Sunday, September 16, 2012

Upskilling, workloads and trolls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rant over - back to my exam data analysis. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Rethinking my thinking

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

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

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

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

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

As part of my research today I cam across this video

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

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

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Year, New Enthusiasm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also want to checkout Mirandanet and have applied to join

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