November 29th, 2010Uncategorized
Originally posted on james-greenwood.com
In the 4th century BC the Ptolemies of Alexandria began throwing money at the arts. They saw engagement in the arts as a means of establishing power and prestige, and through their investment Alexandria began to flourish as a centre of culture.
At the heart of this was the mouseion – the home of the Muses – which housed a flourishing academic community of the world’s finest minds. These academics had no teaching responsibilities, as they would elsewhere, but focused solely on their discipline.
The mouseion was multidisciplinary; physicists had rooms alongside astronomers and poets, and so for the first time in history we see the divisions between academic disciplines being blurred. The major extant work of the poet Aratus is called the Phaenomena, in which he marries science with literature, combining an astronomical description of constellations with the mythology the Greeks ascribed to them. He applied his skills to turn a piece of dry, technical prose into a work of art. It was immensely popular in antiquity – translated into Latin and Arabic, and read by Cicero, Ovid and even St. Paul, who quotes a line in Acts 17:28. 
Not everyone thought the mouseion was a good thing, however. Timon of Phlius referred to the scholars within as “scribbling endlessly and waging a constant war of words with each other in the Muses’ birdcage.” 
By contrast, academic disciplines in schools are pigeonholed. Isolated. Separated from all others so as to better understand them. There are many good reasons for this – teachers are better equipped to educate students in their specialist field than in any other, so in an ideal world students would enjoy the benefits of an education at the hands of many different teachers who can enthuse & educate in enough breadth & depth to spark a deeper interest in the subject.
There is an exception, though. I’ve argued (not always successfully) that the greatest strength of my subject is that from day to day, lesson to lesson, I can be teaching anything from history to ethics, from geography to physics. The very nature of ICT as an application subject means unless I’m applying it to something, I’m not doing it right.
ICT gives us, more than any other subject taught in UK schools, the opportunity to blur the lines between subjects where the learning would ordinarily stop at the classroom door. Whether it’s in dealing with the effect technology has on the way we live our lives, potentially getting into some pretty heady sociological study, in developing logical thinking by programming, or even in looking at the history of war as I’m going to demo at an SSAT conference, we’re floating on an ocean of material when it comes to content.
It’s not all good news, though. More and more ICT teachers are coming to terms with the fact that the people who write programmes of study & exam board specs seem to remain blissfully unaware of this, and instead cling to the old ideas of “make the spreadsheet about a theme park – that’s applying it”. I’ve been discussing the extraordinarily disappointing Edexcel GCSE coursework brief on Twitter recently – the focus is on “upcycling” (a form of recycling). Over the course of the project students are expected to represent this issue through creation of the usual KS3 suspects – a logo, posters, etc – and put it all into an e-portfolio. Thrilling.
By contrast, my year 11s are currently writing essays in which they’re examining civil liberties abuses in China, the increasing difficulty in policing computer laws and computer addiction, among many, many more topics. Unfortunately, they’re completing unit 8 of the OCR Nationals course – almost universally disregarded by VI form colleges in my area, and decried & railed against on the TES forums. How, when the level of thinking involved is so much deeper than even the theory content of the better-respected GCSE, can it be so poorly thought of?
It is absolutely true that schools have pounced upon vocational qualifications as a means to climb up the league tables, and I do believe that there is a shred of validity in the proposals put forth in the recent government white paper, the myriad other worries in which Donna Hay discussed extremely well earlier today.
I’m not suggesting that everything that falls under the OCR Nationals umbrella is at the same heady heights as unit 8 (the overwhelming majority isn’t anywhere near – it was never intended to be), but the idea that the only two choices we as ICT teachers have are open-ended, vocational qualifications that carry with them the taint of trying to cheat the system, or patently unengaging, uninspired academic qualifications like the GCSEs, recently repackaged and rebranded as shiny and new for 2010. The major difference between the model exam paper provided for the 2010 Edexcel course and the AQA one I sat back in 2000 seems to be the change of font from Times New Roman to Myriad.
As one of many people who believes in the potential power & substance of ICT as a subject, I’m not happy with the idea of these being our only choices. Nick Jackson & the rest of the #ictcurric band have been making progress in developing exciting, deep, broad projects that students can really sink their teeth in to at Key Stage 3. I was recently asked by one of my year 9s who is now entering his third month of Key Stage 4 why ICT isn’t like it was last year, and my only response was “I’m doing the best I can with what the exam board let me teach.” Poor answer, but it’s all I’d got.
