Friday, 28 December 2012

Useful websites for IGCSE ICT

IGCSE ICT, run by a former teacher from ISS Mahé. The site covers all theory and practical aspects in detail.

The ICT Lounge offers straightforward material for the IGCSE. Some of the files open as seperate PDF's. Useful for revision and self-study purposes.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Around the world in a week

For the last week of half-term, lessons were planned on the theme of "Around the world in a week". This involved students rotating around different countries each day (sometimes more than 1 a day). Here they would learn a bit about a country's culture and participate in some learning, be it in new languages, arts, crafts, cooking, maths or experiments. It was a huge success and this video shows some of the highlights. The week ended with a MUFTI day and a cake sale.

Friday, 19 October 2012

5 free sites to learn programming and computer science

Code Avengers
Javascript, HTML, CSS

Learn Javascript (and they have recently added HTML/CSS). They even have a rap/theme tune which is quite catchy. Great for kids and adults alike.

Code academy

Python, Javascript, Ruby, JQuery, HTML CSS
Probably more geared towards 16+/Adults as there's less of the animated kids graphics in there.

Certified university level courses in Programming, Saas, Computer graphics etc

Free lessons from MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, University of Texas. You even get a free certificate from HarvardX, MITX etc. What more could you ask for?


Purely for the love of learning, you can learn a huge range of subjects

A huge range of free courses including:
    Biology & Life Sciences
    Computer Science: Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Vision
    Computer Science: Systems, Security, Networking
    Economics & Finance
    Electrical and Materials Engineering
    Health and Society & Medical Ethics
    Information, Technology, and Design
    Physical & Earth Sciences

    Business & Management
    Computer Science: Programming & Software Engineering
    Computer Science: Theory
    Food and Nutrition
    Humanities and Social Sciences
    Music, Film, and Audio Engineering
    Statistics, Data Analysis, and Scientific Computing

University of Cambridge:
Build an operating system using a Raspberry Pi

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

How culture affects teaching, learning and attention spans

I haven't blogged for a while here as I recently moved away from the busy hustle and bustle of London to take up a teaching post in Seychelles. One thing became apparent very quickly, Seychelles is like 1970's Britain in many ways. You can read more about this on my Seychelles blog. In short:

1) People know their neighbours and say hello to everyone in the street
2) You have to do your grocery shopping in three different shops as there are no big supermarket chains
3) Everyone is less-distracted and less stressed-out.

What on earth has this got to do with learning? I was not alone in my search for sanity and serenity, I was joined by 5 other teachers from the UK. The first thing we all remarked on was the length of time Seychellois students could concentrate for. At the London school where I was teaching for 6 years, I would usually cap most learning tasks to 15 mins max. Even the main of a lesson would have plenty of mini-plenaries, not for OFSTED's sake (diagnostic marking, AFL etc), but purely because many students would lose focus otherwise. This was in an outstanding school by the way, where behaviour needed to be managed, but would never be regularly disruptive.

In Seychelles, students happily work for 20-30 mins on any given task; silent-reading for English,  intensive spreadsheet work or programming in ICT, writing up notes in response to a texts/sources in History. Students are much more willing to help each other too. There is a genuine sense of community and little sense of aggressive competition or ego. When asked to identify a series of logo's for a logo design lesson, half the class could not identify the Nike logo.

When an English teacher read out some famous blurbs from biographies such as Didier Drogba, Beyonce and Rihanna, the students were blank. They had vaguely heard of these celebrities, but were not at all concerned with keeping up-to-date with their gossip. Tom Cruise was recently sat in a café  on the neighbouring island of La Digue. Nobody bothered him at all. Passers-by could not care less.

Another teacher also recently modelled world aid and economies using biscuits. Dividing students onto tables which represented different countries. Some countries had more biscuits to start with and others less. He asked them how they would feel if a country took asked to have a load of biscuits as they didn't have any but then that country never repaid them back. A student simply responded "That's OK, we don't mind". There were many other analogies done in that lesson such as population density and famine, but the students responded quite coldly. This lesson, when delivered in the UK was graded as "Outstanding". Perhaps the Seychellois students were not used to such innovative/creative teaching methods that we (have to) employ in the west to keep our students engaged. They have been used to reading text books and answering questions and so this is what they know and do well.

It is fair to say that local and national culture has a huge part to play on teaching and learning style. Seychellois students do not have the same stimuli as students in the UK/USA/Europe. They are not constantly playing with their phones, apps, twitter etc. They do not need constant stimulation through flashing lights. The amount of time spent on video games is quite low, the time spent outside playing volleyball, running, playing football is much greater. So in many cases, Seychelles is like 1970's Britain. But things are slowly changing. The country recently had fibre optic broadband laid down and some households are using USB Internet dongles. I wonder how long it will take before student's attention spans diminish from 30 mins to 3mins. Or whether it will happen at all. As the world flattens, I don't have an answer, but am happy to be teaching in a productive environment and will slowly phase in those crazy/create lessons. Teaching spreadsheets through dance may have to wait!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Wilson Miner-When we build

For anyone that wants to survive and thrive in the 21st century as a designer or user. This is essential viewing:

Via Carl Stratton and EmbedTree

Thursday, 16 August 2012

My thoughts on A-Level grades falling #ResultsDay

I will start by saying our overall results remain excellent, 100% A-C at AS and 90% A-B at A2 for the subjects I teach (Media and ICT). I am neither bitter nor disappointed in my students. I am proud of what they have achieved. However, the bar has definitely been raised across our subjects and indeed all subjects. Exemplary students who would comfortably have achieved an A/A* based on past papers and our predictions did not and a lot of our coursework was moderated down for the first time in several years. We were previously an accredited centre and have taught the same coursework briefs/modules for 4 years. We spend several days moderating, so needless to say, our marking is generally accurate. This (negative) moderation of coursework also happened in the History Department. It appears this is an additional reason why the grades have dropped in addition to the exam boards simply raising the grade boundaries implicitly. 

