Certainly in the UK, and I know in many other countries we have problems getting girls and boys to study some subjects. As a Computer Science undergraduate at Edinburgh and Birmingham Universities it was hard not to notice the ratio of boys to girls, I would estimate at least 80% boys when I studied 10 years ago. Similar gender imbalances are common in subjects like physics, science in general and I know conversely some subjects struggle to recruit boys.

As a teacher I was always impressed by the efforts made by individual teachers to get a variety of students to take their subject. During one school fire drill, with all the kids streaming onto the field, it was unusual but great to see a boys PE class come out of the dance studio while a girls group were playing touch rugby on the field. Many national organisations have taken this up and I know in the world of ICT and Computing teaching E-skills UK were one group to take on the challenge especially with their creative CC4G programme which I led for 2 years in my own school.

Two recent events have reminded me of the problem of getting girls into certain fields.

First was the Royal Society’s Call for evidence on Computing in Schools. I made some small contributions to the Mirandanet response to this and received a copy of the BCS and Computing at School’s group response, (Computing at School CAS is a fantastic organisation that works to promote computing in UK schools). The CAS response showed the numbers of students taking Computing at A-level taken from the JCQ (Joint Council for Qualifications) website. I was astonished to learn that last year only 278 girls took A2 computing in whole of England. I taught 3 of them so actually taught over 1% of girls A2 Computing in 2009/2010. All rather depressing. But at least lots of good people are doing good things to try to slowly redress the balance.

That was the first shock I had, the second was a little more surprising. On a bored Sunday Tube (London Underground) journey I picked up a copy of the Toys R Us catalogue sitting on the seat next to me and had a flick through. I promise you I’m not a serial reader of children’s toy catalogues! I was rather surprised with some of the items they were selling and the pictures of each gender child next to the items.

First up the telescopes and sciencey toys

Science Toys

Boys like telescopes

As you can see it’s the boys who are enjoying playing with the telescopes though there is a girl enjoying an anatomy toy. Strike 1 for promoting physics to boys and not girls.

So let’s move to the next photo

Girls with shopping sweeping and ironing toys

Girls with shopping sweeping and ironing toys

Yes that’s right, the girls are not just playing with their ice-cream makers but shopping, sweeping and ironing. Hmm this is getting a little 1950s stereotypical now but it’s all innocent isn’t it. So let’s check on the next page.

Boy with DIY girl with the Cooking

Boy with DIY girl with the Cooking

When I saw these I had to look again, no not at the rather weird thought that a parent may buy their child a toy McDonalds kitchen, but by the other sterotypes. The boy doing his DIY, the girl playing in the kitchen. But wait what’s that in the bottom photo? Is it…

Girl serving boy a burger

Girl serving boy his dinner

…yes a little girl serving food to the little boy, how delightful.

I worry science and ICT teachers are fighting a losing battle.

For those looking for an easy answer on how to do controlled assessments… I’m afriad I haven’t got it yet. In the UK the exam boards have come up with the concept of Controlled Assessment – this is a replacement for coursework, much of which was done at home which was seen to be too open for interference by parents or other cheating and discriminatory to some especially those who do not have facilities or people to help them at home. There are of course  other reasons for this change.

This seems to have caused a  problem that has suddenly jumped out of nowhere at many schools and certainly at our school with History, Geography, Drama, Citizenship, ICT and probably others all faced with the dilemma of how to get students to produce coursework in lessons without them having access to it outside lessons.

Each subject and each exam board seems to have a different set of rules which seem to include

  • No access to work outside of lessons
  • No access to sites on the internet to help them with work
  • No access to internet
  • No access to school network
  • No access to certain programs
  • No ability to save work in pupil area or e-mail home

I’m not a school network expert – for some schools who are well resourced and have the expertise this probably isn’t a problem. But for many who are stretched it is no doubt causing many headaches. It potentially means every student doing these assessments needs a separate login and account just to do this work – for my average sized school you are talking potentially 300-400 accounts – possibly setup differently for different subjects. For A-level Computing we’ve already had to deal with a similar dilemma – the new online AS exam is all done with access to a small subset of programs and no network or internet access – for the last 2 exams out technicians have reinstalled a whole suite of computers just for the exam students have logged in to do the exam (sometimes in 2 sittings) and then the machines were reinstalled back to normal! For our network manager and technicians this was the simplest way.

