Sunday, November 28, 2010

Where now?

Purbeck Way direction postphoto © 2008 Jim Champion | more info (via: Wylio)

This week's Education White paper - The Importance of Teaching - has given much food for thought and not much of it positive. A white paper on teaching in the 21st century which mentions blazers as many times as ICT ( and even then refers to ICT only in terms of sharing services ) does not bode well for equipping students to be ready to participate successfully in the Digital Age. Similarly the changes to the league tables so that school are measured on the number of students that get five good GCSEs in English, Maths, Science, a humanities subject and a modern foreign language gives no recognition of the need to be digitally literate. Placing these subjects as the key measures of school success will also squeeze out other subjects in the curriculum. ( In additional this narrow interpretation of success, harking back to a 1950s curriculum will condemn a large number of students, and their schools, to be labelled as failures ).

A final blow to ICT as a discrete subject is the indication in articles like this one from Toby Young - Cornucopia of Goodies - that vocational qualifications will no longer be included in school league tables. In many schools ICT has retained it's place on the KS4 curriculum as a result of being able to deliver up to four GCSEs to the league tables via qualifications such as GNVQ and more recently OCR Nationals. As these qualifications are coursework only and can be delivered in far less curriculum time than traditional GCSEs they have been seen as a cash cow for results, particularly for lower ability students. Removing them from the league tables will seriously threaten their place in the timetable. Most ICT departments are already starting to review the ICT GCSE options and will face a battle for curriculum time if they wish to continue to offer vocational courses.

So decisions need to be made. Through my involvement with #ictcurric I am aware that there is a lot of progress in developing the Key Stage 3 curriculum so that it is relevant and engaging. As I've previously blogged, however, all this seems to come to an end as soon as students enter Key Stage 4. I've taught a range of level 2 ICT courses and not been entirely satisfied with any of them. DiDA was on the right lines but I felt that it foundered on the assessment with students struggling to understand the mark criteria. I'm personally a fan of BTECs which I feel gives the opportunity to develop different strands such as hardware maintenance / upgrading as well as the applications route. However I'm having to have a bit of a rethink at the moment with regards to the new specification. For the extended certificate both Unit 1 and Unit 2 are mandatory. I've developed a combined scheme of work focusing on job hunting in the IT industry:-

The first assignment which involved students creating a blog went well but progress has been slower on the next two assignments - characteristics that employers are looking for and writing a CV and covering letter - which I'm now appreciating are very focused on literacy skills. I have four EAL students in the class and several lower ability students and it's just not engaging enough in it's current form. I need to have a rethink on how I could cover the criteria in a diferrent way or alternatively break up the unit by mixing it with a more practical unit.

I have inherited a situation whereby all year 9 and year 10 students complete the single award of OCR Nationals on one hour a week ( with no year 11 provision ). I was not a fan of OCR Nationals before I started to teach it and now I've had three months teaching it I am even less so. For the single award only one optional half unit can be covered together with the mandatory unit 1. For a number of reasons, a sizeable number of my year 10 students made very little progress last year and we are now still ploughing our way through such mind-numbingly boring tasks as creating a 3 slide presentation or taking screen shots of creating folders and shortcuts. If I was starting from scratch or had more curriculum time I'd be rewriting it to give it some sort wider context and make it more relevant and engaging. However faced with trying to get the entire cohort through by the end of the year I find myself at times delivering the course in the very manner criticised by last year's OFSTED report into ICT teaching

'Accreditation of the vocational qualifications is based mostly on the assessment of coursework... Consequently, they are often demonstrating what they can already do rather than being taught new and more difficult skills. Sometimes, teachers direct students’ work too much. In some of the lessons observed during the survey, teachers led their students through the steps necessary to demonstrate that their work met the accreditation criteria. Students were able to meet the criteria, whether or not they had understood what they had done.'(Page 31)

My only alternative, unless I can get additional time in year 11, is that half the cohort will fail. However I do not feel that I am developing any sort of digital literacy skills with these students or giving them the transferable IT skills they will need in the future. I am simply processing them through a qualification so that they can obtain a GCSE which will count towards their 5 A* to Cs. If excluding vocational courses from the league tables removes the pressure to deliver an ICT course in such a manner it may not be such a bad thing. The danger is that other, more worthwhile, vocational courses get thrown out with the OCR Nationals bathwater and it leave us with the dilemma of what to put in it's place. 

The obvious answer is GCSE ICT. But we need to ask why so many schools have abandoned this option in the past. Apart from the lure of multiple GCSEs in the same timescales, many felt that the GCSE syllabuses were outdated and not engaging for students. James Greenwood @jpgreenwood, having reviewed various options, is of the opinion that the new Edexcel ICT GCSE is 'the best of a bad lot'.  ICT departments also suffer from being seen as a choice for less able or less academic students and GCSEs may not be appropriate for many of them. Purists may be considering Computing GCSEs as a rigorous academic option which will prepare students for post 16 Computing and university courses. However in a school such as mine this would be appropriate for only a small number of students making the delivery not viable. 