Earlier this evening, a group of teachers was gathered together by Drew Buddie to talk about the problems with girls’ involvement in ICT & computing courses – in itself a fascinating topic, but we ended up straying on to this issue of engagement across the board. Dr Sue Black of UCL agreed that in part due to adversity to change on the part of the curriculum-makers we’re switching too many kids off ICT & computing as subjects. Facing increasing competition from technologically-literate students from countries like China & India, we risk falling behind the times unless we shift the focus of ICT from “doing stuff” to providing students with the thinking skills they need to work through problems independently.
If we’re to avoid the death of the information industry in the UK as we’ve seen with manufacturing & industry, we need to encourage thinking skills & creativity as the cornerstones of ICT education.
We do need a change in perceptions from the top, and for current ICT qualifications to be current, but the change also has to come from the classroom up – it’s all too easy to bullshit when there’s a computer in front of you… all too often it can feel like your students are achieving something when they’re really only passing the time with WordArt & Google Image Search. In order for the subject to be seen as rigorous and important, it has to be taught as such. In order for it to become the modern day mouseion, it also needs to include the scope to encourage learners to bring with them what they learned in Science, French or English – and we as ICT teachers need to be ready for it. No mean feat.
Staikos, K. (2004). The History of the Library in Western Civilization, p166. Newcastle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press.
November 28th, 2010Uncategorized
This week’s Education White paper – The Importance of Teaching – has given much food for thought and not much of it positive. A white paper on teaching in the 21st century which mentions blazers as many times as ICT ( and even then refers to ICT only in terms of sharing services ) does not bode well for equipping students to be ready to participate successfully in the Digital Age. Similarly the changes to the league tables so that school are measured on the number of students that get five good GCSEs in English, Maths, Science, a humanities subject and a modern foreign language gives no recognition of the need to be digitally literate. Placing these subjects as the key measures of school success will also squeeze out other subjects in the curriculum. ( In additional this narrow interpretation of success, harking back to a 1950s curriculum will condemn a large number of students, and their schools, to be labelled as failures ).
A final blow to ICT as a discrete subject is the indication in articles like this one from Toby Young – Cornucopia of Goodies – that vocational qualifications will no longer be included in school league tables. In many schools ICT has retained it’s place on the KS4 curriculum as a result of being able to deliver up to four GCSEs to the league tables via qualifications such as GNVQ and more recently OCR Nationals. As these qualifications are coursework only and can be delivered in far less curriculum time than traditional GCSEs they have been seen as a cash cow for results, particularly for lower ability students. Removing them from the league tables will seriously threaten their place in the timetable. Most ICT departments are already starting to review the ICT GCSE options and will face a battle for curriculum time if they wish to continue to offer vocational courses.
So decisions need to be made. Through my involvement with #ictcurric I am aware that there is a lot of progress in developing the Key Stage 3 curriculum so that it is relevant and engaging. As I’ve previously blogged, however, all this seems to come to an end as soon as students enter Key Stage 4. I’ve taught a range of level 2 ICT courses and not been entirely satisfied with any of them. DiDA was on the right lines but I felt that it foundered on the assessment with students struggling to understand the mark criteria. I’m personally a fan of BTECs which I feel gives the opportunity to develop different strands such as hardware maintenance / upgrading as well as the applications route. However I’m having to have a bit of a rethink at the moment with regards to the new specification. For the extended certificate both Unit 1 and Unit 2 are mandatory. I’ve developed a combined scheme of work focusing on job hunting in the IT industry:-
The first assignment which involved students creating a blog went well but progress has been slower on the next two assignments – characteristics that employers are looking for and writing a CV and covering letter – which I’m now appreciating are very focused on literacy skills. I have four EAL students in the class and several lower ability students and it’s just not engaging enough in it’s current form. I need to have a rethink on how I could cover the criteria in a different way or alternatively break up the unit by mixing it with a more practical unit.
