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"ICT in Education" - 5 new articles

  1. Review of The Thinking Teacher
  2. Where are the girls in ICT and Computing
  3. Digital Education Newsletter: some numbers
  4. When it comes to Computing, where are the girls?
  5. Coding is not debugging
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search ICT in Education
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

Review of The Thinking Teacher

When I first picked up this book I made an error of judgement. Noticing that it seemed quite slim, I thought I could finish reading it in just one or two sessions. However, what I had not counted on was the book’s living up to its title. In short, it made me think. It made me think about what the author was saying in its own right, that is whether or not I agreed with it. It also caused me to reflect on my own practice as a teacher and, now, as a consultant.

Quinlan’s outlook may be summed up, in his own words, as:

“If we want thinking children, we need thinking teachers.”

Oliver Quinlan's book, The Thinking TeacherAbsolutely correct. I have been concerned for some time now that the effect of well-intended but, in my opinion, misguided help provided to teachers in the form of various “strategies” was to convey the unfortunate hidden message that teachers didn’t need to think too much as long as they followed the procedure laid down by some unknown “expert”.

Interestingly, Quinlan touches on this type of thing, albeit in relation to children. Provide too much help, and you don’t allow the children the time and space to get to grips with the problem and work out their own strategies for coming to a solution. It will be interesting to see how far well-meaning and dedicated teachers provide “too much” help to children in writing and debugging programs.

Although, as I have said, the book is slim, it punches above its weight. That’s because it adopts a challenging – though not confrontational – approach.

Drawing on fields as diverse as high finance, programming and lifestyle management, Quinlan says, in effect:

“This is what we as teachers think or how we behave; this is what such and such an expert in this completely different field says; what if we applied that outlook to teaching?”

Although I don’t agree with everything that’s said, the approach works. In fact, whether or not I agree with it is irrelevant. The aim was to get me, the reader, to think, and in that sense the book succeeds admirably.

I like the fact that Quinlan enjoins teachers to think about how their background and other factors have shaped their individual ideology, and how that affects their outlook and practice.

He makes a good case for the memorisation of certain kinds of knowledge, such as the multiplication tables, in order to have at our disposal information that can help us solve problems, rather than relying on search engines to help us solve very specific problems. He might also have mentioned the in-built bias of search engines.

I very much agree with his comment that :

“Theories don’t tell teachers what to do, but instead provide a structure in which to think about what they do.”

He also makes a very good point about “smart regulation” – something that Ofsted does not provide – ie one that judges by outcome rather than by process. (Derek Blunt makes some interesting points about the “Ofsted lesson” elsewhere in this newsletter.)

Quinlan states that:

“There is no guarantee that all of the learners in a class are going to be engaged by the same topic.”

True, although I maintain that a good teacher in the right conditions can make any topic engaging for any pupil.

He also makes some interesting points about the “minimum viable lesson” and, in effect, the “good enough” lesson, in his exhortations against the (understandable) predilection of many teachers to work ridiculously long hours in the quest to produce the perfect lesson.

He might have drawn on the economist’s toolkit here. It is well-known by students of “the dismal science” that the old adage “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly”, does not hold up in reality. Why not? Because of the cost in terms of all the other things that cannot be achieved instead. Sleep, for example, or marking and feedback perhaps, or even the teacher’s own professional development.

Quinlan also underlines the importance of teacher expectations on the performance of their pupils.

There are a couple of things I do not like about the book. First, it doesn’t mention in its list of recommended blogs. More seriously, there is no index, which I found frustrating.

Nevertheless, provocative, in a gentlemanly way, and drawing on a wide range of research and perspectives, The Thinking Teacher is a book that, were I still a Head of Department in a school, I would buy for each member of my team and insist that they read it.

They and you may not agree with Quinlan or even with each other, but I suggest that the experience of your pupils would be all the richer as a consequence.

The Thinking Teacher  (affiliate link) by Oliver Quinlan.

This article first appeared in Digital Education, the free newsletter for those with a professional interest in educational ICT and Computing.

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Where are the girls in ICT and Computing

It was International Women’s Day on March 8th, so it seems quite timely (in a belated sort of way) to focus on gender issues as they relate to computing and ICT.

Start them young: Social Computing, by Laura Blankenship

What are the gender issues?