James Greenwood in a recent twitter post had the following suggestion:-

'My solution is single award GCSE in 2yrs. Can cover syllabus, *and* deeper learning in that time'

I'm currently toying with a similar idea. Having previously criticised ICT Functional Skills I'm now starting to think about building a Key Stage 4 course around the functional skills qualification but combining it with the project qualification brought in as part of the diploma. This allows a student to investigate a subject of their choice in depth. As both qualifications are worth a half GCSE they would add a full GCSE to the regrettably all important league tables. Far more importantly however it could form the basis of a project-based learning qualification which allowed students to develop digital literacy skills in a context of their own choosing. Such a course would need to be carefully written to incorporate project management, research, analysis and presentation skills. With the new functional skills exams focusing more on presentation of information rather than data handling completing the project could cover most of what is needed to pass the exam. Functional skills and the project are both available at level 1 and level 2 giving a better provision than the level 2 only courses. This would give a good grounding in basic ICT / digital literacy skills as a core provision which could support study across the curriculum. Alongside this ideally I would like to run 2 options groups, one GCSE ( either ICT or Computing ) and one BTEC to offer a broad curriculum.

Early stages in the idea at the moment but any comments / suggestions welcome.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Big Bag, Shiny Shoes

My daughter has just started year 6 and is already getting worried about 'big school' next year. As I've already explained to her, year 7s are easily spotted as they have big bags and shiny shoes. They are also always getting lost. Trouble is all this could have described me at the beginning of September as I started at a new school for the first time in my career. I never escaped my second PGCE placement school becoming an NQT at the school only a few weeks after qualifying as a teacher. While the first day was still nerve-racking, having to stand up and introduce myself, I already had friends to sit with at the Inset day and knew my way round the school. This year I've not only started at a school where I know nobody but I've also started as subject leader. Scary stuff.

I started this post two weeks into term hoping to jot down my initial thoughts on the new role and the challenges I faced. Then the challenges started to mount ( including OFSTED last week ) and this post got put on one side while I tried to get to grips with all the urgent issues that needed my attention. So finally, with half term now rapidly approaching, I need to take time to take stock and review progress so far.

I think it's fair to say that my new school is quite a bit more challenging than my previous school. Attainment of students on entry is lower than average, our results are similarly below average and behaviour of some students is an issue. On the plus side we have just moved into a brand new building with impressive facilities and there are a large number of committed teachers who believe in the school. 

The ICT department has had a chequered history with less than impressive results and in common with many schools has followed the path from GCSEs to DiDA to OCR Nationals. Thankfully it has not gone down the Diploma route for ICT although there a small number of students taking Diplomas at partner schools who therefore need to pass IT functional skills. In year 7 and year 8 ICT is taught as part of a cross-curricular iLearn SOW. This has the advantage of providing a context for the ICT and allows me to see the same group for 6 hours a fortnight with 3 of those in an ICT room. However it means that most year 7 and year 8 students are taught by non-specialists. This coupled with year 9 starting OCR Nationals at the start of year means that I currently have concerns about covering the KS3 curriculum, particularly the higher APP levels. 

One of my first successes with KS3 was the agreement to sign up to Rafi-ki, an online learning community with schools from over a 100 countries. The community allows students to communicate safely ( it is a fully moderated site ) with other students all over the world and collaborate on projects with them. I've used Rafi-ki at my previous school and it went down very well with the students. However I never managed to break it out of the ICT ghetto and have it adopted across the curriculum. This looks much more promising at the new school, particularly as I am teaching the iLearn curriculum. We have already started to explore setting up links with schools in Napal, Uganda and Ghana as well as being invited to join a Comenius project with a school near Canterbury involving schools from Poland, Romania, Italy, Germany and Turkey. The students have just started to create their home pages which gives me the opportunity to bring in some e-safety messages about what is appropriate and safe to have on a social networking home page.

I've also set up google sites for both year 7 and year 8 and incorporated the iLearn lessons as well as the ICT lessons:-

My main challenge with KS3 is the lack of student school emails. I'd started to take emails for granted at my previous school and it is only now I'm starting to realised how much I need the students to have an email address to sign up for various web 2.0 applications. Until our VLE ( Frog ) is up and running I'm shut out of igoogle and google docs unless I go down the google apps route. With the new VLE in the pipeline google apps is probably not the way forward at the moment as I think it would lead to more confusion. 

At KS4 all year 9 and year 10 are taking OCR Nationals along with the year 11 Option group. The year 10 Option group were doing additional units for OCR Nationals but I felt it did not give them a sufficiently in depth ICT course and have switched them to the BTEC First Extended Certificate. My aim is to offer two pathways for the BTEC, one software / application based e.g. websites, databases, possibly games programming and the other a hardware option, including units such as hardware installation and troubleshooting. The latter option is dependent on funding for the necessary kit. Again I've set up google sites for each of the courses:-

My main concern with KS4 is the lack of progress many seem to have made in the first year of their course. Both year 10 and year 11 are significantly behind where they should be and there is a lot of work ahead to get them back on track. The new specification for OCR Nationals is also causing problems. Year 10 started the course in year 9 and so were registered for the old spec. However we have had several students join the school in year 10 this year and they will need to be registered for the new specification - this means they will need to complete 3 units rather than the 2 the old spec required. Under the current curriculum model there is no provision for core ICT in year 11. This is something I'm hoping can be changed as the new specification has 100 guided learning hours and it will not be possible to complete the course in one hour a week for 2 years.

