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"ICT in Education" - 5 new articles

  1. 5 key questions to ask when evaluating students' work in Computing
  2. Assessing Computing: Grids and Badges
  3. How can teachers get to grips with computer programming, and where do we start? By Lawrence Williams
  4. Digital Education new edition out now!
  5. My Top 5 Programming Apps, By Adam Foster
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search ICT in Education
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

5 key questions to ask when evaluating students' work in Computing

When it comes to judging students’ work in Computing and related subjects, there are five things that are crucial to take into account.

1. What is the question to which this is the answer?

Unless the point of the work was some sort of drill and practice, it should be an answer to a problem, in my opinion. It may be a pretty simple or “low level” problem, but that’s not important as long as it isn’t low level from the student’s point of view. See the next point also.

These five criteria may appear to be simple, but there's more to them than meets the eye

2. Is the quality of work, or the degree of expertise shown in its execution, what you would expect from a student of that age?

Some years ago a Head of ICT showed me the work one of his students had done. He thought it was wonderful, and expected me to share n his delight. Well, this so-called “work” was an animated video which the student had produced by moving a toy figure bit by bit and filming it with a pocket camcorder. Actually, it wasn’t bad at all for a five year old. Unfortunately, the student was twice that age. There was no discernible story line, and no discernible skill, that I’d expect from a student his age. You should know enough about programming and the other aspects of the Computing Programme of Study (IT, Digital Literacy, e-Safety) to be able to judge whether a piece of work is of a standard that you’d expect to see.

3. What has the student learnt or achieved in terms of the aims and objectives of the Computing curriculum?

A student may have learnt X, but if X isn’t part of the curriculum, then you may have a bit of a problem. After one lesson I’d observed, I asked the teacher why he’d wasted virtually all of the students’ lesson time by having them type data into a spreadsheet, when the lesson was supposed to be on modelling.

“Well”, he said, “I thought it would be good for them to practice their keyboarding skills.”

“Fine”, I replied, “Except that keyboarding skills are not part of the curriculum, and neither was practising them the stated aim of your lesson.”

Maybe X (keyboarding skills or whatever) are absolutely vital. But if X is not part of the Computing curriculum, then why are you teaching it? You may be able to make a good case, because not everything that needs to be taught is in a curriculum of course. All I’m saying is that this sort of thing should be explicit, otherwise you end up teaching stuff, and the students end up learning stuff, without anyone quite knowing why.

4. Is the student able to say how his/her solution (see #1) can be improved?

Very important this. Even the youngest pupil ought to be able to say how whatever they have done could be improved. If, for example, a child has “told” a programmable toy to go forward a certain distance, but that distance turned out to be too much or too little as far as where they were aiming for was concerned, the child should at least be able to recognise that. Hopefully, they will then be able to start to figure out what to do about it.

5. How much of the work did the student actually do?

That brings me on to a crucial point: how much of the work did the student do individually? We are constantly being told that students must collaborate, because working in a team is a “21st century skill”. But so is being able to work things out on your own, just like most of us do most of the time in our everyday lives. Besides, how do you even begin to work out an individual student’s contribution when the work has been done through a team effort? It ain’t easy.


 

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Assessing Computing: Grids and Badges

Since Michael Gove, England’s then Education Secretary, announced that Levels were not fit for purpose – the purpose being to assess and describe students’ proficiency in National Curriculum subjects – there has been a proliferation of attempts to assess Computing without using Levels. Many of these have taken the approach, quite naturally, of devising a progression grid of some sort. All the ones I’ve seen break the grid down into the Computing Programme of Study’s component parts, viz Computer Science, Digital Literacy, Information Technology and e-Safety. Some, like the Progression Pathways document created by Mark Dorling, go even further. In the case of the Progression Pathways, for example, the categories in the grid are:

  • Algorithms
  • Programming & Development
  • Data & Data Representation
  • Hardware & Processing
  • Communication & Networks
  • Information Technology

The comprehensive Progression Pathways approach to assessing ComputingThis approach has benefits, of course, not least the fact that it is fairly comprehensive (although I think more could have been made of e-safety: it’s there, but perhaps more explicit references would not have come amiss). I don’t wish to understate this: at a time when there was pretty much nothing, Mark created a document that covers the whole of the Computing curriculum, and in such a way that it would enable even the most programming-phobic teacher to at least get past the starting block. (You can find the most recent version in the resources section of the Computing at School website website, along with a document about digital badges. You will need to join Computing at School to gain access.)