I have inherited a situation whereby all year 9 and year 10 students complete the single award of OCR Nationals on one hour a week ( with no year 11 provision ). I was not a fan of OCR Nationals before I started to teach it and now I’ve had three months teaching it I am even less so. For the single award only one optional half unit can be covered together with the mandatory unit 1. For a number of reasons, a sizeable number of my year 10 students made very little progress last year and we are now still ploughing our way through such mind-numbingly boring tasks as creating a 3 slide presentation or taking screen shots of creating folders and shortcuts. If I was starting from scratch or had more curriculum time I’d be rewriting it to give it some sort wider context and make it more relevant and engaging. However faced with trying to get the entire cohort through by the end of the year I find myself at times delivering the course in the very manner criticised by last year’s OFSTED report into ICT teaching –
‘Accreditation of the vocational qualifications is based mostly on the assessment of coursework… Consequently, they are often demonstrating what they can already do rather than being taught new and more difficult skills. Sometimes, teachers direct students’ work too much. In some of the lessons observed during the survey, teachers led their students through the steps necessary to demonstrate that their work met the accreditation criteria. Students were able to meet the criteria, whether or not they had understood what they had done.’(Page 31)
My only alternative, unless I can get additional time in year 11, is that half the cohort will fail. However I do not feel that I am developing any sort of digital literacy skills with these students or giving them the transferable IT skills they will need in the future. I am simply processing them through a qualification so that they can obtain a GCSE which will count towards their 5 A* to Cs. If excluding vocational courses from the league tables removes the pressure to deliver an ICT course in such a manner it may not be such a bad thing. The danger is that other, more worthwhile, vocational courses get thrown out with the OCR Nationals bathwater and it leave us with the dilemma of what to put in it’s place.
The obvious answer is GCSE ICT. But we need to ask why so many schools have abandoned this option in the past. Apart from the lure of multiple GCSEs in the same timescales, many felt that the GCSE syllabuses were outdated and not engaging for students. James Greenwood @jpgreenwood, having reviewed various options, is of the opinion that the new Edexcel ICT GCSE is ‘the best of a bad lot’. ICT departments also suffer from being seen as a choice for less able or less academic students and GCSEs may not be appropriate for many of them. Purists may be considering Computing GCSEs as a rigorous academic option which will prepare students for post 16 Computing and university courses. However in a school such as mine this would be appropriate for only a small number of students making the delivery not viable.
James Greenwood in a recent twitter post had the following suggestion:-
‘My solution is single award GCSE in 2yrs. Can cover syllabus, *and* deeper learning in that time’
I’m currently toying with a similar idea. Having previously criticised ICT Functional Skills I’m now starting to think about building a Key Stage 4 course around the functional skills qualification but combining it with the project qualification brought in as part of the diploma. This allows a student to investigate a subject of their choice in depth. As both qualifications are worth a half GCSE they would add a full GCSE to the regrettably all important league tables. Far more importantly however it could form the basis of a project-based learning qualification which allowed students to develop digital literacy skills in a context of their own choosing. Such a course would need to be carefully written to incorporate project management, research, analysis and presentation skills. With the new functional skills exams focusing more on presentation of information rather than data handling completing the project could cover most of what is needed to pass the exam. Functional skills and the project are both available at level 1 and level 2 giving a better provision than the level 2 only courses. This would give a good grounding in basic ICT / digital literacy skills as a core provision which could support study across the curriculum. Alongside this ideally I would like to run 2 options groups, one GCSE ( either ICT or Computing ) and one BTEC to offer a broad curriculum.
Early stages in the idea at the moment but any comments / suggestions welcome.
First posted at http://web2optimist.blogspot.com/2010/11/where-now.html
November 20th, 2010Uncategorized
Originally posted at james-greenwood.com
Aside from pontificating at the front of a classroom, hands down my favourite thing about teaching is developing schemes of work. I find there’s something extremely satisfying in developing a project that forms part of a larger whole, knowing its place within that whole, and knowing what else is needed in order to guarantee a good coverage of skills.
While there may be people out there who think I’m an oddity for feeling like this, I met several kindred spirits at Huddersfield Uni this June to discuss exactly this and address the problem of dull key stage 3 ICT.
Having spent a long time revamping & firming up our schemes of work this year, I thought it might be helpful (for me as much as anyone else) to talk about the process I undertake when developing a scheme.
Step one: What do you want to achieve?
Simple case of outcomes, here. As briefly as possible, what do you expect students to come away from the project with?
Students will learn about the problem of e-waste and use their computer skills to create an awareness campaign to spread the word to their chosen target audience.
Step two: What have you got?
Write a list. Seriously, write a list of everything that could have an impact on the project. See mine below for my e-Waste project:
- How many lessons per week?
- How long are they?
- How long is the key stage? 2 years? 3?
- How many weeks should be spent on the project?
- What do they already know? How much time will have to be spent building skills?