There is also a gap in our provision re a level 1 course for KS4. There are a fair number of students for whom a level 2 course, even one as straightforward as OCR Nationals, is not appropriate. I need to review the options and look to introduce a course more suited to their needs. 

Year 12 is looking brighter. We have 13 students taking the Edexcel Applied ICT AS and I am really enjoying teaching the first unit - The Information Age. The unit covers the impact of ICT on society and gives the students a broad scope to research different aspects. Lots of my links and videos picked up from Twitter and elsewhere are coming in handy:-

Going forward I would like to offer BTEC level 3 in addition to the AS to broaden the provision on offer and also offer BTEC level 2 at post 16 if staffing allows.

Finally there are 3 wider school issues which I need to spend some time on, namely our filtering policy, e-safety and staff CPD. I'm getting very frustrated that YouTube is blocked in school, even for teachers. I use it extensively in my lessons and am currently having to use Zamzar to download videos I want to use. I am also having problems with a prevailing culture amongst students that ICT lessons = playing on games unless repeatedly caught by the teacher. While the current filtering system blocks YouTube it cannot provide me with an audit trail so I can identify the students using internet access inappropriately. With amazingly good timing this post floated past me on the Twitter stream:-

An excellent AUP, a great strategy and a pointer towards a filtering system that seems to answer all my issues.

To help with my review of e-safety I'm going to be working my way through the  SWGfL 360 degree e-safety review

This is the first stage of working towards the ICT mark accreditation.

I delivered my first e-learning workshops at our recent INSET and they went down well. Unlike my previous school there has not been much work done on e-learning and the workshops gave me an opportunity to revisit some old favourites of mine such as Wordle, Edmodo and Piratepad 

So lots to do. It's been a busy and very tiring five weeks but I can already see some progress and ( apart from the OFSTED visit ) I'm enjoying the new challenges. Now lets see if I can get back into keeping this blog updated regularly, if only so I can organise my thoughts. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Celebrating Square Pegs

Before becoming a teacher I worked for 13 years for one of the major high street banks. During that time I made something of a speciality of not fitting in. That's not to say that I was a Johnny No Mates ( at least I hope ), rather that I managed to to be slightly out of step with the thinking of those around me. When I worked in technical teams I was the non-techie, the one more interested in the business operations side of the systems I was helping to develop. So much so that I ended up 'going native' and working as a manager in the processing centre I had designed a system for ( and ending up as an end user of my own system - now there's end user testing with a vengeance ). Once out of the technical area I was the non banker amongst bankers. Far from being a hindrance to my career it enabled me carve my own niche. My perspective was at a tangent to others and my ideas a little left of field. And this was valued and rewarded. During my most productive time I was developing a management information system and rolling it out across several business areas. I was totally 'in my element' and firing on all cylinders - I could almost feel the synapses in my brain connecting I was so focused on what I was doing. 

Then slowly it started to change - my element started to be perceived as my comfort zone. I started coming under pressure to get involved with projects I had no interest in and which I felt I had little to contribute to. Increasingly I was expected to become like all the other project managers in the department and fit in. This culminated in a course called 'Leading to be Customer Driven'. This was the bank's drive to turn us all into lean, mean, selling machines, maximising profit for the shareholder. Your bosses, colleagues and people you managed were all invited to give you feedback on how to become more 'customer focused' and then you spent 3 days on a residential course coming up with an action plan on how to achieve this. My feedback was fairly unanimous - you are good at what you do but you need to get more involved in the business side. 

The first session of the 3 day course was reviewing your feedback and drawing up action points on a flip chart. I dutifully drew up my list, stop doing the stuff I enjoyed and start doing the stuff that bored me ( I paraphrase but you get the drift ). The facilitator came over and read my carefully prepared, toeing the party line action plan and asked me a question - so how will you feel when you've achieved this plan? Bored, frustrated and utterly demotivated was my answer. Maybe you need to look at the plan again he said before moving on to the next flip chart. 

The course turned out to be one of the turning points in my life. Throughout the three days I battled with the conflict between my competitive nature and my drive to succeed and the growing realisation that I was in the wrong job. The course became a sort of group therapy as I talked and occasionally sobbed my way through my decision making process. By the end of the course I was resolved that it was time for me to move on. During the final washup I received a piece of advice that I've followed ever since - 'nurture your inner anarchist'.  

So what has all this navel gazing got to do with education? Ken Robinson basically. Last year I watched his TED talk on schools killing creativity and about how we could be helping students to be in their element.

