Teaching can be a lonely profession, especially if, as is often the case, you are the sole teacher of ICT or Computing in your school. Whether you’re on your own or part of a team, I’d thoroughly recommend joining a community or several. Why?
Let's all pull together! Photo by Opensource https://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/
You’re not alone
The next time someone asks you to an impossible task, or a parent complains because you haven’t taught her child how to write their own operating system, a community is a good place to unburden yourself. Chances are, others in the group have faced the same thing themselves. It proves that you are not going insane — or, if you indeed are, at least you’re in good company.
No matter how creative a person or a team is, given enough time they will start to demonstrate “groupthink”: a tendency to not think of anything that is alien to the group’s way of thinking. In such a situation, even the daftest ideas will seem fine, and the greatest ideas won’t even get a look in. A community, with its myriad voices and viewpoints, can act as an effective counterbalance to becoming set in your (old) ways.
If you don’t know something, posing a question in your community can help you find the answer pretty quickly.
Other people will also know of useful resources, including websites, books, schemes of work and so on.
A place for sharing
If you’ve produced some good resources, or have some useful information yourself, a community is a good place to share them. That’s how communities work: they provide caring through sharing.
What communities should you join, and how should you behave in them? Those topics will be dealt with in future posts.
On the subject of communities, why not sign up for the Digital Education ezine? It contains news, views, guest articles and, sometimes, prize competitions, plus free resources. The articles are typically longer than the ones posted here. It’s free, and you will be joining several thousand other subscribers. You won’t be spammed, and you can unsubscribe any time.
We all know and love the concept of learning by doing. Because of that, many teachers get pupils to type out a program, create a Scratch program or populate a spreadsheet or database themselves. However, there are a number of problems that can arise from this approach.
What will they learn?
What exactly do kids learn from typing data into a spreadsheet, or typing out a program given to them by the teacher? Unless you’re teaching them data entry or keyboarding skills, I don’t see that they are learning anything. Or, rather, they are probably learning something that you hadn’t intended, like “coding is dead boring” or “I’ an idiot because I can’t keep up with everyone else."
Kids always learn something. The issue is whether that’s what you wanted them to learn.
What’s the point?
Given that it can take a whole lesson for someone to enter the data you want them to work with, or the program that you want to discuss, what precisely is gained by making them do that? All you’re doing is ensuring that nobody in the class is going to learn anything at all: the slow ones will still be typing, and the fast ones will be twiddling their thumbs waiting to hear what to do next.
Because of this, there will almost certainly be chaos and pandemonium in the classroom — unless you are fortunate to be teaching pupils who can read and act on the next set of instructions without needing much help or who can find something useful to do. (They can’t be employed to help the slow typists, except by doing the typing for them, which in a way is even worse.) For most teachers most of the time, it will be a recipe for disaster — especially if it’s windy.
Enter (tarrah!) … Learning Objectives
I know it’s become fashionable in some circles to eschew the use of learning objectives for the kids, but they are still pretty handy for the teacher. What do you want them to learn? Decide that, and then devise the activity, and therefore the amount of typing, accordingly. For example:
- If you want pupils to learn how to debug a program, don’t make them waste their time by typing in one that doesn’t work; instead, give it to them fully formed so they can start debugging right away.
- If you want them to learn how to construct a Do-While loop, give them a fully-formed program with the loop missing. They will know when they’ve got it right because the program will do what it was intended to do, which is quite good feedback, which doesn’t even require you to give it.
- If you want them to do modelling using a spreadsheet, give them a spreadsheet with all the data in it and possibly even all the formulae too, depending on the aims of the lesson (for example, you may want to ask them how they think the spreadsheet works).
Here’s the bottom line: give the pupils as much or as little “keyboarding time” as is needed to use the lesson to teach what you actually want them to learn. Anything more or less is useless.
Look, I’m not going to assume a guise of false modesty here, or a “humble brag” (“Am so humbled to have just been voted as the best thing since sliced bread”): the fact is, I am known to play a mean blues harmonica. However, as I haven’t played with a band in over a year, I thought I’d get back into the swing of things by going on a course. In the first lesson, the tutor got us to play two main things.
First, he showed us how to create a train sound. I had already taught myself how to do this, because any self-respecting blues person understands that you need the right sound effect to accompany lines like “My baby’s leaving on that midnight train” and “I heard that lonesome whistle blow”. He also taught us how to play When the saints go marching in (swing it, brothers). I’d already taught myself to play that eons ago, but never mind.
I didn't think my playing was THAT bad...
The point of all this apparent persiflage is that I was impressed that the tutor got us to play actual stuff rather than just a load of techniques that we didn’t apply.
I have always adopted the same approach in my own teaching, as far as possible. For instance, I see little point in teaching the kids how to create an IF statement, without having them create something in which the IF statement actually makes sense. As an example, I used to get them to create a simple program or spreadsheet that would evaluate their age. Depending on what they entered at the prompt “How old are you?”, they would be shown a message that read “Sorry, you are too old”, or “Sorry, you are too young” (just my warped sense of humour: there wasn’t an OK age!).