- Are there any SEN/literacy issues that would greatly affect delivery of the unit?
- How old are they? How able are they?
- Are there opportunities for paired/group work?
- What resources do we already have?
- What do we need?
- What’s available online?
- Are we able to buy any additional material in?
Step three: How will we know it’s been successful?
This has been complicated/helped depending on your point of view through the introduction of APP, which as I noted in a previous post I think is an excellent tool for covering every base when developing a programme of study for KS3. Because of this, it’s the yardstick I’ve chosen to measure our curriculum by, supplemented by the level descriptors. Like many schools, we’re moving from a curriculum with units based on competencies (spreadsheets, presenting information, databases) to larger, project-based units in which they learn how to do a little of each of these things. When teachers from other subjects ask why their year 10s are incapable of plotting a graph in Excel, I point to the fact that they could have gone 12 months between instances of opening up Excel, let alone using it.
ICT is an application subject, and the learning by its very nature should be applied. Having trialled a few projects last year, I’m happy to report the new approach has been far more successful than fencing off competencies – or even programs – as we have in the past.
So, when I have my focus for the project, know the amount of time & resources I have to play with, I’m able to pick out the success criteria for the project from the APP assessment grid, aiming to cover at least two Assessment Focuses.
In the example below, I’ve highlighted the areas I want to cover in the e-Safety project:
As you can see, the project is very AF3-heavy, with elements of AF1, and no AF2. As a result, I’ve planned a couple of AF2-heavy units to balance this out over the entirety of year 7, but another option would be to drop in a short data-handling exercise – possibly working with a small database of contacts to MailMerge some e-safety docs to. It’s a little crowbarred, which is why it didn’t go in, but it’s a possibility.
Step four: How are we going to do it?
Strictly speaking, a selection of suggested activities isn’t required when developing a scheme of work but as I have non-specialists working in my department, and I like to ensure everyone is on the same page, that’s what I do. Here’s the brainstorming mindmap Donna Hay (@dwsm) and I came up with for the e-Waste project at our meet:
Step five: put a bow on it
Now comes the point where we tie everything together, from resources to success criteria, in the written scheme. Most of mine have an accompanying Moodle course where the resources are hosted, so when revisiting my e-Safety scheme last half-term I spent some time checking that resources still worked (some didn’t!), added a selection of new ones and referenced them in the scheme.
My scheme of work template is something I’m quite pleased with, being as it is detailed, comprehensive but easy to dip in to. Download a blank copy to play with, or take a look at my e-Safety scheme of work by clicking the image below.
I’ve added sections in which I can address things like SEAL & PLTS; hideous, woolly notions that are otherwise extraordinarily difficult to quantify & provide evidence for. To do this, I have grids to draw from for each, so it’s a simple matter of selecting the appropriate criteria & dropping them into the scheme.
The end result is a comprehensive scheme of work in which I’ve provided my colleagues with a loose timeframe, expectations & suggestions about how to achieve them and all the resources they need… but this isn’t quite the end of the story.
Step six: You aren’t done yet!
Putting together the framework for a scheme of work is the biggest obstacle, but it’s not finished as soon as you’ve written the last activity. Projects are living, breathing things that need to evolve along with the learning they’re there to underpin. Teachers using it should add resources to the repository, tweak activities that didn’t work, or add activities they ran that did. I developed a scheme of work in my first year of teaching, and once I’d put the finishing touches on it I printed it to PDF in a fit of self-satisfaction. Schoolboy error. A scheme of work with no room to grow has a limited shelf life. Planning like this is time-consuming & labour-intensive. Don’t force yourself to redo it every year because your original plans didn’t have enough longevity in them.
The next job for the head of key stage or department – one that I could have talked about here, but felt merited a post of its own – is developing an entire key stage programme of study. Coming soon :)
June 5th, 2010Uncategorized
First posted on http://web2optimist.blogspot.com/
Thursday was hot and sunny and getting towards the end of the half term holiday. And yet I spent it voluntarily in a windowless room with several ( until then ) virtual strangers talking about work. And stranger still I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it one of the most productive days I’ve had for a long time.
The event was #DADSOW3 ( Developing a Dynamic SOW for KS3 ), something we had been talking about on Twitter via #ictcurric for a while. The basic idea is for a group of like-minded ICT teachers to get together to pool ideas and work on a relevant and engaging KS3 curriculum which could turn the tide on the ‘training kids to push the right button on Microsoft applications’ style of ICT delivery. The end result will be a bank of ICT projects for us to use which will be freely available for anyone else to use and adapt for their own needs under a creative commons licence.