Incidentally, I think universities have picked up on this and because so many students missed their offers yesterday, many of our students got in on clearing to AAB universities, despite missing by two grades in some cases.

It's quite interesting to hear Kevin Stannard's thoughts. I'm not at all surprised by this Conservative administration tweaking things to make a political point though. i.e. The usual farcical rhetoric of "Teachers are failing, ed reform is necessary, Ebac is important to raise standards, bring in a load of ex-military and bankers from the city etc to raise educational standards." The likelihood is results will go up next year and the Conservatives (mainly Gove, Gibb and Cameron) will claim it's because of their changes in ed policy. It's not, they've just fudged the stats (again).

This post was written in response to this article by William Stewart posted on the TES:

William Stewart
Decades of “grade inflation” ended this morning as the proportion of pupils achieving the highest A-level grades dropped for the first time in 21 years.
The A* grade, introduced in 2010, was awarded to 7.9 per cent of entries this year, compared with 8.2 per cent last year, breaking the now familiar narrative of ever-increasing results and accusations of dumbing down.
The proportion of A-level entries gaining grade A or above also fell, to 26.6 per cent, lower than the 2009 level. It is the first time that the proportion of A grades has gone down since 1991.
It is the first time that the proportion of A grades has gone down since 1991.
Exam boards say that the fall is explained by a “different cohort profile” from last year. The drop follows a levelling off last year, with 27.0 per cent of students achieving A and A* grades in both 2010 and 2011.
The shift has coincided with a greater emphasis from exams regulator Ofqual on pegging results to the performance of -previous years. TES also understands that in meetings this year the watchdog instructed exam boards to err on the conservative side when deciding in borderline cases where grade boundaries should be placed.
The overall percentage of A-level entries gaining an A*-E pass went up for the 30th successive year, with a slight increase to 98 per cent. But that news, alongside Ofqual’s denial that results have been “fixed”, is unlikely to allay the fears of some schools that pupils have been unfairly penalised.
Kevin Stannard, a former exam board official and director of learning at the Girls’ Day School Trust, which runs two academies and 24 independent schools, said that having a criterion-based exam system – which does not put a cap on the number of students allowed to achieve certain grades – leads to increasing numbers of pupils getting A/A* passes.
“Grade inflation is a systemic feature of criterion-based exams, so if there isn’t a record percentage of pupils getting top grades again this year, it suggests something quite disturbing: the system isn’t so much broken as corrupt,” he said.
“Someone will have decided to raise the bar, not by setting more difficult questions but simply by raising the boundary mark for particular grades.”

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Stop meddling. We're medaling just fine #Olympics

Education has long been a political football. Politicians love meddling with the school system to no avail. This creates waves of instability and is not helpful to our profession at all.

The latest political football has been PE, Physical Education. Since the success of the GB team at the 2012 Olympics, politicians have been jumping up and down saying we need to change the school PE/sports program. Wait a minute, surely if we are doing so well, then our education system is doing something right. We don't need change do we? If something is clearly not broken- the most gold medals ever won by GB at an Olympic Games, why are we trying to fix it.


Politicians love throwing time and money at a problem, or in this case, a pseudo-problem to try and win points with the public. The public, who are currently emotionally engrossed in supporting GB and thus any kind of sporting activity. I don't think there is a great deal wrong with school PE. At many schools it is compulsory up until age 16 and well-qualified teachers deliver with passion. Boris Johnson's suggestion that schools should have 2 hours a day of PE (like he enjoyed at Eton) is a farce. Current Olympic hurdler and former Etonian, Lawrence Clarke himself admitted that Going to Eton put him at a disadvantage. That's coming straight from the horse's mouth Boris!

lawrence clarke

Boris exercising his left-right left-right:

If funding gets mentioned at all in the coming weeks after the Olympics are all over, then it will be further confirmation that the PM and his Conservative Cronies really don't have a clue. Putting more money into school PE or Sports funding will do little for GB sports. Look at Grabarz who funded himself independently and James Ellington who auctioned himself off on Ebay to find a sponsor. What about Dujardin, the girl who did work experience at a stables before becoming the Olympic Dressage champion. The entrepreneurial spirit is strong in the UK and if sportsmen and women really want to compete and develop, they will find a way through sheer determination and innovation. Cash incentives will not make a greater sporting nation. Just look at the state of the English Premier League, where players on wages in excess of £100,000 a week disgrace themselves on a regular basis. Sleeping around, making racist remarks, being drunk and disorderly. Money does a lot of things, it doesn't make better sportsmen and women though.


If the message isn't clear, politicians who do not have a clue, please leave our education system alone so that there is stability. This way teachers can be left to teach without worrying about ticking the boxes and doing 2 hours of PE a day!

5 tutorials every media studies teacher and student should watch

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Things good schools do

This is a bit of an experiment in collaborative writing. How it works is that you copy this entire post verbatim, and add one thing to the list below. If you put this on a blog, please tag this post with "goodschoolproject" if possible to make these posts easier to find later.

  1. Good schools focus on the learners, not the system.
  2. Good schools provide good training / CPD for their teachers

You are free to share and modify this post, but whomever you share it with must enjoy the same freedom.

via @davidwees 

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Update on the DFE and Vital Consultation on ICT #GuardianCS

Peter Twining started his session by restating that the Disapplication of the current ICT Programmes of Study (POS) will begin in September 2012, with a new curriculum expected in September 2014. The DFE and Vital recognise that “Digital” changes everything, ever job, every discipline. For these reasons, change is necessary.