This has bee followed this year with a second TED talk:-

From my own experience I know that when I am working in my element I am happy and fulfilled and making a difference. When I am being forced to conform I am miserable and disruptive and demotivated. How many of my students have I just described? How do I reconcile this when I have 30 students in front of me and targets to meet? When a student not in his or her element is capable of totally destroying a lesson for the rest? Not got an answer and not looking for a Dead Poets - Captain, my Captain moment. Just shouldn't we be able to harness those inner anarchist and nurture them? Looks like I'm a hopeless optimist to the last.

Twittering Classes

On Friday I decided to take a flyer and do a lesson on Twitter with my year 9 group. This was a bit of a last minute decision. We had been doing some work to prepare them for Functional Skills, a SOW based round the World Cup and Fantasy football, using spreadsheets and databases. This had gone well but was starting to lose momentum now that England had been knocked out and the competition was drawing to a close. Additionally I had gradually become aware that lots of my students were using Twitter ( partly as a result of the use of Twitter as an unofficial 'back channel' in my lessons ). This had come as a surprise to me ( that they were using Twitter, not that teenagers are occasionally off task in lessons ) as conventional wisdom is that teenagers are not interested in Twitter- Teens don't blog or twitter from where I found this graph:-

However a quick show of hands at the start of the lesson confirmed that over half the class had a Twitter account. Was the research wrong or just out of date? The number of items in the news about Twitter has greatly increased over the last year. Or were my students not typical? Twitter had featured a few times in our lessons over the last year so maybe this had raised the profile. We used this video as part of the Impact of Social Media lessons:-

We had also looked at the use of Hashtags, #uksnow after the school was closed due to snow and #getmehome after several students were stranded abroad due to the ash cloud.

Having only decided the night before to do the lesson on Twitter I had a rather late night pulling together resources. Fortunately I had plenty of articles and tools bookmarked so started to trawl through my Diigo account. I always like to have a video playing while the students are coming in and logging on and this one fitted the bill:-

Here's what I came up with, needs tidying up a bit:-

I also did a shout out to my PLN to say Hi and where they were from to highlight the use of hashtags and to show how Twitter can connect you across the world and was really pleased at how many people kindly responded:-

Students were surprised by the number of people round the world speaking to them.

My main objective of the lesson ( the first of 2 ) was to ensure that students understood how to use Twitter safely. My concern was that many may be using it as an MSN or Facebook substitute as it was not blocked in school and may not understand the risks of having a public account. I got the students who were already using Twitter to explain what it was and how they were using it. It was interesting that they described it in terms of IM not mentioning the 140 character limit or RT, DM etc A couple could explain the use of hashtags so we started by looking at the hashtag I had set up and students with accounts posted tweets using it ( I wanted to make sure that those who did not have an account did not feel pressured to create one ). We had the obligatory:-

as well as the slightly stranger:-

Overall, however, the students were somewhat tongue-tied - as one said to me later 'it's no fun now you are letting us'. Remember this lesson was about Twitter itself, not using it as a classroom tool to aid another topic. We moved on to the use of different twitter tools as a way of explaining more features of Twitter. I put Twitter Followers on the whiteboard with my Twitter account to show a visual representation of followers. They were impressed by this and wanted to know how to get lots more followers, this being an aim in itself, like collecting cigarette cards when I was kid. Next we looked at TwitterSheep which creates a word cloud from your followers bios. This is mine:-

No prizes for guessing the sort of people in my PLN. When my students tried this app most were coming up with more or less blank pages. Hardly anyone had filled in their bios. I explained the process I go through when deciding to follow someone back. First I look at their bios to see if they are a teacher or in education, then I look at what they are posting to see whether it is stuff I am interested in. If they have not filled in their bios I am very unlikely to follow back. I also explained how I use Twitter partly to find new ideas for lessons. Wordle, Edmodo, Diigo and Solvr which we have used in lessons this year have all come from suggestions from my PLN as have many other resources, articles and ideas. 

With students starting to fill in bios I thought it was time to reinforce the e-safety aspect and got them to google themselves. Despite having done this exercise in the past they were still shocked that google could find them, particularly if they had a Twitter account. I showed them the search results of googling my name to reinforce just how much Google can find ( in my case I deliberately cultivated a positive online presence ). I also went through some case studies of people coming unstuck as a result of unwise posts to Twitter. Many students decided to protect their tweets and as Twitter, unlike Facebook, is not blocked at my school I was able to help them do this by showing them how to use the settings. The message did not get through to all students however. Despite posting:-


this student concluded:-

So still some work to be done.

We then moved onto different aspects of Twitter use and impact which will form the majority of the next lesson ( my last with the group ). The final outcome will be a Prezi presentation on what they have learnt.

As a plenary I got students to tweet something they had learnt about Twitter that they didn't know at the start of the lesson:-


I'll leave the last word to one of my students:-

Saturday, June 5, 2010

ICT Alive and Kicking

Thursday was hot and sunny and getting towards the end of the half term holiday. And yet I spent it voluntarily in a windowless room with several ( until then ) virtual strangers talking about work. And stranger still I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it one of the most productive days I've had for a long time. 