Nevertheless, one issue with grids like this is what I call the “equivalence problem”. It’s subtle, but it’s important. In a nutshell, whether or not the items on the same row in the grid are meant to be taken as being on the same “Level”, that’s how they will be interpreted by most people. So the issue is this: are we to infer that items on the same row/Level are equivalent from a “capability/skills/knowledge/understanding” – whichever term you prefer – point of view? If so, is there some underlying intellectual framework upon which this equivalence is based? If it isn’t, the grid gives a misleading impression. It would be better, in that case, to have separate grids for each of the elements, ie separate documents, each of which is independent of the others.

Why is this important? Well, in a pragmatic sense, it probably isn’t. However, I’m interested in not just whether someone understands or can do particular things, but is able to think like a computer scientist. In those terms, I think the  whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A computer scientist will approach issues in a particular way. In fact, he or she will see the world in a different way. See, for example, Anna Shipman’s approach to building repairs in the article Applying computational thinking in the “real world”.

So for me, it is important to know if the items on each row are equivalent in some sense. That is because I want to be able to say something like, “Freda hasn’t completely grasped X, but as she ‘gets’ W, Y and Z, I think she thinks like a computer scientist. On the hand, although Joe understands X, Y and Z, he hasn’t grasped W, and therefore absolutely does not think like a computer scientist.” I don’t think you can do that unless you have an underlying framework of reference, and that you can say with near-certainty that items on a particular row of the grid are equivalent.

It seems to me that one way to avoid the issue or least get around it is to adopt the digital badges approach. There, you say that if a student has a particular bundle of skills, they earn a badge that reflects that fact. You don’t have to worry about whether one badge is equal to another, or even what the underlying framework is, or indeed if there even is one. All anyone is bothered about is the question, “Can the student demonstrate that they know or understand or can do this particular set of things?”

A good starting point for the badges approach are the Makewaves curriculum badges and the article about the Progression Pathways digital badges.

I think it’s a pity when people start creating bronze, silver and gold badges, but that’s a discussion for another day!

    

How can teachers get to grips with computer programming, and where do we start? By Lawrence Williams

Many teachers have been utterly dismayed by the seemingly impossible demands of the new Programmes of Study for Computing. How can we all suddenly develop a wide range of new skills in Computing? Can our pupils, aged from only 5 years, really understand, write, and debug computer programmes? It seems an impossible task. But help is at hand…. And from a teacher of English, with no Computing training! (Though with some experience in using ICT.)

Lawrence Williams explains.

I am of a generation that remembers the wonderful cross-curricular, collaborative, and creative projects undertaken in our Primary schools, a process sadly destroyed by the introduction of the National Curriculum in the 1990s. By using Scratch as the tool, however, we have the opportunity to replace this lost teaching model, and by simultaneously introducing the new Computing curriculum.

Let’s start with a reminder of what pupils aged 5 must be able to do, but with some helpful hints added to the mix:

  • Understand what algorithms are, how they are implemented as programs on digital devices, and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions?
    Response: A cake recipe is an algorithm!
  • Create and debug simple programs?
    Response: Scratch is an easy-to-use block coding computer programming language, and pupils as young as 5 and 6 have had great fun using it to make animated stories. By animating their story, using Scratch, they are creating a simple program, and by changing the story’s timings to improve the visual effects, they are debugging and developing a simple program.
  • Use logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs?
    Response: By asking the pupil, “What do you think will happen if you …….. and why do you think this?” you are developing, and they are using logical reasoning, to predict the behaviour of the Scratch program.
  • Use technology purposefully to create, organise, store, manipulate and retrieve digital content?
    Response: Simply make up the story, save the work, and add more to it each lesson.

Job done.

The key to success, therefore lies in developing the curriculum project: Literacy from Scratch. I know it works, because I have done it. Here is a photo (permissions granted, of course) of a KS1 pupil in action. Look carefully at the picture:

KS1 pupil creating Sprites for her Scratch story. Credit: Lawrence Williams, with acknowledgement to Swaminaryan School.

On the left is an orange folder with her story in it. This was prepared during her English lessons, following literary stimulus lessons from her teacher. In front of her, on the desk, is a draft picture of the two characters which she hand-drew for her story, in her Art lessons.