However, Michael Gove has been less than kind about ICT and its teachers, despite the fact that in primary schools, 2/3 of schools are judged good or outstanding based on the most recent OFSTED data (2008). At secondary, this drops to under ½ of all schools are good or outstanding. It seems that GCSE ICT is a disaster. The Royal Society went on to state that “Every child needs to be digitally literate by the end of compulsory education.” The Royal Society at no point mentions that “computer science” is compulsory, rather a combination of all the ICT strands, which are displayed in the image below.

Note that the three strands of ICT are defined as Computer Science, IT and Digtial Literacy. One of the reasons why computer science should not be delivered discretely as a compulsory is because there are simply not enough people to deliver it.

It is worth noting that the current QCDA was and still is just guidance and actually the POS has and always will remain open. Teacher have done and still can teach any of the three strands and still meet the QCDA guidance.

Disapplication (Sept 2012)
There was no guidance from Gove as to what we should now do, he referred to a WIKI curriculum, however much of this is incomplete. There are no success criteria or attainment targets in which to judge the success of teaching. Therefore, many schools will not deliver ICT, despite it being a legal requirement. Whilst it is true, that in a general school inspection, Ofsted will not inspect ICT; it is still unwise to completely drop ICT from your school’s curriculum. Come 2014, ICT will be a foundation subject and if school’s have discontinued ICT from their school, there will be a huge skills shortage in both staff and students. Please ensure that your students do not lose their entitlement to ICT, do not slow down or soft pedal.

New ICT Curriculum (Sept 2014)
Peter Twining strongly restated that the subject should not change its name. Simply because something is not working, changing the name will not change anything. We have worked hard to build the name of “ICT” in the UK. Previously, many countries around the world would only use the term “IT”, but now on Twitter and in all educational journals and books published in the UK, “ICT” is the common term for our subject.
In 2014, the curriculum will be much thinner as a foundation subject. It is likely that the POS will be 1 side of A4. Indeed the POS and the attainment targets will probably be merged, with no level descriptors. Peter predicts that Gove will not tell you what to do, he will merely set high level attainment goals.

As a discipline, we need a united voice to succeed, rather than disagreeing and pushing particular views. Peter said all parties need to unite under the same banner of “ICT”: CAS, NAACE, ITTE, #DigitalStudies . The worst case scenario of a fragmented voice would be a compromised curriculum which is agreed by all parties and their vested interests.

Peter also discussed following a model like science, where you would have a National Curriculum for KS1 to KS3, followed by discrete sciences at KS4 i.e. Bio, Chem, Phy. In ICT, we could follow the same structure, specialising in either IT, Comp Sci or Media Studies at KS4. Incidentally, creative arts (Photoshop, video editing, special effects, animation and compositing) would all fall into the media studies bracket and during this two year period, could be taught by Art teachers as well as ICT teachers with the skills.

Who will lead?
5xICT specialist schools
Teaching schools and the New Technology Advisory Board (NTAB)
The NTAB will steer and co-ordinate the curriculum in the next three years. Why? Because DFE will not  (be able to) do it.

Peter also revealed new features of the Vital website, including the evidence hub where research meets practice. Whilst there are some schools leading in shaping the future of ICT using:

Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD): Students bring their own device, register their MAC address and the they can use their device in school. This has been successfully deployed by Saltash .Net Community School

Bring Your Own Tech (BYOT): You can bring your own tech into school and it simply works.

Vital wanted to hear from more schools where such schemes are working. He urged people to sign up to Vital. Free codes will be distributed to all conference attendees in the near future. Teaching schools would also get a discount to Vital membership.

Closing word
Do not lose ICT capacity now, otherwise 2014 will be a shock
Computer Science is a specialism at KS4, it is not the be all and end all.

Agile Pedagogy with Miles Berry

Miles Berry leads ICT education at the University of Roehampton and is also the chair of NAACE. Miles is a real story teller and as such, it is almost impossible to make notes and reflect how truly awe-inspiring his talks are. He managed to introduce 3 big ideas in his talk which completely blew me away.

1)     Froebel’s blocks for education
2)     The role of the Pedagogue-the Greek Etymology of the word being “a slave who took a child to a place of learning”.
3)     3 ways of learning: Play, Reading manuals/tutorials, Talking/socialising
4)     The idea that the 6 ingredients for a good computer game could also be used for programming
5)     Code avengers-A website for kids to learn Javascript

I mean not to do Miles any further injustice in the way of diluting his message. So here is his actual presentation in full:

Introducing Code Club – Linda Sandvik

Code Club is an after school club started by two highly-motivated young ladies, Clare Sutcliffe and Linda Sandvik. Their aim is to teach every child to code. Linda brought forward the strong point that every child can and should learn to code, even if they didn’t want to become a programmer, computer scientist or games designer. People learn how to cook eventhough they don’t want to become professional chefs. People learn Maths, English and Science until the age of 16, even though they may not wish to pursue careers in any of these fields.

Two key selling points for coding are that 1) It teaches you about problem solving and 2) It’s fun.

Yes, it’s fun and the two founders know how to have fun. Look at this video that they created:


They don’t (need to) worry about assessment. And this is a key thing about code club. Linda is originally from Norway but was educated in England. In fact I studied in the same Department of Computer Science as her at Warwick University. We graduated one cohort apart. And whilst Warwick is an excellent university, Warwick suffers from the same “testing-based” curriculum that all UK universities suffer from. Linda went as far to claim that when she studied Digital Media at Hyper Island in Sweden, she learnt far more from her one and a half years there than her three years at Warwick, partly because of the non test-based structure of the course. She learnt to fail, and to fail often. I agree this is a major area of the UK curriculum which needs an overhaul.  This needs to start from Primary education however, not just at University.