The event was #DADSOW3 ( Developing a Dynamic SOW for KS3 ), something we had been talking about on Twitter via #ictcurric for a while. The basic idea is for a group of like-minded ICT teachers to get together to pool ideas and work on a relevant and engaging KS3 curriculum which could turn the tide on the 'training kids to push the right button on Microsoft applications' style of ICT delivery. The end result will be a bank of ICT projects for us to use which will be freely available for anyone else to use and adapt for their own needs under a creative commons licence.

The day was organised and chaired by Nick Jackson ( @largerama ) and was also attended by James Greenwood ( @jpgreenwood ), Pete Astbury ( @astburyp ) and Sarah Evans ( @jennah100 ). Several more people contributed via the Piratepad we used to document the proceedings:-

What was evident from the day was that we faced a range of different challenges but we were all working in the same vein to overcome these issues and revitalise ICT as a discrete subject.

There was general agreement to use APP as a framework to ensure that the projects were covering the full breadth of the curriculum. I have also found APP to be useful to evidence how the use of web 2.0 tools ties into the standard ICT curriculum. 

What was particularly enjoyable about the day was the way that we could bounce ideas around and build on work that each of us had done individually. As an example I have been working on a Digital Literacy project ( which I've previously blogged about:-

This had worked well but there were some issues:-
  1. The theme of the project was Swine Flu which was in the news at the time I wrote the project but was out of date now
  2. Even when Swine Flu was in the news some students questioned the relevance of researching the topic.
  3. While the research element had gone well the end product - a google website documenting their research - needed more structure or purpose.

James Greenwood had been working on a similar project based around the dumping of digital waste in Ghana and other developing nations under the guise of 'donating' old electronic equipment. This video gave a powerful introduction to the topic:-

James's project had involved students researching the topic and creating awareness campaigns using ICT applications and tools. Combining the two projects together gave us this initial mindmap:-

I think this project has so much potential to shoot off in different directions and I'm really excited to be working on it. There is the environmental and social impact, a wealth of research opportunities, including plenty of scope for looking at the bias and reliability of information, analysing information and presenting it to different audiences. There are also opportunities to look at hardware components and possibly even database tasks such as a database of components and the potential environmental hazards the materials pose.  

Sarah and Pete worked together on an online publishing unit which quickly developed into a web campaigning unit:-

Nick ambitiously took on two projects, one on games programming:-

and a year 7 starter unit based on a Dream Holidays unit I put together earlier this year. Nick has some great ideas for improving it and developing it and I'm looking forward to seeing the results.

On a technical note I found myself in a room full of Moodlers. I've not had any experience of using Moodle and need to get up to speed quickly so that I can contribute to the site we are putting together. However I've decided to also create Google site versions of the projects we are developing. I am moving to a new school in September which is in the process of implementing the Frog VLE and I will be able to embed the Google site resources into this. It may also make the resources more accessible for those who either do not have Moodle skills or who are tied to using a specific VLE. 

I've also decided to break up my existing Google sites into individual projects rather than the whole year group sites that I have at the moment. This will allow a greater flexibility in mixing and matching projects and will fit better into a VLE structure where I can have assignments and discussion boards for each topic.

So my head is buzzing with ideas and I can't wait to get stuck into developing the plans that we put together on Thursday. Maybe reports of the death of ICT as a discrete subject were a little premature. 

    Sunday, May 16, 2010

    Better Days

    I've written two very negative posts this weekend. End of marking exhaustion maybe or the realisation that time is slipping away in my current role and I'm running out steam to keep battling against things I want to change. Whatever, if I don't write something more positive soon I'll have to rename this blog Grumpy Old Teacher. Time for some optimism and a review of things that have been going well.

    First a sentence that, when I was a student teacher and an NQT, I never thought I'd write. This year I have really enjoyed teaching my year 9 groups. I remember being reduced to tears by one year 9 group when I was an NQT and I dreaded every lesson with them. The timetable negotiations always revolve around each teacher trying to reduce the number of hours spent teaching year 9 to an absolute minimum. Student disengagement and behaviour issues have been at the root of this reluctance to teach this year group. ICT is an optional subject at my school and particularly once the options forms have gone in the students tend to have the attitude that they don't have to do any work as it doesn't matter anymore. Last year, which was my first year as the KS3 co-ordinator, we tried introducing OCR Nationals as a way of focusing students and giving them a purpose to the ICT lessons. This failed, partly due to being introduced half way through the year ( no decision being made until we had a new HoD ) and partly due to not having any core curriculum time in KS4 so most students would be unable to complete the course.