On the screen is a digital version of her characters, made in the Paint section of Scratch.

Each pupil in Year 1 and in Year 2 then created two story characters (Sprites) and three background scenes (for the Beginning, Middle, and End structure of their stories). Simple, two colour-wash backgrounds work best.

Each pupil programmed Scratch to change from scene one, to scene two, and then to scene three.

Each pupil then added a simple animation effect for one, or more, of the characters.

On the web are several stories created in this classroom, to prove it. See: http://www.literacyfromscratch.org.uk/pupils/ks1.htm

Some pupils also added “voice-over” sound files in various languages. All of these files can be downloaded and deconstructed, so that you can see how they work.

My completely free support web site: www.literacyfromscratch.org.uk has been developed specifically to explain this whole process, together with help sheets, lesson plans, schemes of work, pupils’ work, teachers’ work, evaluations, pedagogy (the project now runs also in the Czech Republic, and in Italy) and it has a search engine to help you find what you need.

Above all, we had great fun making our stories, and animating them at KS1 and KS2 and at KS3.

In conclusion, here are some comments by one of the teachers from a school in which I worked. Donna Roberts (a Year 1 teacher) writes:

“I never thought that five year old students would be able to progress as quickly, and with as much innovation, enthusiasm, and focus as my students have. They are all so proud of their work, and we hope our experience will aid you in assisting your students along their Scratch journeys towards success in the new Computing curriculum. The best advice I can give you is to embrace the concept of programming, and allow your students to work at their own pace, while giving them enough skills and information in order for you to give support to the ones who require it, while allowing the more able children the freedom to explore their abilities through the knowledge they possess and develop. At times, quite frankly, this process has been frustrating, with multiple hands in the air, and students calling out, “Miss Roberts! I need your help!” but I have seen such a massive progression in their skills that the calls have now become, “Miss Roberts! Look at what I can do!”

Try it.

You will be amazed at how exciting the project can be, and, perhaps more importantly, how you can so easily develop creative writing, art, and Computing, all at the same time.

A website-related text book, “Introducing Computing: a guide for teachers” is also available, at: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9781138022850/

About Lawrence Williams

Lawrence WilliamsLawrence Williams is an experienced classroom practitioner, who currently teaches Literacy, ICT, and Computing on ITE courses at a number of universities in London, and abroad. He is both a Senior MirandaNet Fellow and Ambassador, and has represented the United Kingdom on behalf of the DfES, and for Becta at international conferences. His interests are in literacy, creative uses of ICT, cross-curricular learning, and international collaborations, on which he has published widely. He has received many national and international awards, including a National Teaching Award for the “Most Creative use of ICT in Secondary Schools”, and the 2012 Naace ICT Impact Award: Life Long Achievement.


This article first appeared in Digital Education, the free newsletter for those with a professional interest in educational ICT and Computing. One of the benefits of subscribing – apart from access to unique content – is articles in a timely manner. For example, this article was published in the Early October 2014 edition.To sign up, please complete the short form on our newsletter page. We use a double opt-in system, and you won’t get spammed.

    


Digital Education new edition out now!

Did you know that today is International Ada Lovelace Day? Information about this, online poetry, journalism and novel writing, may be found in our latest newsletter. It’s a relatively short “interim” edition, but it’s still packed with lots of wholesome goodness!

Here’s the full list of contents:

  • 20 things new teachers need to know about the technology in their school
  • Should teachers blog?
  • Websites that may be of interest to you or a colleague
  • Money, Money, Money

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My Top 5 Programming Apps, By Adam Foster

Adam FosterIf your students use iPads in lessons, what apps could you use in order to help them learn programming? In this article, Adam Foster, aka @iPadTeachers, describes his top 5 apps and how he selected them.

Here are the 5 apps I have used extensively in the last 12 months to teach programming and I believe to provide a good progression through the Primary Computing Curriculum.

How I selected them

Each week I teach Reception to Year 6 at a Prep School in Wolverhampton. I used last academic year to test as many resources as possible in preparation for this September, including apps. After looking through the Key Stage 1 and 2 Computing Curriculum, my decision-making was based around continuity so that the skills gained in one app could be applied to another. After looking at nearly 20 apps, these 4 apps provide, what I feel, is the best continuity across the Computing Curriculum.

