year 7 curriculum are the Scratch and Dream Holidays topics which just need a little tweeking. The initial Getting started topic needs reviewing. It needs to cover the new VLE and it does not have any internet researching included. I would also like to including blogging and maybe give an overall theme. I'm going to look at some of Nick Jackson's (@largerama) CSI Skoolies SOW from #ictcurric to cover internet research. I would also like to give an overall theme to this SOW. Digital Storytelling needs to move to be run at the same time as the English department's storytelling SOW and I need to work with English to ensure that we are dovetailing the resources. I'm going to drop the Presenting Information topic as I don't think it's adding much. Rafi-Ki is the difficult decision. I've used the site for the last 3 years and really like it. However it has cost £750 per annum and I've struggled to get other departments to use it. It now has a new site which I've not fully got to grips with. The basic functionality is now free but the communication tools cost £495 per annum. I have been given agreement for funding for this year but it will take a strong case for next year given financial constraints. I need to weigh up whether it is worth the money given the alternative online communcation tools available. My current thinking is to scale down how much we do in class and use Rafi-ki more for extended homework projects.

2 areas I definitely need to address are homework and assessment. Homework has been very hit and miss over the last year and I feel it is a lost opportunity to encourage independent learning. I liked this post by Pete Bell:-

and would like to incorporate some of the ideas from it. I also want to build extended tasks around Bloom's Taxonomy to give a range of different activities. This from James Greenwood (@jpgreenwood) is great:-

I'm planning on making the first extended homework the impact of IT on day to day life. This would start at the knowledge level by collecting data on how often and for how long the student used IT in a week. This could then be extended into an analysis on how this usage differed from how their parents / grandparents spent their time and an evaluation of the impact of IT in wider society. (While I'm thinking about it I'm going to create some Wordle posters based on the key words for each level). 

Assessment is the second area I need to work on. My school is focusing more and more on the progression data for KS3. This gives me several issues. We start OCR Nationals in year 9. As this does not cover much in the way of APP criteria, the end of year 8 levels are what tends to be used for end of KS3 reporting. Progression is based on the first levels reported in year 7. This is in November when we have covered very little other than the basics and e-safety. Additionally the level are assessed by non specialists who up to now have had very little guidance. I'm giving a lot of thought to a levelling test taken by all year 7 soon after they arrive to try and get a more accurate first level which can be used as a reliable baseline. I also need to develop a more robust tracking and feedback system.

I'm working on getting Google Apps for Edu sorted out so that the students don't have to set up individual accounts which was a pain last year (particularly as we don't have student email accounts). I also want to do some work with English and Geography using QR codes based on this blog post:-

Finally I want to get the students blogging and get the school taking part in quad-blogging. 

Right - a fair bit to be getting on with - now I need to have a look at year 8.