In less than a year, Code Club has secured 1436 volunteers and
120 schools have registered their interest. That’s pretty incredible growth; Pintrest, Twitter and Instagram better watch out!

They mainly teach through Scratch, a free piece of software with a GUI that teaches users the importance of Syntax and the fundamental building blocks of coding. One thing I didn’t know is that you can hit <Share> on a Scratch game and that gives you a URL to share with your family and friends. That’s awesome!

After user-testing her projects on kids, Linda went further than most people in hacking Lego Mindstorms to accept her Scratch instructions through an Arduino!  James Stuttard also later mentioned the Panther extension which gives even more advanced features.

Whilst Code Club is not short on friends as the above video demonstrates, they have also worked with Lego, Nesta, Mozilla, Coding for kids and Cas. However, they still need donations to help establish themselves as a charity.

Engaging your computing community by Alan O’Donohoe

Alan restores faith into those who feel that they have been left behind by the speed at which the ICT and computing express train has moved in the past 24 months. Alan had no programming experience, but two years ago, he decided he would learn how to code and would try to raise the profile of computing in his local school and community. His idea was to run #Hackdays. His motto was “Hack to the future”. Alan is overly modest with his achievements and he documents his successes on a blog.

One of Alan’s aims was to try to motivate students and instill a passion for computing so that they would choose GCSE computing as an option subject. An example of his success is the running of Dojo’s where students come and code and learn about computing in a Friday after-school club. He also decided to take his students to a bar camp, inspired by a father who controversially brought his son to a bar camp. At the hack to the future event in Preston, 360 people attended. A mixture of teachers parents and students attended, all keen to learn about computing! It was a real sight to behold.

He has also collaborated with Freaky Cloud and taught students how to hack. He claims not to have done any teaching himself at the “Hack to the future event”. Instead partner organisations such as Mozilla were at hand to run sessions, similar to those run at Mozilla hackspace. Enthusiastic as ever, he reinforces Peter Twining’s message (refer to earlier post) that we should not wait. Do not wait for Gove. Make stuff happen and things will happen to you.

Raspberry Jam

After much hype behind the Raspberry Pi He decided to create an event called Raspberry Jam The idea is similar to a musical jam where people who have instruments bring their own and people who don’t have instruments come along to watch/listen or play all the same. Raspberry Jam is an implementation of a CAS hub. The requirements are simple. All you need is:

-1 classroom
-Willing participants

He started with a small project which he knew would not fail. In fact it was his daughter’s project. @Rosie_Pi was a big fan of hammer beads. She had made video games characters before and so she taught a sessions which introduced the idea of pixels and all attendees in effect created pixel art. Some reproduced Mario characters, others consoles such as the iconic Nintendo Gameboy. He urged us all to do the same, to run an event- Start small, start simple. All we need to do is start something:

Computer Science – the fourth science by Simon Humphreys

Simon is the co-ordinator of CAS . He likens computer science to music. Just because we know how to code, it does not mean we can teach computer science. In the same way that just because you can play the piano well, it does not mean that you can teach music. He outlined a very shocking statistic that 34% of ICT teachers have no post A-Level qualification in ICT. This simply would not happen in any other subject.

He also clarified a point made earlier by Peter Twining that Computer Science != Programming. i.e. The two are not the same thing and programming will not solve our future problems in computer science or indeed ICT. He fears that what students currently suffer from on regular occasions (Death by Powerpoint) will merely be replaced by Death by Scratch or Kodu, Java, Python. In many cases ICT is taught better in other subjects than it is in ICT lessons. Many ICT teachers have forgotten the purpose/motivation behind teaching skills and merely teach skills arbitrarily to tick boxes/pass exams. Simon states that the point of a lesson should be about abstraction of a concept or key skill and then decomposition of that skill so that it can be applied in different scenarios.

He argues that Computer Science is discipline, like Medicine it has a body of knowledge, school techniques, it is a subject it is economically important and educationally important. And the most empowering thing is, that in the same way that anyone can learn to play a musical instrument, anyone can learn programming and the skills required to teach computer science. We are all teachers and indeed, there are very few teachers like the media make out-who are lazy and just work for their long holidays. In the same way that our student can learn new skills so can we. If you don’t believe Simon, I can give you a quick case study.

Four years ago, I was told I would need to learn Photoshop. I asked for CPD through a course, but department budget was tight, so my head of deptartment bought me a book. I later found online tutorials and I documented my skills in this album. One year later, I was teaching Photoshop skills to A-level Media Studies students and one year after that I became the Head of Media Studies. This is a showcase ofstudent work, many had no exposure to Photoshop prior to the course.

Independent tasks can also be seen here:

So it is possible to learn as both a teacher and a student.

Going back to how we can avoid “Death by Scratch”, Simon says that we have ask students to explain their code. Not in the Death by Printscreen fashion, but rather through peer-to-peer and student-teacher dialogue. Students can also use free screencapture software.

Echoing Peter Twining’s message once again, Simon stated that although ICT is a damaged brand. Changing its name won’t change anything. Like formerly failed brands such as Cadbury’s, Kate Moss and Primark. A genuine change (and seriously clever marketing) can easily sway public opinion!

There are CAS hubs all over the UK. CAS is in 500 schools and there is bound to be events at a hub near you. So what are you waiting for? We have to make this change happen and we have to act together.

