ICT lessons used to start with learning to use a mouse! Photo by Stef Noble

This morning I woke up to the rather alarming headline that “dull” ICT was to be dropped from the school curriculum to be replaced by computing. The story coming on the back of a department of education press release summarising  a speech to be given later in the day by education minister Michael Gove.

I’ve learnt from experience to never judge a story by its headline, and the premise of the story that ICT would be dropped in favour of computing seems now a simplification if not a mistake. Nevertheless the speech did contain criticisms of the current ICT curriculum and described much ICT in schools as dull, this based on the recent OFSTED report similarly criticising much ICT teaching. But the speech did also mention excellent practice and teaching by some schools so it wasn’t all negative by any means. It is a fact that many schools spend inordinate amounts of time teaching students basic office software skills, not necessarily a waste of time but certainly not engaging for a large number of students. But contrary to Gove’s crticisms much of this isn’t necessarily down to the existing curriculum, which is fairly broad and flexible, it’s down as much to the play it safe attitude of schools and a lack of suitably qualified ICT and Computing teachers. ICT in many Secondary schools became a place to pick up league table points by offering GCSE level qualifications based on office skills and ticking boxes. Even in schools where this wasn’t the case the threat of Ofsted and school management lead many schools to feel uncomfortable innovating lest the inspectors or school review system should find out that that basics were not being covered. During my time as an ICT and Computing teacher I was lucky to be able to innovate and bring in new ideas but I was “told off” on more than one occasion for deviating too far from what the other teachers were teaching. This wasn’t a problem with what I was teaching but more a problem that we would find it harder to assess, compare or show we are meeting the same standards when different classes were not all learning the same stuff.

From my understanding, today’s announcement gives schools a much freer rein to teach ICT without worrying so much about ticking boxes or being checked up, it sounds like teachers will be given room for innovation… in a best case scenario. In a worst case scenario it could become a box ticking exercise of a different kind, where cross curricular ICT/Computing, both the dream and fear of every ICT teacher, is brought into schools. Cross curricular ICT is done successfully in some schools, where there are no or few discrete ICT lessons and students study different topics in different subjects, sometimes supported by ICT specialists. In reality it is very hard to get to work because in a traditional subject based school curriculum teachers tend to concentrate on teaching their own subject and any ICT would come second, and this is assuming the teachers have sufficient knowledge themselves.

The part of the speech today which I am very excited about is the promotion of computing in school. Computing isn’t a subject that every student will love or thrive at. But like many other subjects it’s important that students at least get to try it and learn some programming. The best coders who will truly bring about innovation and entrepreneurship in the future are not necessarily those who need teaching in detail, but at least giving them the chance to learn the basics could give many students a foundation to develop skills in their own time, ala the developers of the 1980s who graduated from the first generation of home computers to write software, games and create some of the household IT names we have today. The announcement by Gove promoting computing is some feat and a massive u-turn in many ways. Computing, always a niche subject, has gradually been dwindling over the last few years. A group, Computing at School was set up by teachers and industry just a few years ago to try and buck this trend and this group, along with industry pressure and pressure from a number of other interest groups they seem to have caught the ear of the government. It’s a major u-turn for many reasons, when the Conservatives came into power one of the first quangos they scrapped was Becta, the internationally renowned agency for technology in education. Not necessarily an anti technology move but it was easy to see it as such. Next was the promotion of traditional teaching and subjects such as latin. Not necessarily anti-technology but computers didn’t have a place in grammar school education of the past. Next was the e-bac, which included many subjects such as history or geography but not ICT or Computing. Finally last year Michael Gove didn’t even turn up at BETT (the UK based educational technology exhibition which draws people worldwide) a statement in itself.

Such a big u-turn should inspire extra confidence. But anyone who has been in state education knows that one government announcement doesn’t make real change. All teachers have had the experience of sitting in an INSET (compulsory teacher training) session learning about a new initiative to improve their teaching but in reality finding it another box ticking exercise or finding it scrapped or superceded a year later. A few years ago the government decided that ICT would be tested as a SAT exam in an onscreen test. I spent 3 days of training along with 2 other ICT colleagues preparing for this, as well as hours of classroom time running the test with students rather than teaching. Our network manager likewise spent hours configuring the software. Not long after we found that the “award winning” test had been scrapped, not just the cost of the project down the drain but all the teacher hours. Bringing computing into schools may also be a large financial investment but with support from industry and other organisations that is set to grow it may just work. There is already a scarcity of qualified ICT teachers in schools, teachers such as myself with a computer science degree are even rarer, but to teach computing to a certain level you don’t necessarily need a degree, you need patience, willpower, support, an abilility to learn but most importantly time to learn. It can happen and I hope it will happen but we’ll have to wait and see!