Here are a few solutions that we have used or thought up or heard from with for controlled assessments (not all tried and tested)

1. Memory Sticks – students use a generic login which restricts their access – students then save their work on the memory stick at the end of the lesson and the teacher takes the stick in. – advantages: simple! very simple. disadvantages: memory sticks can go wrong or get lost, work is not backed up with the school systems, lots of memory sticks need to be bought – again possibly for every subject.

2. VLE handin – similar to the above students login to an account only allowing access to certain features. They upload their work to the VLE and the teacher locks the work: Advantages: No USB sticks! Disadvantages: Requires internet (if VLE hosted offsite), fiddly for students and teachers, requires ways to open and close work every lesson.

3. Networking knowhow – The experts at Edugeek have a few solutions including this one – http://www.edugeek.net/forums/how-do-you-do/58143-controlled-assessment-how-we-did.html – for some of these solutions it requires an assessment role to be created (like students and teacher roles) and this is turned on and off at the start and end of every lesson.  I imagine this would be done manually. Advantages: It should work and hopefully less fiddly for the less techy teacher – Disadvantages: Network administrator workload heavy

4. Yacapaca – this is similar to the VLE approach. We love Yacapaca in our ICT department for lots of types of quizzes, homeworks and assessment – it’s very easy to use, easy to setup and completely free (though you can pay a reasonable price for support should you wish) In their last e-mail they sent instructions on how to use their system for controlled assessment as explained in this blog post http://selbictnews.blogspot.com/2010/06/using-yacapaca-for-controlled.html Advantages: Simple, fast Disadvantages: Still need to restrict certain features on school network (though not as complicated) Need to setup Yacapaca accounts (though this is easy to do) Restricted file formats, needs internet access.

2 post publishing additions:

  • do it on paper by hand – this is seriously being considered by some people – Advantages: It doesn’t get any simpler technology wise, no worrying that an exam board will tell you that you are a cheat. Disadvantages: No spellcheck, redrafting means rewriting, hard to read, moderator may not like hand drawn submissions as much.
  • Just do things as normal with your regular system but keep a close eye on students (suggested by Mr Thomson in the comments below) – I like this one! Advantages: Easy, you treat your students as responsible people rather than potential cheats. Disadvantages: Some qualifications may not allow this, need to monitor students to ensure they do not save copies of work elsewhere, possible sleepless nights if you are paranoid about exam boards deciding this isn’t correct.

So what do I recommend – I recommend whatever is easiest for you!

Please do add your suggestions to the comments and if I have made any mistakes do correct me.

Yesterday I had my last ICT lesson with my Year 11 GCSE ICT class. They leave school for study leave on Thursday.

We had a little party with cake, took a group photo and I printed them all certificates with a different award for each pupil. (A good bit of mail merge revision too!)

One girl took out her mobile to snap a photo of her certificate and uploaded and tagged it on facebook (via her mobile).

Did I…

(a) Marvel at how technology is used by teens and schlep nachas (take pride – yiddish) that my student had liked the certificate.

(b) Ask her to delete the photo and confiscate the phone.

(c) Phone her parents and warn them of the dangers of a 16 year old having unfiltered access to the internet on their phone.

Answers on a postcard…

ICT certificate

In our courtyard

Posted on April 19th, 2010 in thoughts | 1 Comment »

Something a little different from my usual posts. Yesterday I came across a video on a friends facebook page of the song Etzleinu Bechatzer featuring students of the Bialik-Rogozin school in Tel Aviv. The song title translates as “In our courtyard” and celebrates the many cultures and langauges around the world. You can see the lyrics here.