    During this time I began to think more deeply about what I wanted to achieve with the KS3 curriculum and became convinced that cutting KS3 to yr7 and yr8 was counter to my instincts about what ICT could offer re higher order thinking skills and equipping students with digital literacy skills that would support learning across the curriculum. As a result I have spent this year rewriting the year 9 SOW to make it more engaging and relevant. We started the year looking at the impact of Social Media on society, including introducing Edmodo, Etherpad, Delicious and Google Docs. This took the curriculum completely away from the Microsoft Office dominated lessons and succeeded in drawing in some of the less engaged students. It also lead to plenty of discussions with individual students and evidence of students actually thinking about the issues. Key comment from one girl was 'miss I didn't know I was good at ICT until this year'. Result!

    The Digital Literacy project that I've blogged about previously also went went well and really engaged the students. It also had some great spin-offs. When a colleague who ran the library left, some of my students set up a wiki to collect farewell messages for her. Other students have set up their own google sites for themselves and their families, including a Lady GaGa fan site that seems to be getting a lot of hits.

    We are just finishing a Scratch game programming project which have proved very popular and again seems to be lighting some fires rather than just filling buckets. One thing that has come out it was the opportunity to model how to learn new skills. I used to be a programmer so am aware of programming principals but did not always know how to achieve something in Scratch. I therefore sat with students and went through figuring it out with them. Hopefully what I have shown them that it is not as important to know how to do everything as it is to have strategies to work it out. Mind you, in answer to a review question about what have you learnt about programming games I did get the response 'so far we have learnt to leave game-making to the professionals'.

    I now look forward to my year 9 lessons and will really miss the students when I leave. Here's the SOW we have been working through:-

    Another thing I've been really pleased about this year is the progress with staff e-learning CPD. Several colleagues have started to write their own google sites, many are using Google Docs, Wordle and Wallwisher and one colleague has started her own blog. With gain time kicking in soon I hope to build on this and prepare colleagues for the introduction of netbooks in September.

    And finally I've secured myself a new job as HoD ICT in a school in Bristol. I'm very excited about this and can hardly wait to start again with a new challenge. I have also started discussing ICT curriculum development with like minded teachers across the country via Twitter and the #ictcurric hashtag and website. See - my optimism levels are returning - maybe I can keep the Web 2.0 Optimist blog title a little longer.

    It's your job

    My brain is slowly kicking back into life after weeks spent marking coursework. This enforced, unpaid slavery to the exam boards has left me resentful and rebellious. It has also caused me to question my role as a teacher. These thought processes have been fed, as usual, by my twitter PLN. At the risk of sounding like an e-stalker Steve Wheeler has once again put in words what I'm struggling to express. In his post A Digital Heretic he uses the metaphor that I find myself using all the time - the little boy in the emperor's new clothes story. Time after time I find myself spluttering at the blatantly obvious stupidity or mind numbing lack of understanding. Maybe it's coming into education in my 40s after a career in banking ( I know - hang my head in shame ) but I am repeatedly gob smacked at how things are done in schools. The disorganisation, the chaos and the lack of planning and forward thinking leave me stunned. Wouldn't last five minutes in industry is another of my ( annoying ) catchphrases. Not keeping my gob shut is no doubt going to cost me dear in the career progression stakes.

    And yet, and yet. Before this starts to sound like a slagging off teaching post I have to add that this job makes me think more than any other job ever has and despite the workload gives me more job satisfaction than I ever thought possible. Daily I'm challenged about not only what I do but also why and how I do it. 

    In my last post I discussed my concerns about how ICT as a discrete subject is developing. In response Nick Jackson sent me a link to his blog. I need to think further about this post but one phrase that jumped out at me immediately was 'a living contradiction'. I am a firm believer in using ICT to innovate, engage and support higher order thinking skills. And yet as soon as I get a KS4 class in front of me I forget all my principals and instincts and turn into a grade processing factory. And I'm very good at it. I consistently get significant value added scores with the vast majority of my students exceeding their TMGs. I can also console myself with the fact that my online resources allow personalised learning with students working independently at their own pace and achieving to their full potential. I pride myself on the fact that no student leaves my course without a qualification - whatever it takes. Trouble is I can't get the following quote from Peter Druker out of my head 

    There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

    How much are my students actually learning as I process them through the coursework? Have I inspired them or got them to think or helped them to acquire transferable skills? This is not to belittle their achievement or the importance of the qualifications they gain. Just shouldn't there be more to education than this? And why do I leave my principals at the door as soon as the students leave KS3?

    And so to the video which gives rise to this post:-

    I came across the video a few months ago and it's left me in a quandary ever since. I've considered using it as a starter for CPD sessions but think it may scare and /or put the backs up of less ICT confident teachers.  But what about me? I can be smug in that I use the internet, I've got a Facebook account ( at least for the time being ) and I use Twitter on a daily basis. I'm not scared of technology. But am I preparing my students for the world they are going to live in? Because that's my job.

    Saturday, May 15, 2010

    RIP ICT?