The day was organised and chaired by Nick Jackson ( @largerama ) and was also attended by James Greenwood ( @jpgreenwood ), Pete Astbury ( @astburyp ) and Sarah Evans ( @jennah100 ). Several more people contributed via the Piratepad we used to document the proceedings:-
What was evident from the day was that we faced a range of different challenges but we were all working in the same vein to overcome these issues and revitalise ICT as a discrete subject.
There was general agreement to use APP as a framework to ensure that the projects were covering the full breadth of the curriculum. I have also found APP to be useful to evidence how the use of web 2.0 tools ties into the standard ICT curriculum.
What was particularly enjoyable about the day was the way that we could bounce ideas around and build on work that each of us had done individually. As an example I have been working on a Digital Literacy project ( which I’ve previously blogged about:-
This had worked well but there were some issues:-
- The theme of the project was Swine Flu which was in the news at the time I wrote the project but was out of date now
- Even when Swine Flu was in the news some students questioned the relevance of researching the topic.
- While the research element had gone well the end product – a google website documenting their research – needed more structure or purpose.
James Greenwood had been working on a similar project based around the dumping of digital waste in Ghana and other developing nations under the guise of ‘donating’ old electronic equipment. This video gave a powerful introduction to the topic:-
James’s project had involved students researching the topic and creating awareness campaigns using ICT applications and tools. Combining the two projects together gave us this initial mindmap:-I think this project has so much potential to shoot off in different directions and I’m really excited to be working on it. There is the environmental and social impact, a wealth of research opportunities, including plenty of scope for looking at the bias and reliability of information, analysing information and presenting it to different audiences. There are also opportunities to look at hardware components and possibly even database tasks such as a database of components and the potential environmental hazards the materials pose.
Sarah and Pete worked together on an online publishing unit which quickly developed into a web campaigning unit:-
Nick ambitiously took on two projects, one on games programming:-
and a year 7 starter unit based on a Dream Holidays unit I put together earlier this year. Nick has some great ideas for improving it and developing it and I’m looking forward to seeing the results.
On a technical note I found myself in a room full of Moodlers. I’ve not had any experience of using Moodle and need to get up to speed quickly so that I can contribute to the site we are putting together. However I’ve decided to also create Google site versions of the projects we are developing. I am moving to a new school in September which is in the process of implementing the Frog VLE and I will be able to embed the Google site resources into this. It may also make the resources more accessible for those who either do not have Moodle skills or who are tied to using a specific VLE.
I’ve also decided to break up my existing Google sites into individual projects rather than the whole year group sites that I have at the moment. This will allow a greater flexibility in mixing and matching projects and will fit better into a VLE structure where I can have assignments and discussion boards for each topic.
So my head is buzzing with ideas and I can’t wait to get stuck into developing the plans that we put together on Thursday. Maybe reports of the death of ICT as a discrete subject were a little premature.
May 26th, 2010Uncategorized
This post first appeared at www.zoeross.com
I am particularly passionate about the ability ICT has to encourage creativity and independent thinking in students, the latter being such a bug-bear of teachers far and wide, and so I thought I would share some of the projects I have introduced over the past year to try to develop not only students’ ICT skills, but their creativity, logical & critical thought and independent learning.
I try to use free software when I can and if it supports the learning objectives. For example, using Google Sketchup to introduce CAD and 3D modelling was an idea I stole from the marvellous Mr Clarkson and my Year 9 students have been making eco-houses this term in an adaptation of Mark’s Grand Design’s project.
I have discussed Scratch and Alice at length before and, together with Gamemakerthey engage students like no other software I have taught, as they create animations and games, totally oblivious to the fact that they are learning programming skills along the way. Students are currently playing with Kodu in the computer club, having ordered a few X-Box controllers and one student has requested that Pythonbe downloaded so he can experiment with that – great independent learning!
The advantages of using free tools of course is that students can download them at home and play around with them there. I have been both delighted and surprised when some students have brought the work they have completed at home in (and had to give them serious extension work as they have finished their entire project in one week!) I was particularly thrilled this week when a Year 7 boy was completing his History homework on Sketchup (a roman fort) because he’d seen his brother in Year 9 completing his ICT project on it at home.
