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. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Firing up the work brain

Got back from my holiday in Cornwall yesterday and the new term is looming. Time to crank up the work brain again and finish off that very over-optimistic To Do list I compiled back in July. I need to make sure I've got everything possible sorted as it's going to be a very challenging term. The school was given notice to improve last October and one of the main targets was to improve our A*-C including English and Maths. The target was 50% - our results came in at 41% - hardly any change from last year so it looks like the writing is on the wall re Special Measures. The fact that a massive amount of work has been done in the last year and the results hinged on less than 20 students cuts no ice.

That said, the only thing I have control over is the department I manage. We have made real progress in the last 12 months. If I'm playing the numbers game Year 11 results have improved from 74% to 98% for 1 GCSE equivalent and from 14% to 38% for 2 GCSE equivalent. However this is OCR Nationals options groups and students had 5 hours a fortnight for 2 years. Practically all should have achieved the 2 GCSE. Unfortunately when I started 12 months ago very little of the course had been completed in year 10 and we have had to cram most of the course into one year. A similar clear-up had to be undertaken with the year 10 core ICT groups who do not have ICT in year 11. So far 75% of the cohort have passed - not bad seeing as we have have had only around 35 hours to cover the whole course.

I've had less success in trying to find a replacement for the OCR Nationals. I've researched thoroughly and discussed endlessly and thought deeply  and blogged repeatedly and in the end I'm doing nowt this year. I can't find a KS4 course which meets the needs of my core ICT groups and given that the government have still not come up with any concrete decisions in response to the Wolf report there seems little point in compromising and spending time and energy developing a course which may need to be scrapped in twelve months time. I thoroughly dislike OCR Nationals and desperately want to see the back of it but for the next year at least stability and regrouping is more important than a knee jerk lurch to another unsuitable course. I found I couldn't overcome my embarrassment at the thought of delivering ECDL training and other qualifications I have considered would require a massive amount of work to make them into meaningful and engaging courses. So for now I've tidied up my new spec resources and am concentrating on ensuring that students have as meaningful a course as possible and are achieving the best they can within the constraints we have.

Things are brighter with the BTEC level 2 course which I implemented as the option course. The new year 10 course is oversubscribed, despite students having experienced a year of OCR Nationals and I have been able to implement both the Designing Computer Games and Computer Systems units which have gone down well. I've spent quite a bit of time over the holiday finishing writing several units so that students have a choice of units and can work more independently.

KS3 is what I need to spend some time on in this last week of the holiday. I've had to completely rewrite the curriculum over the last year as most of the stuff being delivered was still based on the old strategy lessons and was totally focused on MS Office. Given everything else going on over the last year I've been writing it piecemeal and for some of the topics running the same lessons for both year 7 and year 8. With OCR Nationals starting in year 9 it was my last chance to teach year 8 some interesting stuff such as Scratch programming. Also the majority of teachers for ICT in KS3 are non-specialists and I didn't want to introduce too many new things at once. I've written google sites for year 7 and year 8 but I now need to go back and map out the SOWs against the APP levels and get the big picture - what is missing and what didn't work? Also the duplicated stuff for year 8 needs to be replaced.  

On top of all this is the increasing debate over the ICT curriculum. I've been involved in #ictcurric and the related moodle and google sites resource banks for a while and there has been much debate on twitter using the #ictcurric hashtag. This week Google's Eric Schmidt has raised the profile of the debate further. In his  MacTaggart lecture he said he had been 'flabbergasted' to learn that computer science was not taught as standard in UK schools'

and stated:-

"Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it's made. That is just throwing away your great computing heritage,"

This has been picked up in this Guardian article today:-

Many blogs are being written looking at what can be done about the current state of affairs, these being two that have floated across my twitter stream in the past hour or so:-

But what does this translate into in a school like mine which is struggling to stay out of special measures and is desperate for the results that a course like OCR Nationals can deliver? A school that teaches KS3 ICT as a cross-curricular SOW with RS and PHSE, using non-specialist teachers? A school so under pressure from OFSTED that it felt unable to release me for the training required to run Apps for Good as an extra-curricular activity? A school that has yet to implement student email accounts? How do you implement the changes required, given such a background?

So far, step by step has been the answer. I've introduced game programming via Scratch in year 7 and 8 and the Game design unit in BTEC. I've introduced more impact of ICT topics such as one on social media:-

I have also introduced the BTEC Computer Systems unit. Budgetary constraints (ironically from having to pay for printing all the screen prints for OCR Nationals ) means that I unlikely to be able to fund the hardware necessary for the BTEC  Installing Computer Hardware unit that I'd hoped to run this year (unless some of my scrounging/begging efforts pay off). 

Going forward I'd like to run the BTEC software development units but my programming skills are very rusty - I was a programmer in the early / mid 90s but it's years since I programmed in anger. I've got my fingers crossed that I can brush my programming skills by getting onto this pilot:-

This link has also given me much to explore re introducing more programming into the curriculum:-

I already have Alice and Kodu installed on the currciulum desktops and just need some time to get to grips with the applications myself. However, given the staffing of KS3 ICT I think some of this is going to have to be extra curricular which will reduce the number of students I'm going to be able to reach. 

I have to get rid of OCR Nationals next year but am still no nearer to finding a replacement. I'd also like to introduce GCSE Computing but this would probably be at the expense of losing one of my BTEC groups.

So next step is to sit down with some flip chart paper and lots of coloured marker pens and start to map out what I'm aiming for next and how to get there. Hopefully by the end of the week I'll be able to blog about what I've come up with. Any ideas or suggestions gratefully received.