Guardian Education Centre and Facilitated Discussion at #GuardianCS

Lunch at conferences is always an interesting affair. For the vegans out there, they usually end up starving and so resort to popping down to the local café or getting out a lunchbox which they had already prepared. It is also clear which teachers have a decent canteen at school and which clearly do not. I walked past one delegate, sat on his own (he had clearly ran to the front of the lunch queue) and without exaggerating, he had at least 15 items (wraps, sandwiches, buns) piled high on his plate. It was clear which group he fell into and he certainly got his money’s worth from this CPD!

After lunch, we made our way into the Guardian Education Centre which is headed up by Margaret Holborn and her colleague Ellie. Margaret and Ellie run sessions practically every day, where school groups can come into the Guardian and learn to use Print and Video editing software that are actually used by the Guardian team every day. Access to the centre is at no cost and for this reason, you have to book one year in advance. Speaking from experience, this is certainly a worthwhile trip to plan for your school calendar. It has worked well for both Year 8 and Year 12 students at our school.

We also had the opportunity to chat to developers at Guardian. A friendly bunch, which held very mixed views with regards to Computer Science in schools; they were willing to answer our questions honestly. Here are some highlights:

Students will always ask “Why I am learning this?” or “How does it help me in my life?” It is no longer acceptable to reply along the lines of “It’s on the curriculum” or simply “Because I say so”. So as teachers of ICT, we have the perfect opportunity to teach whatever you want i.e. whatever you feel will be useful for your students when they enter the world of work/higher ed. Clearly, if at this point, you think it’s still OK to teach Powerpoint skills for more than 3 years in a row, then you are slightly deluded. There are so many excellent practitioners such as Genevieve Smith-Nunes, Matt Britland, Peter Kemp-All teaching interesting skills such as Animation using Blender, Coding using Kodu, Game Design using Stencil and Mission Maker, Music Video Production using iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. There is no reason why you shouldn’t ditch that dull unit on “Databases” or “Powerpoint Revisited” next year.

We asked the panel what their ideal curriculum would contain and these were their thoughts:

-An understanding of why computing and the internet works. How communication technology works e.g. The Internet and E-mail
-An understanding of why things go wrong i.e. why things fail, how to fail and how to recover
-Some theory e.g. What is an algorithm. Which can be easily understood by using the example of how to make a cup of tea.
-A study of “What does a self driving car look like” and an evaluation of “Why this study of self driving cars is important”-There are obvious implications like the laws of robotics, the technology required, challenges to be overcome etc.
-Web tech
-Doing things with quick feedback e.g. Coding-Not only is feedback quick, but it is private as well. No one see’s you fail.
-Code their own website (You can start with Weebly and embed code from other sites). Learning HTML and CSS is also a good start.
-Testing and quality assurance-understanding the user needs and running both automated tests and unit tests. Thankfully, this sounds a lot like Unit 14 of OCR Applied ICT.

The panel also talked about the CSWG, a working group (The CS does not stand for Computer Science) which has a period of 2 hackdays every 3 months. These 2 days give the team a chance to develop ideas and present them back to the group. Ideas can then be voted upon and implemented in the Guardian. Many of the ideas born out of these Hackdays are implemented on the beta site:

A delegate commented on similar hackdays aimed specifically at girls, which are obviously the more under-represented gender in computer science. These hackdays are run by RewiredState . Aimed at girls with no experience of coding. Languages such as Python were a popular one amongst delegates first learning to program. And whilst code academy offers great free resources for adults, most felt the code avengers was more suitable for students.

Two sites that were mentioned during facilitated feedback were and CS Unplugged.

Two further things worth looking at:

Programme or be programmed by Doug Rushkoff

The session got me thinking about independent challenges that we run in our school. These are set by each subject. Idea’s for ICT at our school include:

1-Build your own website using
2-Learn a new programming language e.g. Python (Youdacity / Invent Python/Py Games) or Javascript using CodeAvengers
3-Storyboard, Plan, Film and Edit your own short film or music video
4-Make your own game using Kodu, download it to an xbox 360. Get friends to play it and offer you feedback for improvements.

The role of the teacher – facilitating expert advice by Peter Kemp

“98% of Google engineers were exposed to computing at school”

Peter started his talk with this statistic to re-emphasise the fact that we cannot simply expect students to learn computing at home on their own, they must be exposed to it at school. But what happens, if as an ICT teacher you have little/no computing skills. Well to start with, it’s never to late to start learning. Peter started learning Blender a Free 3D animation program which is similar to Maya /3D Studio Max. He then exposed his students to it and they created this stunning animation for the Manchester University Animation Competition. Based on Peter’s introductory course as to how to make a cup, students taught themselves and relied on Peter’s network to create their animation in less than 3 months:

Peter’s expert which helped facilitate the course was called Tom. He is a Doctoral Researcher in AI at Queen Mary Universtiy. Of course, this was a great help, but what if we don’t have a large network?

1)     Sign up to CAS and attend your local CAS hub
2)     Sign up to which links professionals with school. There is no shortage of professional volunteers, but there is a shortage of schools! Computing Plus Plus also do CRB checks for you through STEMNET.
3)     STEMNET Has lots of groups such as BT IT ambassadors, Girl Geeks, Video Games Ambassadors, E-Skills UK. Which will all be willing to offer help and advice for your students
4)     Your local university
5)     Universtiy Ambassador Scheme e.g. KCL and 15+ other universities have student volunteers doing outreach work with schools all over the UK

Peter’s advice for how to write to professionals is to simply be bold and ask. People are looking for solutions, not problems. Give them a date and what you need from them. The worse they can say is “No”.

Peter restated that for Outstanding computing, we need just 3 ingredients:
1)     Experts
2)     Teachers
3)     Resources

All of these were outlined in his excellent talk.