Number 1- Hopscotch (Free)

HopscotchHopscotch is the app I have so far used the most when teaching programming. The reason for this is I have been able to use it across the whole of Key Stage 1 and 2 (7-11 year olds). This has included Year 2 (8 year olds) writing program's for shape drawing through to Year 6 (11 year olds) who have created complex games with multiple characters and different control methods. Hopscotch has also allowed me to introduce the Scratch program further down the school because the app is a nice stepping stone to it. It includes the building blocks format of programming and is pitched very nicely for the Primary Computing Curriculum. The programs themselves can be shared as a web link which make it excellent for assessment and sending programs to pupils for debugging 'correct errors.'

Hopscotch can be found here: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/hopscotch-programming-designed/id617098629?mt=8

No.2 Kodable (Free + In- app purchasing)

KodableKodable is the first app we use with pupils in Nursery/Early Years (2-4 year olds) to introduce programming. The reason is that it includes symbols such as arrows for the pieces of code and the challenges progress well. However, we also use Kodable into Key Stage 1 as the range of activities is considerable. Another feature I particularly like is the 'Sync' tool (approx 80p per pupil) which allows teachers to see exactly what tasks each pupil has completed from the teacher iPad or PC. It also means that pupils can use any iPad with the app installed and pick up where they left off. This can be a big help to classrooms where the pupils are sharing iPads. Kodable can be found here: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/kodable/id577673067?mt=8

No. 3 - Daisy the Dinosaur (Free)

Daisy the DinosaurThis app is made by the same company that makes Hopscotch and therefore it uses similar vocabulary and style. For Early Years (3-4 years olds) into Key Stage 1 (5-7 years old) this is a nice introduction to the language of programming and a stepping stone into Hopscotch app. The two aspects I like most is the 'Challenges' mode which gives purpose and objectives for the pupils. I also like use of the 'when' code which allows pupils to develop programs that control characters with different variables. E.g Programming a character that when he is tapped he does a forward roll. Daisy Dino can be found here: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/daisy-the-dinosaur/id490514278?mt=8

No 4 - ScratchJr (Free)

ScratchJrThe Scratch program has been used in schools for programming for a number of years now and it has evolved considerably with the latest version being online. However, it does not work on iPad due to it being Flash. Therefore, an app has been created (ScratchJr) which is designed as being an introduction to the full version for younger pupils. It allows you to add a character as well as background to your program and uses 6 types of code (starting the program, movement, sound, character size, program control such as repeat and stopping the program) This provides a nice range of options for pupils who can watch/control their program in full screen. There are a variety of characters and backgrounds to choose from or pupils can draw their own. The app utilises the iPad's camera so photos can be used for the characters and backgrounds.

I would have liked to have seen the app use the iPad's camera roll so images could be added from the web etc but that may come in a future update. This app has only been out about a month but I would pitch it for Key Stage 1 pupils (5-7 year olds) as the use of it will need a little guidance from the teacher and it could be a nice link between apps like Kodable or Daisy the Dino into the full version of Scratch. ScratchJr can be found here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/scratchjr/id895485086?mt=8

No 5: Game Press (Free)

Game PressIn last year's Summer Term, Year 6 (11 year olds) and myself looked at Game Press app. At the time the pupils were creating various games in Hopscotch app and in Scratch. Game Press is purely game creation as pupils can create platform style (Super Mario) or space invader style. The character's behaviour can be added, such as how it is controlled. Enemies, point collection and artificial intelligence can also be included. There is so much in this app and it is a massive learning curve for both the pupils and teacher. A good starting point is the interactive tutorial built into the app which allows you to make a game to collect coins and avoid enemies whilst being guided through. Game Press can be found here: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/gamepress-create-share-play./id637370800?mt=8

About Adam Foster

Adam Foster is a Primary School Teacher of 10 years. Since 2011 he has used iPads in his teaching and for the past 2 years he has provided iPad training for hundreds of schools across the country and into Europe. He is an Apple Distinguished Educator and author of 'iPad Teacher Guide.' Details of his work, book and monthly blog can be found at www.ipadteachers.co.uk and @iPadTeachers on Twitter.


This article first appeared in Digital Education, the free newsletter for those with a professional interest in educational ICT and Computing. One of the benefits of subscribing – apart from access to unique content – is articles in a timely manner. For example, this article was published in the early October 2014 edition.To sign up, please complete the short form on our newsletter page. We use a double opt-in system, and you won’t get spammed.

    


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