The truth of the program is in the compiling (or was it something with pudding and pies)

About a month ago I was contacted by a PR agency working for the TDA on teacher recruitment. They were looking to make a Youtube film to attract people into ICT Teaching following a similar successful campaign around maths in everyday life. Amazingly they approached me after reading this blog and hearing my interview for the Edonis Project.

I had a long and fairly tiring day at Waterfall Studios in Shepherds Bush filming in front of a green screen and constantly forgetting my lines and having to do things again and again from different angles. The results are below and I’m in awe of the computer graphics that they have put around me to make a totally empty room look full.

Film 1

Film 2

I find both videos rather cringeworthy to watch (I did have a cold and a cough on the day of filming!) but I hope they have some effect. I know for sure London and the South East are short of qualified ICT teachers. After completing my Computer Science and Software Engineering degree the world of programming didn’t have much attraction to me and I went into teaching as it brought together two passions of mine, education and technology.

Technology continues to bring so much to education and it is so inspiring being part of online communities such as twitter, mirandanet and edtechroundup where practitioners actively share the most inspirational and creative uses of tech in the classroom.

In common with many other ICT teachers I sometimes find what we teach a little frustrating. Sometimes students are not challenged by the curriculum, you often hear tales of students being fed up with teachers who know far less than they do (not in my school!) and the numbers taking examinations in ICT and Computing continue to fall. Again there are a number of inspirational people working to rectify this including the recently formed computing at school group who are pushing forward new ideas for getting computing into school.

Being a teacher and an ICT teacher isn’t an easy job, you have to learn to manage all the distractions that computers and the internet offer to children, you have to constantly keep up with all the new software and technology that change every year, and you have to help your colleagues out with all their ICT problems. But you also get to use technology that can be inspiring, children love computers, and once you get over the hurdle of realising that you can’t know everything, learning a new trick from an 11 year old student is a real joy!

Each year for the last 4 years I’ve taught surveys and databases to my year 7 class.We used to start off by creating a spreadsheet with columns for name, age, favourite food and send all the students wandering around the classrooms to collect details from their friends.Next we went on to make a survey on paper, create a hypothesis, hand the surveys to friends to fill in, collect and type up results into a spreadsheet and then create graphs and a presentation about what they found out…It was a pretty good series of lessons that students enjoyed; but this year we kicked things up a notch with a bit of techology. Here’s how:

  1. We ditched the paper surveys for online surveys using Google Docs. Students created their surveys using the forms part of Google Docs. (We use the free Google Apps Education Edition via our own domain).
  2. Students posted the links to their surveys on a forum on our VLE. This was one of the trickier parts as most students hadn’t done this before. They could then complete their friends’ surveys. It also gave us an opportunity to discuss what makes a good or bad question or survey.
  3. Students analysed results – some downloaded their Google Spreadsheet to Excel while others did them on online. They all had to create a graph from their data.
  4. Students created a presentation to show their findings – most did this using Powerpoint though some used Google Presentations. All presentations had embedded graphs.
  5. Students uploaded their presentation to a Moodle Database and then had to view and comment on their friends’ presentations.

Students seemed to enjoy the work and interacting with their friends. Some parts had a steep learning curve but for most students it was the first time they had done anything like this before.  From a teacher’s point of view it was hard work and for a less able class I would certainly break the tasks up into smaller tasks but if you like the sound of it give it a go and let me know how it goes.

This project has been on my list to write up for a long time. A successful presentation at the Teachmeet North East London Conference gave me a bit of kick to get it done.

This project was a cross curricular project for gifted and talented ICT and English students in year 9 (ages 13 to 14). We used a range of technology including shared network folders for online information gathering, digital video, digital photos and both synchronous (live chat) and asynchronous messaging (discussion forum) using our VLE.