The video features children of many nationalities, all pupils at the school, and many children of foreign workers from rather deprived areas in Tel Aviv. I’m sure all is not always rosy at a school where 50 or so nationalities are represented but according to this article I came across the school is doing amazing things, especially with a group of Sudanese children, refugees from Darfur, brought to the school in the last year.

If anyone has an update I’d be very interested to hear. Of course we have similar schools in the UK and in London but I’m not sure how similar, maybe one day I’ll get to visit!

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!

Often good things come at once. Sometimes they come at the same time and you can’t make them all – but yesterday the all worked out fine and I had a busy but fantastic day that I had to share on my blog!

On a normal day I’m in school all day, teaching classes, preparing for them or doing work around my e-learning responsibilities. Most of my CPD nowadays I tend to do in my own time, via twitter, online groups such as edtechroundup or evening meetings like Mirandamods. Occasionally I get to go to a course, in the daytime – a real old fashioned Inset!

This Thursday was one of those days – I headed over to the institute of education for a morning session on mentoring. This was the third installment of this course aimed at people like me who are mentoring participants in the graduate teacher programme (a method of teacher training in the UK). The course was useful and we learnt about different methods of mentoring most of which was new to me. By the time we had finished it was too late to head back into school so I’d arranged to try and teach my A-level computing class online.

I headed over to the British Library, a wonderful place to work, and it has free Wi-Fi. I sat myself down in the cafe and waited to see if any of my class would join me in an online flashmeeting. Almost on the dot the first students arrived – 3 joined from home and 3 from the school library. We had a 40 minute online lesson and it went okay. The main problem was the other fascinated year 13 students in the school library who kept on coming over to see what was going on. One even joined the lesson. Aside from these disruptions we actually got some work done. I talked the students through database normalisation using a hefty powerpoint presentation. It was hard working out if students were listening, participating or learning. I gauged this by asking questions and getting students to summarise what I had been saying. Based on the answers obviously something had got through! I did get a few strange looks from people in the library cafe.

No sooner had the online lesson finished when I got a skype call from Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano also known as @langwitches . Her 6th grade class interviewed me as part of their project on Jewish communities around the world. I’ve tried to help set them up with different friends of mine on different countries. Apparently Silvia has managed to cover every continent even Antartica! The girl who interviewed me asked great questions and I really enjoyed our 10 minute chat and meeting some of Silvia’s students. I’m very jealous of their project and look forward to seeing the results!

After an hour to kill in the British Library (which flies by when you have work to do) I headed over to the Moorgate offices of Oracle UK where I listened and joined in with the Owers Lecture 2009. The title of the lecture was “Can we reverse the decline of schools’ computing especially with girls”. The two main speakers were Kate Sims and Stephen Heppell who gave plenty of food for though. This was carried on through an audience discussion (we’d by then reformed into a circle) where we heard many points of view. I hope some of the lecture will soon be shared online by the people that were recording it. It’s well worth watching and I will add a link here if it arrives.

Overall a fantastic day – I like to think my school gets value for money when I pop out for an inset!

This Summer I’ve been a bad blogger despite having so many posts up my sleeves and in progress. 2 weeks left until school starts and I’m setting myself up a mini office (a laptop ona table) to mark coursework, learn a programming language, get up to date on the new A2 course and of course write some blog posts.To put a little pressure on myself here’s some blog posts I’m planning on writing and finishing – if they don’t appear somebody hassle me until I do! I guess as I write them I’ll edit this post to link to them.

  1. A review of a year of VLE and e-learning at school.
  2. A few great examples of VLE use this year at school.
  3. My experiences of creating a scorm e-learning resource.
  4. Nintendo DS in the classroom.
  5. My MA research into “What gets kids on a VLE and what difference does age make”
  6. Some cool bits of a cool school I visited (in Boston)

Doing all of those in the next two weeks is a little ambitious but at least I now have a plan. Hope everyone in the Northern Hemisphere is enjoying their Summer and everyone in the Southern Hemisphere their Winter.