In the context of technology, the main issue is that not enough girls go into computer science studies beyond the statutory provision, or computer-related jobs. Various figures are cited, but it seems to be generally agreed that only around 16 or 17% of students in undergraduate courses in Computer Science in the UK are female, and only around 27 or 28% of employees in information technology jobs are women — a figure that is true for both the UK and the USA.

Why is there such a discrepancy?

Various reasons are cited, all of which are probably true. They include:

  • A perception that it is too geeky
  • Too many boys on undergraduate courses — I saw a figure cited in one forum that there is a ratio of 5:1, males to females; that’s probably anecdotal, but it kind of doesn’t matter whether it’s objectively true or not, because it’s perception that determines behaviour, not necessarily reality; of course, this means that the imbalance is a self-fulfilling prophecy
  • Too few female role models
  • Probably the perception that being a “computer geek” means spending long periods without washing or sunlight, and living on beer and pizza
  • In school, unless checked, boys tend to dominate classroom discussion.

Now, before anyone complains, I should just like to say that I have not intended this article to be an academic treatise, but a statement of what seems to be many people’s perception of the situation. The important thing is, what can be done about it? I would suggest the following.


In no particular order of priority:

  • Ensure the work you set is interesting, involves problem-solving and, importantly, involves collaborative problem-solving; I realise there is a danger of gender stereotyping, but I would say that from my experience of teaching, girls are more engaged when the classroom is a place of collaboration rather than competition; in fact, I have also found that project-based learning is better for boys as well
  • Ensure the work is authentic, in the sense of having potentially useful application in real life
  • You could, if you like, establish a computer club for girls only. I don’t agree with that approach (except in girls’ schools, obviously), but such a course of action does have the merit of keeping the boys out of the picture altogether; if the girls in your school feel intimidated by the boys, this may be the answer
  • However, I think a better option is to establish rules of engagement that preclude the boys hogging discussion, calling out the answers to questions, or behaving in ways that make girls feel less self-confident than is justified. For example, there are several assessment for learning techniques you can employ that will address these points. (Subscribers to Digital Education can avail themselves of a free resource I created called “31 Assessment for Learning Techniques”, which is in pdf format.) That would also teach boys how to behave constructively towards females in wider society.
  • Make classes aware of the role of women in both the history of computing and in society today. See the Resources section below for help with this.
  • Seek out women speakers who could inspire the girls in your school. These may include people in local companies, or students at a local college in university.

Clarity begins at home

This is another set of solutions, but I think it is so important that I have decided to make it a section in its own right.

You need to know the data.

  • How many girls opt for your subject(s)? If there is a wide disparity between the two genders, find out why. Ask your “non-customers” why they didn’t choose your options. This information could be useful next year. You could even run a survey now, asking pupils what sort of course would interest them, making sure to provide them with some genuine options.
  • Do you know how well girls are doing in ICT and Computing compared with boys? If there is a disparity, why? And what are you going to do about it?
  • Are the girls in your classes more, less, or equally as active in discussions as the boys? If not, why not, and what are you going to do about it?

You can use your pupils, and your school’s digital leaders, if it has them, to help you devise ways and means of (a) finding out the answers to some of these questions and (b) helping you come up with solutions.

You know, if you’re stopped for speeding and you tell the police you weren’t aware of the speed limit, they will inform you that ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law. I believe the same holds true when it comes to how different groups of pupils – in this case girls and boys – are doing. If you don’t know, find out!


The women are here”: special edition of the free magazine, Computer Science for Fun, which you can download from here:

Mind the gap: getting girls into computing”: special edition of Computing at School’s magazine, Switched On, which you can download from here: This includes contributions from such people as Carrie Anne Philbin, the creator of Geek Gurl Diaries at, and others.

“Who are the Tech Age Girls?” An interesting UNESCO initiative, reported on here:

This article first appeared in Digital Education, the free newsletter for those with a professional interest in educational ICT and Computing. 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 Newsletter: some numbers

For colleagues who like pondering data, here are some statistics about the latest issue of Digital Education, the free newsletter for those with a professional interest in educational ICT and Computing…

The latest issue contains:

The cover of the latest issue of Digital Education

  • 10 pages
  • 10 articles, of which there are…
  • … 4 articles by guest contributors
  • 3 advertisements
  • 44 links
  • 5 competitions/awards/offers (ie things to enter)
  • 2 surveys
  • 1 Book review
  • 1 free gift

It has been published, in various guises, for 19 years.