In our school all subjects have the option of running extra after school classes for gifted and talented students (cleverly branded GATE in our school). This year our gifted and talented coordinator wanted to have a shared theme running through classes and in a meeting with representatives from all curricular subjects we decided on the theme of China. We also agreed that all classes should have two curricular subjects joining together. I joined forces with an English teacher (Ed Macleod) and we started work on a course where students would make videos about China after synthesising and analysing a variety of sources of information about China such as articles, prose, poetry art and music. Eventually our brainstorming and discussions came up with the following structure (the original was slightly different but this is what we ended up with by the end of the course). Nb all classes were 1 hour 45 minutes.

Week 1: Introduction to China – writing an introduction to your movie – will your film be positive or negative?
Week 2: Trip to China Town with cameras and video cameras (along with Food Tech. and Geography groups) Experience Chinese culture and collect media for use in films.
Week 3: Human Rights issues in China – internet research saving documents and resources in a shared folder.
Week 4: The Cultural Revolution in China – looking at art and writing and using it for inspiration to create their own pieces of writing.
Week 5: Introduction to IMovie. Playing with the software using footage shot from China Town.
Week 6: Script Writing – writing scripts for movies and putting together other written materials.
Week 7: Movie Editing.
Week 8: Movie Editing plus live online chat.

Lesson plans for all lessons and powerpoint presentations for some are available below. Some topics were particularly hard to cover. Human rights in particular was an issue that I really wanted to cover but at the same time I didn’t want to overshadow all the other positive aspects of China. It’s very hard to show a fair picture of such an emotive subject. You will see at the end of the presentation I looked at a comparison of human rights in the UK to show that there is plenty to criticise in any country.

It didn’t take long to realise that the knowledge of myself and my colleague, on China, was not enough to fulfil the needs and answer all the questions of our inquisitive students. On a Tuesday evening a solution came to me.

I am in my final year of an online Masters degree in ICT in Education at the University of Leeds. While looking through our University VLE (Firstclass) I noticed a posting from a fellow student originally from China. A few messages later and I had a real Chinese person very willing to help answer questions from our students.

Our willing volunteer Fiona Shen, originally from Shanghai, is a teacher at Harrogate Ladies College in the North of England. Even better her English is perfect!

I set up a Moodle course for our group on our VLE (rickypedia). The first step was to get a discussion going for students to ask questions to Miss Shen. This was set as homework for students. You can see the list of topics they asked about in the following screenshot.

Discussion Topics

I’ve picked two questions as examples. The first on food is a great simple discussion about Chinese food. The second is a question about the honesty of the government – I think this was superbly answered by Fiona Shen.

Food Discussion Government Discussion

The level of questions, and dare I say learning through the process, was astounding though as you can see from the topics not all students asked questions.

I decided that as we had a willing volunteer to answer questions we should take things one step further and try a live online chat with Miss Shen. It took a few weeks to get this organised and we ended up doing this during our final lesson. My original plan was to bring students into the chat room in groups of four for about 10 minutes each. It ended up being about 20 minutes until I could get the first group to leave and even then we had a mixture of students from different groups, some of whom I let stay on for well over their allocated time. The reason for this was the reaction of some of the students. One girl pleaded; “Sir, please let us stay on, we’re learning so much from this!”

I’ve put a few highlights from the chats in the screenshots below. Some of them have been edited slightly to get them to fit on the page or to get rid of some of the more inane chatter. I also include a full transcript of a section of the chat to give you an idea of some of the chit chat and silly comments that happened in between the serious ones.

Travel in China, terracotta army chat
Food in China, dog and turtle, Chat
Longer Food in China Chat
School in China Chat
Full Chat Transcript – Government and freedom (rtf format)

As you can see from the chat there was some incredible thinking and learning going on.

The final part of the project was creating the documentary videos on China. All the videos are viewable on teachertube and all are amazing pieces of work. One or two aren’t 100% finished and two of the groups spent a significant amount of time outside of the lessons finishing off their films. One example which I think is particularly powerful is embedded below. All the script, poems and prose were written and read, edited and produced by the students. Most images are still images but some footage from our trip to Chinatown was included.

