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


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.