And of course, the fact that these tools can be used in other subjects is the great appeal – in ICT I try whenever I can to use tools that students can and will be using in other areas. For example, using Google Earth in our movie about the Year 7 trip and creating scientific graphs in Excel, rather than the usual explosion of colour will hopefully be of great help further up the school in Science and Maths. UsingAudacity to record podcasts means they can use the software in other subjects, and of course the logical thinking required in any kind of programming is good for Maths and life in general!
In this respect, creative subjects such as Art and, in particular Graphics, are natural companions of ICT and, as web design and animation are both passions of mine, inevitably I manage to sneak a good bit of both of these into the curriculum. Ideally, students build on their existing skills and learn new ones with each project. For example, my Year 9s started off the year creating stop-frame animation, we then moved on to Flash and then Alice, so by Christmas, they had tried animating in 3 different ways. It was really great when they arrived for their assessment lesson complete with props and original ideas and began working confidently and totally independently on their animations using the most appropriate software for their idea – a real success in itself, notwithstanding the fact that some of their completed animations were excellent.
So, while I know I have been lucky to have such flexibility with the curriculum, I do believe that with a little imagination and a good look round on the web to see what others are doing, you can enliven the KS3 curriculum and make it engaging, relevant, challenging and exciting for students, encouraging them to have the confidence in their own creativity and learn independently.
Keep looking at the DADSOW3 pages for updates of our quest for a dynamic scheme of work for KS3 ICT!Tags: alice, creative, curriculum, dreamweaver, flash, gamemaker, ICT, independent learning, kodu, KS3, scrach, sketchup, web design
0May 15th, 2010Uncategorized
Article first published on http://web2optimist.blogspot.com/
I’ve been mulling over this post for a few weeks now but coursework marking hell prevented me from getting my thoughts into any sort of order. I believe ICT as a subject is at a crossroads. On the one hand there are brilliant opportunities to use ICT to support higher order thinking skills across the curriculum and provide students with the digital literacy skills needed to function effectively in the digital age. On the other there is the pressure to ‘process’ students through the coursework mill to prop up school league tables. This second option is proving even more invasive with the introduction of ICT Functional Skills as a requirement for passing any Diploma.
Steve Wheeler’s ‘Stop Calling it ICT‘ post challenges both the name and the purpose of ICT lessons. Is the name appropriate with it’s focus on technology rather than learning. Do we need ICT as a discrete subject or should it be embedded across the curriculum?
- AF1 planning, developing and evaluating
- AF2 handling data, sequencing instructions and modelling
- AF3 finding, using and communicating information
APP has proved to be a good framework for developing a curriculum which is not dominated by teaching students which buttons to press in various Microsoft Office Applications. Like James I have been moving towards projects which incorporate various learning objectives and higher order thinking skills rather than the ‘now we will do spreadsheets’ mentality which seemed to underpin the old National Strategy lessons.
So for instance year 7 are currently working on a project about dream holidays. This involves the following activities:-
- Creating a questionnaire using Google forms.
- Analysing the data collected using google forms and Microsoft Excel
- Comparing spreadsheet applications
- Planning a holiday route using Google maps
- Use internet research to find out how much a holiday would cost
- Using a spreadsheet application to produce a model to calculate the cost of a holiday and answer ‘what if’ questions.
- Using a desktop publishing application to publicise the holiday package
Yes this incorporates the AF2 data handling elements but also covers the AF1 concepts of planning out the project at the start and evaluating the outcome and the AF3 themes of finding and using information.
This approach stills needs more work as my starting point was introducing the use of spreadsheets followed by how can I incorporate other ideas and thinking skills. I need to turn this process round to a more Challenge Based Learning model:-
But can this approach work in a discrete ICT lesson? Surely it needs a bigger focus and more curriculum time to be successful. I recently visited Brunel Academy in Bristol which has 80% of the year 7 and year 8 curriculum devoted to project based learning. Maybe the end point of the way my curriculum ideas are heading is agreeing that ICT as a discrete subject is dead. Alternatively this could be a takeover of the entire curriculum by technology enabled learning. Time will tell.
The other strand in this post is the increasing pull in the opposite direction, back to a Microsoft Application training model of ICT lessons that I’d hoped had been consigned to the past. ICT departments have long been under pressure to be a cash cow for results. Courses such as GNVQs and now OCR Nationals which are based on 100% coursework and which can turn out 4 GCSEs per student have propped up many schools in results league tables. This pressure has led to many schools compressing the ICT KS3 curriculum into yr7 and yr8 with the coursework production line firing up in yr9. The prevailing attitude in my school appears to be that any student can be given sufficient support to achieve an ICT qualification. These courses do however have a range of options enabling teachers to put together an engaging curriculum.