    I've been mulling over this post for a few weeks now but coursework marking hell  prevented me from getting my thoughts into any sort of order. I believe ICT as a subject is at a crossroads. On the one hand there are brilliant opportunities to use ICT  to support higher order thinking skills across the curriculum and provide students with the digital literacy skills needed to function effectively in the digital age. On the other there is the pressure to 'process' students through the coursework mill to prop up school league tables. This second option is proving even more invasive with the introduction of ICT Functional Skills as a requirement for passing any Diploma. 

    Steve Wheeler's 'Stop Calling it ICT' post challenges both the name and the purpose of ICT lessons. Is the name appropriate with it's focus on technology rather than learning. Do we need ICT as a discrete subject or should it be embedded across the curriculum? 

    James Greenwood's article on Assessing Pupil Progress in ICT also gave me food for thought. I have been rewriting the KS3 SOWs this year to incorporate the new APP levels with it's three strands:-
    • AF1 planning, developing and evaluating
    • AF2 handling data, sequencing instructions and modelling
    • AF3 findingusing and communicating information
    APP has proved to be a good framework for developing a curriculum which is not dominated by teaching students which buttons to press in various Microsoft  Office Applications. Like James I have been moving towards projects which incorporate various learning objectives and higher order thinking skills rather than the 'now we will do spreadsheets' mentality which seemed to underpin the old National Strategy lessons. 

    So for instance year 7 are currently working on a project about dream holidays. This involves the following activities:-
    • Creating a questionnaire using Google forms. 
    • Analysing the data collected using google forms and Microsoft Excel 
    • Comparing spreadsheet applications 
    • Planning a holiday route using Google maps 
    • Use internet research to find out how much a holiday would cost 
    • Using a spreadsheet application to produce a model to calculate the cost of a holiday and answer 'what if' questions. 
    • Using a desktop publishing application to publicise the holiday package 
    Yes this incorporates the AF2 data handling elements but also covers the AF1 concepts of planning out the project at the start and evaluating the outcome and the AF3 themes of finding and using information.

    This approach stills needs more work as my starting point was introducing the use of spreadsheets followed by how can I incorporate other ideas and thinking skills. I need to turn this process round to a more Challenge Based Learning model:-

    But can this approach work in a discrete ICT lesson? Surely it needs a bigger focus and more curriculum time to be successful. I recently visited Brunel Academy in Bristol which has has 80% of the year 7 and year 8 curriculum devoted to project based learning. Maybe the end point of the way my curriculum ideas are heading is agreeing that ICT as a discrete subject is dead. Alternatively this could be a takeover of the entire curriculum by technology enabled learning. Time will tell.

    The other strand in this post is the increasing pull in the opposite direction, back to a Microsoft Application training model of ICT lessons that I'd hoped had been consigned to the past. ICT departments have long been under pressure to be a cash cow for results. Courses such as GNVQs and now OCR Nationals which are based on 100% coursework and which can turn out 4 GCSEs per student have propped up many schools in results league tables. This pressure has led to many schools compressing the ICT KS3 curriculum into yr7 and yr8 with the coursework production line firing up in yr9. The prevailing attitude in my school appears to be that any student can be given sufficient support to achieve an ICT qualification. These courses do however have a range of options enabling teachers to put together an engaging curriculum.

    Into the mix now comes Functional Skills. At my school ICT is an optional subject at KS4. Suddenly from being in a sleepy back water ICT has been thrust into the limelight. 90% of the students now take a Diploma and all of them have to pass ICT Functional Skills in order to gain their Diploma. Late in the day the school is realising that this qualification needs to have significant time on the timetable following disastrous results for cohort after cohort given at most 20 hours ( GLH 45 hours ) study time. Some students are now taking the exam for the 4th time and are in real danger of failing their Diploma.

    As a result the department is now under pressure to spend the whole of year 9 preparing students to take Functional Skills. To do this we would have to strip out all the digital literacy and thinking skills elements of the current SOW together with the game programming in Scratch and go back to Excel, Access and Publisher training. Pressure with year 11 has also seen a return to teaching spreadsheets as databases as a way of getting the students through. Fortunately as KS3 co-ordinator I have not been involved in Functional skills this year and I am moving to a new school in September which has not embraced Diplomas. However if this is the new vision for ICT then the sooner discrete ICT is put out of it's misery and consigned to the history books the better.

    Saturday, April 24, 2010

    Online Reputations

    Over the Easter holiday I received a Facebook 'friend' request from a year 9 student. I have a strict no-student policy re Facebook. It is where I post photos of my grandchildren and where friends and family keep in touch with me. As far as is possible online it is a private space. 

    However whenever I receive a friend request from a student I always check out their profile to make sure that the e-safety messages about privacy settings are actually getting through. In this case although the profile was private, his list of groups he belonged to was not. One jumped out immediately as it mentioned the head and another teacher by name and appeared to be a campaign to get the teacher sacked by accumulating members to the group. I was appalled by this and clicked onto the link to the group to see what was being posted. There were 20 or so posts, almost of them hostile to the teacher in question and some of them very unpleasant. Worse still the group had 574 members. Many of the students who had joined the group are what I consider to be nice kids.