The expert in the classroom - Genevieve Smith-Nunes

Genevieve presented what seemed like a utopian phrase that “Everyone is an expert in the classroom”. But the more I thought about this and the more evidence that Genevieve presented, I was convinced that she was right. I made it my mission to find out what each student’s expertise was in my classroom and to try and use it to my class’ advantage.

In my new school as an ice-breaker, I could ask each student to write on a wall, their name, their year group and their expertise. That way, whenever someone was looking for an expert in (say) audio editing using (say) Audacity, they would know who to go to.

Genevieve herself epitomises Peter’s BOLD approach by contacting professionals from around the world using Google Hangout. She has previously hjad Bob Shukai, the head of Global Mobile Tech at Reuters teach in her classroom via Google Hangout.  Eventhough there was a massive time difference, usually when you ask experts, they’re more than willing to offer help. Maybe that’s a key characteristic of an “expert”?

During the Google Guardian Hackday, Genevieve also helped facilitate a session where all students a 2-player Rocket Space Game. Extraordinary that this can be done over Google Hangout, allowing up to 10 people to video conference at the same time.

She ahs also had Master Students come into school as experts in Tech Enhanced Learning Envionments and HCI. They have been in to test their VLE and have offered help with building apps, creating a wireframe interface for students to experiment with. Simply using Mozilla and Thimble, her class were able to create an HTML render.

Genevieve will be running a HackDay at her school on Friday 6th July and she speaks very positively when she says, the worse thing that could happen is that we could fail. And even that isn’t that bad, because that’s the best way that we learn. And collective failure is safer than individual failure, because we share the experiencr together and nobody is to blame. It seemed that failing was something that is missing from the UK curriculum, Linda outlined this point in her excellent talk and Genevieve closed the day with it. In a funny way it was really empowering. There was once a saying that asked, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” But perhaps if we frame failure in a positive and realistic light, and ask a different question “What would you attempt to do, if the worst that could happen is that you would learn from your failings?”

Well what will you attempt next week, term or year? 

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Top 6 websites for teaching, learning and CPD

I've been teaching for six years and had some excellent INSET and CPD during that time. Imagine if you could have the world's leading practitioners at your fingertips, without paying a penny or even leaving your house- you'd be silly not to take up the offer! Some of the best content in education is being created right now on these 6 sites.

The learning Spy: David Didau's @LearningSpy  every post is guaranteed to make you think. If you're brave enough, they will also make you act. A leading proponent of the Solo Taxonomy.

(Content) Curation is King: @AnaCristinaPrts is a higher ed lecturer. Her curations specialise in autonomy, creativity and technology:

Learning with 'e's-Great name for a blog about e-learning. Steve Wheeler @TimBuckteeth is a leader in digital learning:

Cool Cat Teacher: You've hit gold. What can only be described as a treasure chest of Pedagogical goodness: 

Mark Anderson's Blog: If you're a visual learner, you'll love @ICTEvangelist's blog:

Edutopia: With guest posts from teachers around the world, this site covers everything from the micro level learning with individual students to the macro level at school and policy level:

Bonus link: Create your own inforgraphics. I've got to try this!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

5 websites to learn more about Raspberry Pi #Edtech

The official website where you can find out more about the Raspberry Pi and have a look through their Quick Start Guide.

Here you can buy your Raspberry Pi and there's a huge community of users.

3) A realistic and fairly neutral viewpoint
Engadget's view

4) A success story in school
Swallow Hill Community School have already taken the brave step towards Innovation / early adoption

5) Blogs
Ok, it was meant to be five, but there's a few blogs worth reading:

<UPDATE> Speech regognition on Raspi!:

Another school success story :

Crust ->Pi tastes better with a crust.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Eric Schmidt "Why Science Matters" #ComputerScience #ICT #DigitalStudies

Eric Schmidt is the Executive Chairman of Google and he has been outspoken on the (poor) teaching of computing, ICT and digital sciences in the UK. In putting his money where his mouth is, he announced on Wednesday that Google would be sponsoring Teach First, a scheme set up to address educational disadvantage by taking exceptional graduates and putting them into challenging urban schools where they can make a big impact. As part of the sponsorship, Google will be providing teachers with Bursaries so that they can buy much-needed resources to address the lack of solid computing skills currently being taught in many schools and inspire students with technology such as Raspberry Pi's and Arduino's:





 Jump to the end of the post for a condensed statement from Eric Schmidt.

Setting the scene

Google have stated a commitment to inspiring the next generation of scientists and computer scientists. However to look where they can take us, let's look at where we are now.

There are 1 billion smart phones and 2 billion people with Internet access. But this is a minority, there are 7 billion people on earth and so the world wide web is yet to live up to its name. Indeed, there will always be a digital divide. Schmidt described it as a ditital oasis in a desert. Yet in the UK, the world wide web is a platform for 8% of the UK's GDP. We're certainly a privaleged minority.

Schmidt and Google believe that if we connect people to information, you can change the world. To connect the world is to free the world as this network is not merely a network of machines, but minds. Schmidt also predicted that by the year 2020, Optical fibre will be running in all major cities, offering speeds of Gb/s. Science fiction will become a reality. However in the meantime and in developing countries, we cannot predict their future by extrapolating the past. They will not merely use e-mail, the Internet and then ten years later move onto mobile devices. Mobile devices are here now and are becoming cheaper by the day. Even with modest connectivity, we can change lives.