It has been distributed to several thousand people. You could be one of them! Subscribing costs nothing, and ensures that you always receive it in a timely fashion and can enjoy great articles -- and various offers from time to time.

Paperless office?

Your newsletter editor is hard at work sifting through the submissions for Digital Education, the free newsletter for education professionals. Have you subscribed yet?

Read more about it, and subscribe, on the Newsletter page of the ICT in Education website.

We use a double opt-in system, and you won’t get spammed.


When it comes to Computing, where are the girls?

“Where are the girls?” is one of the articles in the latest issue of Digital Education, the free newsletter for those with a professional interest in educational ICT and Computing. This article looks at what the issues are and, crucially, offers practical solutions and suggests several resources that you may find useful in this context.

Other articles include:

The cover of the latest issue of Digital Education

The view from here

Oliver Quinlan discusses the importance of educational research, and extends an invitation to get involved in a project being run by Nesta.

The Story Wall

Schoolgirl Emma describes the app that she and her friends designed under the auspices of Apps for Good, and tells us what she gained from the experience. The Story Wall is an app designed to help pupils get their creative writing juices flowing.

A question of data

I report back from a conference on a few of the key points about what data you should be considering in school, and what Ofsted inspectors look for.

When it comes to coding, how secure is your network?

Guest contributor Darren Bartlett outlines the options available to you to ensure your network remains safe with pupils creating and running their own programs.

To put it Bluntly

In this issue, regular contributor Derek Blunt gets apoplectic about Ofsted-speak.

Review of The Thinking Teacher

I review Oliver Quinlan’s book.

The Amazing Computer Education Project Book

I’m hoping to be able to collate some interesting things that schools are doing in preparation for the new Computing curriculum. Here’s your chance to get involved if you wish to.

In Memoriam

My tribute to Bev Evans.


Far too much to describe here!

The best news is that it’s all free!

cartoon 2 fightNo need to fight to get your hands on a copy of Digital Education, the free e-newsletter for education professionals! Subscription is free. Have you subscribed yet?


Read more about it, and subscribe, on the Newsletter page of the ICT in Education website.

We use a double opt-in system, and you won’t get spammed.


Coding is not debugging

Sometimes I am not quite sure whether a statement is obvious or not obvious at all. In such cases I try to take the view that if it was that obvious, I wouldn’t need to comment at all. Take the statement “Coding is not debugging”. Of course it isn’t. But to read what some people have written you could be forgiven for thinking that an ability to write good code automatically confers the ability to be good at debugging. Well, like the old Porgy and Bess song has it, it ain’t necessarily so.

I don’t intend to look into the reasons why one doesn’t guarantee the other, but to set out what I believe is irrefutable proof, albeit in a common sense way.

Here goes:

Why programming skills don’t imply debugging skills

If an ability to write (code, poetry, fiction, whatever) meant being able to ‘debug’ then authors wouldn’t need copy editors or proofreaders. A wonderful book I am reading at the moment, called

would not have needed to be written. It’s full of dreadful mistakes that would-be published authors make in their writing. Interestingly, I came across an article a few days ago in which the author said something like:

“This technology has  developed through various backgrounds to become the ubiquitous offering it enjoys today.”

Eh? I think I can just about work out what he or she was attempting to say, but it would have been much better had they gave given it to someone else to proofread before publishing it.

Why debugging skills don’t imply programming skills

I can use a similar analogy. If being able to point out what’s wrong with a piece of work implied that you could have written that work or something similar, then by the same token film critics ought to be able to make a Hollywood blockbuster and book reviewers should be able to pen something that will soar to the top of the bestseller lists. I know a lot of critics and reviewers give the impression that they think they can, but we only have their (implied) word for it!


Again, I apologise if this is all obvious, but I think I’ll say it anyway. Pupils have to be taught how to write code, and also be taught how to debug code. They have to be given opportunities to do both, and be presented with problem-solving scenarios for both, and given opportunities to debug code written by others, not just their own.


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