Conclusions and thanks: Masterclasses are normally six week courses but thanks to the foresight of our gifted and talented coordinator Lacey Joy, who has some experience of film editing and realised we would be tight for time, we were offered two extra weeks. These weeks turned out to be essential. We were able to incorporate such a wide range of ways of learning and I think this was key to the success of the course. The expertise of Ed Macleod my English teacher colleague facilitated some amazing creative writing that I would never have been able to get out of students alone. His powerpoint China in Crisis gives links to some resources he found. Two other colleagues Sally Jessett, a geography teacher, and Janet Staerck, a food technology teacher did all the legwork and more importantly paperwork organising the trip to Chinatown and allowed our group to tag along and join them for a meal. This cultural experience was such an eye opener for students in ways we didn’t envisage beforehand. My ICT and technical experiences helped with the internet research (thanks to our network manager Roger Baron for setting up the shared directories) and also with the use of our school VLE. Fiona Shen answered questions from students patiently and expertly. And the students Mr. Macleod and myself all pitched in together with IMovie (thanks to Matt Earles our Apple Mac network manager for helping us out technically). There are of course improvements we could make for “next time”, we could have done more work on assessment (though all students were assessed by teachers at the end), we would have liked to do some work on our group presentation at the end of the course and we would have liked to try and spend more time concentrating on the positive aspects of China. But all in all the experience was positive for both students and teachers and the results speak for themselves.

As always I would be glad to hear comments, feedback, ideas or questions.

Resources:

Final Videos (nb sound volume varies!)

Video 1 – China Mediated

Video 2

Video 3

Video 4 – A glimpse of China

Lesson Plans – not in order, also some lessons changed after we created the lesson plans.

Lesson Plans 1

Lesson Plans 2

Lesson Powerpoints

Introduction to China Powerpoint

Human Rights Issues in China

China in Crisis

example homework

Flashmeeting Presentation of the Project from teachmeet (about 10 minutes)

http://flashmeeting.e2bn.net/fm/fmm.php?pwd=759b1f-3229&jt=02:50:20

One neat and simple feature that Moodle has is a glossary. (I’m sure you could replicate this functionality easily enough using other features of other VLEs).

The glossary lets the teacher or students put definitions of words, hence the name glossary. As it’s such a simple and easy to understand tool it’s one I have started classes using early. It also makes for a great homework and it’s easy to explain to other teachers how to use. As with all pupil generated content I’ve found the results mixed and surprising but very positive. Below are a few examples of glossary entries (not all from my classes). As you can see they range from the sublime to the ridiculous. I think the silly entries are just as valid as the serious entries. If my students log on to see the funny entry their friend wrote they are more than likely to take a browse through all of the other definitions and maybe learn something new.

I’ve not put up the inevitable glossary entries with mistakes in. These too are valuable, I can both edit and comment on posts. By leaving a comment with feedback students can learn from their mistakes and improve their entries. Assessment for learning in action!

AS English Frankenstein Glossary Entries – these two are rather impressive

Gothic: A story of terror or suspense which includes reference to the supernatural

Romanticism: Romanticism is a movement that typically refers to the late 18th and 19th century. The period was marked by a rejection of the ideals and rules of the time and new emphasis was placed on freedom of expression and thought.

Romantics were against the monarchy and against the industrial revolution. They thought that the industrial revolution would destroy and pollute nature, and that people would move away from the countryside and nature.
Romantic ideas: nature; the relationship between human and natural moods; experimentation; journeying; power of the female; genius and the power of imagination, spontaneity; and individualism.

Quotes:

  • “Vivid flashes of lightning dazzled my eyes and illuminated the lake, making it appear like a vast sheet of fire.” (p56)
  • “black and comfortless sky” (p40)

Year 9 ICT Entries:

Keyboard :QWERTY or otherwise, it is used to type letters and numbers – wholly useful for general computing.

Hands: the things you find on the end of your arm. They usually have 5 fingers on each

useful for:
1] typing
2] hitting your computer when its being stupid and purposly annoying you
3] throwing things at annoying siblings
4] stealing peoples shoes to put in high places

Year 12 Chemistry:

OILRIG:
OILRIG is the ingenious way to remember that:
Oxidation Is Loss (of electrons)
Reduction Is Gain (of electrons)

Redox is both (Reduction and oxidation squashed together to make one word)