Three worries

There were however three concerns:

  1. The Internet was built without criminals in mind and now we are fighting a battle against cyber crime
  2. There is nod elete button on the Internet. False accusation used to fade in the traditional print world, now it can last forever. However, Shmidt believes that with voting/rating of news stories and commentary like in a democratic society, people will be able to vote and rate what is true and what is not.
  3. Government filtering and censorship. It is insteresting that Google mention government intervention, as a TED talk highlighted filtering happening everywhere.
 On a more positive note, Schmidt went on to quote Arthur C Clarke:

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"

Scmidt predicts that technology will eventually dissapear because it will be everywhere and a part of everyday life, essentially becoming invisible. In order for this to happen however, the teaching of ICT and Computing needs to be kept scientific. With the same steps as any other science, Hypothesise, Test, Devise, Conclude and Repeat. Computer Science like all sciences requires careful repeatable rigour.

At a secondary (High School) level, through events like Google Science Fair amongst other competitions that we run in our own classrooms, we provide motivation for excellence. We cannot simply approach education the same way that we have approached it for decades, teacher at the front lecturing. Similarly, ideas are not enough, we need to actually use them and put them into practice. Many teaching ideas will fail, but many will succeed.

The value of an idea is in using it ~ Thomas Edison
In terms of science, we need to apply science through subjects like Engineering. It is therefore shocking to find that over 2/3 of all students would not consider Engineering at University. This is despite Engineer's solving many of the world's problems such as the rescue of Chilean miners, the design of games, buildings, componentry. So we need to make students more aware of what Engineers, Scientists and Computer Scientistists do in the real world.

This is where museums like the Science Museum come into it. Through a Google sponsorship of £1 million, The Science Museum will be launching a new gallery on modern communication in 2014-this will cover everything from The Telegraph ot the Tweet. In the meantime, there is the Alan Turing exhibition which runs throughout the year.

There still remains a shortage in Computer Science teachers and graduates in general; a NextGen report announced a shortage in UK-based animators, special FX and software engineers which all need Computer Science or Maths degrees. It is a sad state that only 0.5% of all students in the UK take computing at GCSE or A-Level. And whilst scrapping the existing curriculum was like pulling the plug out, we now need to power back up. Only 2% of Google engineers were not exposed to Computer Science at School. Furthermore, we have already seen what the BBC Micro did for computing in the UK, so imagine what the Raspberry Pi could do!

The Royal Society also published a report in January, which stated that the professional development of teachers is the main priority for reviving computing in the UK. In response to this, Google announced it's support of TeachFirst where it hopes to attract 100 exceptional computing/science (STEM) graduates which will impact 20,000 students. Whilst this may not seem like many graduates, it is the first step and it is very generous and brave of Google to make this first step where others have often talked but feared to tread. A summary statement is also provided below.

  1. Buy a Raspberry Pi
  2. Start reading and engage with GotoFdn
  3. Find more genuine examples of successful female scientists/computer scientists to display around school
  4. Create a list of attractive jobs which rely on Computer Science, Maths and Engineering,

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Learning in the real world #ukedchat

Three years ago, I had a bespoke item of clothing made. The fabric was traditional British suiting and I was amazed by how personal the service was- from choosing my own outer fabric and linings to finally receiving a tailored jacket with my name on the label, which was subtly included on an inside jacket pocket.

The label was called "House of Billiam" and the jacket was a hoodie. Yes, you read that correctly. Today, the business has grown exponentially but remains personal, run by Tom Bird and Rav Matharu. Their stories of how they got started in bespoke tailoring (of the urban streetwear variety) could not be more diverse. This story contrasts learning in the real world of work vs in a formal environment such as at University.

Reversible, original design House of Billiam 2007

Bird was a self-taught tailor and designer. He literally taught himself how to pattern cut and sew in his bedroom. Having graduated with a degree in Philosophy from York, his tailoring was a creative pursuit which he took more and more seriously, until he started his own business formally as he became overwhelmed by requests from friends and their wider network. Granted, the first batch of items from his early bedroom days (and nights) would not have passed QC for (say) Liberty or Comme des Garçons, but he was learning a craft through experimentation, risk taking and sheer hard work. He continues to work more than 60 hours a week for most weeks of the year and I cannot remember the last time he took a day off to "just go on holiday".

Matharu on the other hand was trained formally at Leeds College of Art and Design where he gained a 1st class degree in Fashion. They continue to collaborate and are currently planning their Spring/Summer 2013 collection. Incidentally, they did eventually get their clothes into Liberty and Comme des Garcons, where their collections have flown off the shelves.

Two very different people with very different schools of training are now producing products of exceptional quality. So is formal education worth it? Absolutely, without Matharu's input some of the shapes and sillouettes which are now famously worn by Ed Sheeran and Tinie Tempah would probably never have been conceived.

However, equally valuable was the informal training received through the world of work and experimentation as experienced by Bird. Can the same be said about other professions? Certainly in the creative industries, many of the most successful DJs, Dancers, Musicians and Film makers have certainly made it from grass roots with mostly informal training. The following successful professionals never undertook any formal training past secondary (high) school: Jane Austen, Michael Caine, Robert De Niro, Eminem, Li Kar Shing, Miguel Adrover, Elijah Wood, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and George Washington-Yes the first president of the USA.

As a teacher, where does that leave me on my thoughts about schooling and education in a formal setting vs. in the real working world. Personally, there is little difference, for every successful person who never went  to (or dropped out of) University there are an equal number who have graduated such as Lee McQueen, Natalie Portman, Barack Obama and Yo-Yo Ma. I believe as long as you do well at secondary school and leave school with decent literacy and numeracy skills, you can be a successful person in many fields without going to University. The exceptions obviously being Law, Accountancy and Medicine. Whilst both the Higher Ed route and the Vocational route are clearly equally effective and should be equally valued, the current attitude amongst many remains that unless you go through formal Higher Ed training, you cannot be successful. This is a great shame. It is a shame that this lie is sold to students by the media and by some schools,l as eventually students will believe that if they don't go to University, they have already failed in life. Maybe it's time we look realistically at what Higher Ed is for, who it is for and whether the same if not better skills can be learned in the workplace. Clearly House of Billiam and many of the people mentioned above are living proof that the two are equal merit.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Leaving on a high

I'll be leaving my current post and moving on to an International school in the summer. However, I'd like to share something with students before I go. These poems are excerpts from a Vlog and are used for GCSE ICT revision tools:

Original Vlog:

If they get good views and rating (, our school department could win £1000 . What a leaving present. Please help me make this happen.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Response to a Manifesto for sustainable effective teaching.