Into the mix now comes Functional Skills. At my school ICT is an optional subject at KS4. Suddenly from being in a sleepy back water ICT has been thrust into the limelight. 90% of the students now take a Diploma and all of them have to pass ICT Functional Skills in order to gain their Diploma. Late in the day the school is realising that this qualification needs to have significant time on the timetable following disastrous results for cohort after cohort given at most 20 hours ( GLH 45 hours ) study time. Some students are now taking the exam for the 4th time and are in real danger of failing their Diploma.
As a result the department is now under pressure to spend the whole of year 9 preparing students to take Functional Skills. To do this we would have to strip out all the digital literacy and thinking skills elements of the current SOW together with the game programming in Scratch and go back to Excel, Access and Publisher training. Pressure with year 11 has also seen a return to teaching spreadsheets as databases as a way of getting the students through. Fortunately as KS3 co-ordinator I have not been involved in Functional skills this year and I am moving to a new school in September which has not embraced Diplomas. However if this is the new vision for ICT then the sooner discrete ICT is put out of it’s misery and consigned to the history books the better.
May 3rd, 2010Uncategorized
I know, I’ve left it a bit late to be starting a new coursework unit, but the saving grace of the OCR Nationals is that you can enter candidates right to the end of the year – no May 15th-ish deadline for us. This does devalue ICT a little, over the last fortnight I’ve lost pupils almost every lesson to finish X coursework, but, we do get to claim the time back in some weird OMG-the-moderator’s-coming-best-get-Johnny-in-all-day-to-sort-his-folder way. I digress.
Inspired by James’ excellent unit 23 resources (thank you very much), we now also have a moodle course for unit 20 - web animation. Not quite ready for sharing, but will be soon. Having looked at the marking criteria, we’ve found that these two units are almost identical (marking-wise), along with unit 22, the sound editing unit. I’m sure that anyone teaching or investigating the OCR Nats already knows this, but I think I dropped a stitch somewhere.
I’ve reached a point with the top Y11 group where they have shown they can work independently (after a fashion), and will work well to get they grade that they need. I have given them the choice of Units 20, 22 and 23 as their last unit, their homework for the last week was to investigate the units and make a decision as to which they would do. Now I have four ’sub-groups’ (including the single award pupils) operating alongside each other. I’ve yet to see quite how well this will work, but it’s looking good.
I’ve prepared folders for each of them, containing the documents available from OCR for each of the units, and a quick outline of the assignment. I’ve hijacked ‘guest speakers’ from across the school for each of the units (music teacher – sound, ICT tech – flash animation), to run workshops with the kids.
Is this personalised learning, or just individual learning?
April 17th, 2010Uncategorized
Article originally posted on james-greenwood.com
One of my department’s big focuses this year has been Assessing Pupil Progress, the new supplementary levelling structure for Key Stage 3. We didn’t have any idea what it was until our LA advisor, Pauline Hargreaves, gave us an excellent introduction to it in the Autumn term.
For those who haven’t yet got to grips with it, APP divides the curriculum into three distinct fields called Assessment Focuses. AF1 is planning, developing and evaluating, AF2 is handling data, sequencing instructions and modelling, and AF3 is finding, using and communicating information. Doing this allows departments to assess students’ ability across a wider range of skill sets, as well as enabling them to review their curriculum to identify any potential weak spots. Without covering each of these fundamental areas in ICT, how can we give a realistic level by the end of the first term of year 7?
The real draw, here, is that it offers a far more robust system of assessment than the old (or, indeed, the new) level descriptors. I always felt slightly uncomfortable when explaining the use of these to new year sevens: “If you do some of these things you’re a level 4c, if you do most you’re a 4b, if you do all of them you’re a 4a.” The sea of blank faces was always more than a little disheartening, especially when we did all we could think of to ensure they were as accessible as possible - 16 foot posters up in each ICT room with the descriptors in as close to pupil speak as we could get them, etc.
