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. 

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