As posted in the comments to the original manifesto:

All in all. It's not been easy. A manifesto is a great idea but really behaviours speak louder than words. I think it's been good to have as a guideline and it makes me more aware of myself and listening to my body etc. However, our profession is demanding, like most professionals (Doctors, Nurses, Accountants, Lawyers), we do have to put in the hours. We serve the public. Despite this, we also need to rest, we need to serve and reserve ourselves. Finding the balance is the greatest challenge, not necessarily just sticking rigidly to the manifesto.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

I'm Possible

When Stephen Hawking was at Oxford University, he arrived late to a lecture. The lecturer had given out a set of incredibly difficult Physics questions. They were so difficult that two of his peers working together managed to solve only two of the questions. One of his peers, working alone managed only one of the questions.

As Hawking had arrived late to the lecture, her was unaware that his lecturer had told the class that these questions were "extremely challenging". When teased by his contemporaries and asked how many questions he had managed to complete he replied, "I only had enough time to complete the first ten..."

On a more trivial note, a friend of mine name Jo works at a law office. She's allergic to nuts which is a shame because once in a while their office host Ferrero Rocher eating competitions. The challenge is to see how many you can eat in a minute. Her colleague managed to eat 8 in a minute. They later found out that the world record is 7 in a minute. I would suggest that if somebody had told her colleague that the world record was 7, perhaps this would have set a glass ceiling for him and he would have stopped trying at 6? Side note: Unfortunately the experience was so nauseating that he's not willing to attempt the feat again!

The glass ceiling theory comes from an experiment with putting a flea in a jar. Fleas can jump/fly to any height. But if you put one in a jar with a see through lid on it, it will jump but keep hitting this glass ceiling. After a while, it will jump but not so high, so it does not hit the glass ceiling. Even if you take the lid off, it still thinks the lid is there so it stops jumping as high. How many times have you told someone or been told that something is impossible? If nobody tells us something is impossible or if we choose not to believe them. We can achieve anything we put our minds to. Here are some b-boy (breakdancing) moves which were once deemed impossible:

Kipup to handstand (Omega bomb)

Double elbow track

To close, I would like to leave you with a philosophy to live by and to pass on to others, your peers, students and friends:

"If you wan't to believe in something, believe in yourself."


Further evidence that we can do anything we set our minds to:

Footnote: Stephen Hawking's peers had been up all night working on the problems. Stephen Hawking went to bed early and only started on the morning of the next lecture.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

#ICT500 Rethinking ICT

There is one key difference between ICT and most other subjects, the content and field of ICT is evolving much quicker than any other subject. The events leading up to WWII and the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan have happened and very little new information is going to be gleaned from these events, with the exception of new interviews and new case studies. These events which are core to History and Geography have happened and they are not changing, events do not evolve.

Contrast all other subjects and fields to ICT- forms of information are constantly evolving, five years ago, infographics were neither common, nor fashionable. Data visualization as a field did not exist. In terms of communication, VoIP and Microblogging were once used by a small minority during a time when text messages and e-mail were replacing office memo's. In terms of technology, a clear trend in the 90's was the shrinking of mobile devices-we all wanted something more compact, smaller, thinner. The use of mobile technology changed however when mobile access to the Internet meant people were quite happy with a larger device with a larger screen.

With so many changes, you would think that ICT as a school subject would have also evolved, kept up with these changes. Unfortunately, it hasn't. It apparently takes a few years for new Specifications to be approved and maybe for this reason, ICT remained focussed around (Microsoft) Office applications. There was no motivation to change, teachers were fairly content, students knew no better and accepted the system. The system however did not evolve-in 2001, when I did my GCSE, the only way of apparently demonstrating understanding was through printscreens and annotation. Despite screen capture software and free audio capture/editing software such as Audacity now prevalent, relatively little has changed in the way we assess work.

In rethinking ICT, we need to look at the real world. Not just an office environment using Microsoft Office. What do film studios, software companies, startups, mobile phone companies, game designers, web designers and network engineers actually use? What skills do they need? We need to work backwards from there. We need to respond by improving our curriculum so that it prepares our learners for the real working world.
We need to seek support from industries and we also need to teach a wider variety of technical skills alongside a wider variety of approaches and thinking skills. Learning skills is one thing, knowing how to approach a problem, knowing who you need in a team are other key skills. The importance of the team cannot be underestimated, very rarely do people in ICT work alone. Group projects would bring a more balanced and realistic dynamic. Students should be able to experience more streams/types of ICT and then choose which one(s) to pursue in more depth. A modular approach like A-level Maths is probably more suitable than a prescriptive one-size fits all approach.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Will it get me more marks?

Frequently students may ask if an extension task or extra project will get them more marks or extra credit. Sometimes these extra projects do count towards their final grade, sometimes they do not. This project shows that creativity and freedom alone are big enough incentives for students to achieve. The reward is the number of compliments they receive from their peers!

In the first year of A-level media studies, students are asked to produce a music magazine, front cover, table of contents and double page spread. To push the students creatively, I asked them to create an advert to go inside the magazine, this was not on the exam specification and was for no extra credit or marks but was an opportunity for them to create something original using their own photography and image editing skills. Here are some of the results.