The real point of the division of key competencies hit home when I thought back to teaching a mildly autistic boy in a previous school who was a marvel with anything logical. He could intuitively work his way through some fairly complex spreadsheet work (goal seek, pivot tables) on his own, yet when asked to explain it, or design anything creative, you wouldn’t think the work was from the same year group, never mind the same student. He ended KS3 with a high level 6 based on the quality of his work in Excel, Access & Scratch, which of course fed in to KS4 predictions. He was placed in a top middle set which was completing OCR Nationals with a significant emphasis on graphics, which – of course – led to his grades falling like a rock.
Informing personalised learning
ICT is an intrinsically broad subject, but I think the three assessment focuses identified in the APP model cover everything nicely. Some students will excel in one particular area more than the others, and being able to identify that early means we are better able to nurture those skills, and use this data to inform setting & course choices in the current/next key stage.
At my school we currently only offer the OCR Nationals at KS4, and while they have their faults, they do at least offer a breadth of choice lacking in the majority of GCSE courses. I opted to teach (the wonderful) Unit 8: Innovation & e-Commerce to my top sets (1 & 3) for their second year. The course is largely essay-based, with a good deal of crossover with Business Studies, and radically different to everything the students had learnt in ICT thus far. The majority of students in the top set took to it very well, being perfectly well-equipped with the literacy skills to express their opinions on complex topics like legal, moral & ethical issues in ICT, or the impact ICT has had on society. However, several students in set three who had been working consistently to distinction standard in units 1 & 23 started to struggle significantly with the essay assignments.
This might all sound off-topic, but my point is this; students who excel in KS3 at finding, using & communicating information would be logical choices for an essay/report/presentation-based course. Students who excel at sequencing instructions and modelling would be well suited for a data manipulation/programming course, and students who excel at planning, developing and evaluating should be good at handling larger database/spreadsheet projects. Being armed with such information when students arrive in KS4 would better equip teachers & students to choosing the best possible programme of study.
Without needing to start an in-depth review, I knew our weakest area was AF2, with only a scant look at spreadsheets that goes as far as IF statements (which is further than we’re required to go by the OCR Nationals coursework, incidentally), an introduction to (flat file) databases, and a lacklustre Flash unit. The curriculum was very AF3 heavy, which was no huge surprise as literacy levels are quite low for new arrivals in KS3 – when I wrote the year 7 SoW I wanted to ensure we were discouraging the copy & paste mentality, so spent a good deal of time hammering that home.
One year on, with a reasonably coherent scheme of work for our two-year Key Stage 3 borne out of hard work on the part of the department, I went to a subject leader network meeting where David Luke, the other Kirklees ICT advisor, put forward the idea of changing Key Stage 3 from the approach taken by many (including us) of half-termly topics on “spreadsheets”, “presentations”, “desktop publishing”, etc, that led to year 7 students learning how to use a piece of software, then leaving it behind them for a year until they came back to it in year 8.
Instead, taking a more holistic, project-based view of topics would ensure that students are revisiting key competencies regularly, building up their skills in gradual steps once per half term rather than great leaps once per year, and coming to see that pieces of software shouldn’t be pigeonholed applications that you use on their own, but that the best possible pieces of work combine many different tools. One year 11 student recently gave a truly outstanding presentation on e-commerce in which he hand-crafted icons to represent the key points of his talk in Illustrator and included a short movie – worlds away from bullet point lists & clip art.
Once we knew what it was, and agreed that it would be a useful tool, the next question was, “How do we introduce it?” We had advice from two different sides of the same argument. One argued it’s a tool for teachers; to ensure the curriculum was covering all the bases, as well as introducing it as an assessment method, but the students don’t need to see it. The other advised giving the assessment grids to the students as part of the AfL strategy. “Students should be using these to assess their own learning – if it’s just us then nothing has actually changed.”
As a department, we agreed that presenting students with the A3 assessment grids would be over facing, and counterproductive. Our resolution was to take appropriate descriptors directly from the APP grid and set them as success criteria for project work. We maintain the overview of the curriculum, and students are getting the focus throughout their project, but without having to digest the glut of information on the assessment grids.
Teachers would then have short, individual talks with students at the end of a project after assessing the work to discuss how they think they’ve done, as well as setting targets for the next unit.
So what’s next?
I’m champing at the bit to start the overhaul of our curriculum, and now I have the cornerstone. APP is a solid foundation upon which to form a programme of study that can shape what our students learn, and how they learn it from joining the school to leaving. By involving feeder primaries, sixth form colleges and the students themselves, I hope we’ll have the makings of a truly solid scheme of work with the flexibility to keep it relevant & the robustness to ensure it lasts.