    I alerted my HoD and we have contacted Facebook and had the group taken down. Given the large number of students involved, however, how to tackle this at school has been more of an issue. I didn't want it to become a witchhunt but I needed to get across to students that this sort of behaviour was not acceptable on two fronts, it was a form of bullying and it tarnished their own reputation. 

    I have focused a lot of e-safety messages at protecting online reputation. We use this video in KS3 as I like it's closing message - 'don't broadcast your idiot youth to the universe'

    Public Service Announcement

    We follow this up by getting students to google themselves to see what trail they are leaving online.

    Obviously I needed to reinforce this message. The wonderful people at Common Craft have come up with another great Plain English video - Protecting  your online reputation - which fitted the bill perfectly.  

    Protecting Online Reputations in Plain English 

    I've shown this in classes this week and followed it up by explaining how hurt and upset I would have been if the group had been about me. I also stressed how easy it was for me to find all the names of the people who had joined the group, many of whom I'm sure didn't give it much of a thought and did it for a laugh. I said that it made the people involved look pretty shabby and that they needed to take more care over their reputations. I also linked it to the recent case of the labour party candidate who was dropped after Twitter posts he'd made while a student came to light. 

    While not playing down the 'stranger danger' online grooming threats, I feel that the online reputation issue is one that will affect far more students. Not only should we be hammering home the 'don't broadcast your idiot youth to the universe' message, we should also be teaching students how to create a positive online presence that they will want future employers and college interview panels to find. We can only do this by engaging with the students over the appropriate use of social media tools. 

    I came across this cartoon a while ago:-

    When we get social media issues cropping up it is very easy to take the ban it / block it attitude. I feel this is primarily to protect ourselves and our schools' reputations, not to help our students become responsible digital citizens.

    Image source

    Sunday, March 7, 2010

    Netbook CPD Project

    I've mentioned in a couple of post the netbooks CPD project I'm working on. The school is introducing netbooks to all Year 7 and year 12 students in September ( plus year 10 if funds allow ). The aim of the project is to focus on the pedagogical approach to the introduction of the netbooks rather than the usual pattern for the introduction of technology which seems to be focusing solely on the technology itself. It is also looking at the CPD requirements of staff to ensure that they are able to effectively use the technology in the classroom to support learning.

    We have been fortunate to secure some funding from Vital, a DCSF backed Open University organisation which aims to support school in making the best use of ICT. This funding will enable us to organise workshops and time off timetable to work on a strategy for the implementation, including a CPD program to run in the summer term to enable staff to embed e-learning into the curriculum.

    We have been making some progress re e-learning prior to the start of this project. Each member of the teaching staff has one hour a fortnight e-learning training and the use of web 2.0 technologies in the classroom is increasing. What the implementation of the netbooks will enable is the opportunity to transform the way e-learning is used across the curriculum.

    This Edutopia post identifies 4 stages of adoption of technological advances:-

    • Dabbling.
    • Doing old things in old ways.
    • Doing old things in new ways.
    • Doing new things in new ways
    At a BECTA 21st Century Teaching conference on Wednesday they had a similar  model of levels of transformation:-

    Without time to plan and effective CPD we will not get beyond the Dabbling / Exchange stage.

    Just before sitting down to write this post I came across this post on going 1:1 in schools by Kim Cofino:-

    Lots to think about here. Particularly liked some of the student quotes:-

    • 1:1 is an advantage b/c: “Teachers don’t need to be a source of raw information anymore & they can finally actually teach”
    • “It’s always possible to get distracted – the tech office can try to block things for a little while, but we always find a way. In the real world, there are always distractions, having a laptop teaches you how to be productive in that environment”
    • Students are not ready to go paperless, yet. They like the tactile experience and no boot-up time of working with paper and pencil when relevant.
    Given the concerns re the robustness of netbooks and attrition rates I also liked this idea:-
    • Students really take responsibility for their laptop through the Eggcellent Project: Each student is given a drained egg to take care of for two weeks, along with a special case. If anything happens to the egg, they have to go to the tech office to sign an insurance form.
    Lots of sound advice as well about engaging all stakeholders and the importance of Project Based Learning. As part of the research for the project I visited Bristol Brunel Academy last week. They have netbooks for all year 7 and year 8 and 80% of the curriculum is project based learning. We have a Personal Development Curriculum which is a cross curricular model but not nearly as extensive.

    So next steps. We have a workshop on Tuesday with representatives from most curriculum areas to complete a SWOT analysis and plan a way forward. I need to compile a survey of all staff ( using a google form ). This will be an attitudinal survey as well as a skills audit to gauge what CPD training will be required. We also need to brainstorm ideas that can be incorporated across the curriculum. This wiki by Suzie Vesper could be a good starting point.

    The key message that we need to get across is that this is not about focusing on the gadgets. At the moment, if a teacher books an ICT suite the lesson is dominated by the technology and the whole lesson revolves around the kit. With 1:1 netbooks technology becomes another tool to be used to aid learning.