That little program held principles that are applied in many different contexts. It’s of little consequence in itself, but showing them how to create IF statements in isolation would have had even less consequence in my opinion.
I also believe that the same principle applies even to less tangible aspects of the curriculum. Take the laws about data protection, computer misuse and copyright. Do the pupils go away from the lesson having actually achieved something and, crucially, with something to show – even if that something is a heightened awareness of some of their rights and responsibilities?
A quick note: I’m working on the next issue of Digital Education – the first one if the new school year! Articles will include one from Anna Shipman on how she got into coding and one by Kathryn Day on the Suffolk Computing Curriculum. I’m also working on a competition, conference reports, and news. So do sign up today. Or tomorrow. Well, soon anyway!
Articles you may have missed
For more articles like this, plus news, commentary and freebies, sign up for my ezine Digital Education. Great content, longer articles, book reviews, competitions, news, comment and guest articles.
So, you’ve visited a school, and seen its new “big idea” in action. The reception area of the school proclaims, “We are an X school!”, where “X” is the big idea: Flipped Learning, Bring Your Own Device, One-to-One, or anything else. It looks great – wonderful, in fact – but will it work in your school? Here are seven things you need to consider.
Great idea -- but will it work in YOUR school?
The Hawthorne Effect
This is the effect named after the experiments in the 1920s in which researchers turned the lighting levels up in factory, with the result that productivity increased. Then they turned the levels right down -- and productivity just kept on rising. Some people explain this by saying that the workers knew they were being observed. Possibly, but an alternative suggestion is that workers were consulted, instead of just having it done to them.
Whatever the actual reason or combination of reasons, it implies that when you see something great going on in a school, part of the explanation could be the Hawthorne Effect. That, in turn, means that perhaps you could get similar results with a different idea, or a less expensive one. In other words, the results you are seeing may not be due to the intrinsic qualities of the idea itself.
The experimenter effect
Similarly, research has shown that if you think, or are told, that a particular thing is going to work or not work, you subconsciously affect the outcome. When you observe great things going on in a school with a new peer mentoring policy, for example, part of the effect may be due to everyone believing that it’s going to deliver great things, and perhaps the novelty factor too.
Ecological validity is summed up in the question: is the school I’m visiting similar to the school I work in? That is, similar type of area, similar sorts of kids, and so on. It may work perfectly well in your school even if the answers to these questions are “no”, but it’s worth thinking about.
To an extent, this could be regarded as an aspect of ecological validity. Has the school received a £1m Big Idea grant, to pay for staff training, materials and so on? Has the school been designated as a Big Idea Exemplar School? If it has, the organisation behind it won’t allow the initiative to fail: technical support will be instant, replacement parts will be couriered over straight away. Will your school get the same treatment?
An informal version of this, and therefore another aspect of ecological validity, is indirect funding by the parents. If they are contributing to the running costs in some way (eg by having broadband at home), or paying for their kids to have extra tuition, you need to take this into account.
Is it embedded or championed?
If the initiative is being driven by one enthusiast, what happens when that person leaves? In a way, it would be better if what you saw was embedded practice because then you know it could work given enough time and support.
Is it sustainable?
This is an aspect of the preceding point. I visited a school once that had an absolutely brilliant technical support set-up. It was so good that most issues were dealt with before they became problems. The person running it was even poached by a large organisation, and it was so good that it still kept on working. But then a new deputy headteacher joined the school and decided that he didn’t like the system so he stopped supporting it. For example, the school dispensed with the services of the people who ran the help desk. Six months later, the technical support in the school was pretty dreadful. The technicians were still as good as ever, but the system of recording and dealing with issues had become defunk because of lack of support, including financial support, with results that should have been predictable.
So you need to ask yourself: does my school have people in authority who understand the vision, who will support this initiative, and who are unlikely to leave before it really starts to prove its worth? Also, is there a way of building defences against the dismantling of a great idea just because a new senior leader doesn’t like it?
One way would be to get the headteacher and everyone else to agree to what is known as a change management procedure, ie if someone has a bright idea, they can’t just implement it, they have to make a case for it, and it is then considered by someone or, better, a small group of people. This can be very frustrating for those of us who just like to get on with it, but it does guard against the phenomenon of huge lurches in policy and money wasted on pet projects. If the change suggestion is considered and responded to within a short time, it’s not too bad. It’s when organisations say “We consider change requests every 6 months” that employees think to themselves that they can’t be bothered.
Is it scalable?
If you visit a school that is piloting something, or if you yourself are doing so, you need to ask yourself whether it can be easily scaled up. For example, you may decide, and be given the go-ahead, to run a tablet scheme with one class of kids. After a couple of months you report that it works like a dream, so the temptation is to buy in enough for every pupil. But there’s a bit of a difference between 30 kids all using wi-fi at the same time, and 300 doing so. Does your school have the requisite infrastructure? Are there enough teachers, technical support and knowledgeable pupils (digital champions) to make such a move workable?
If the answers to these questions are disappointing, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t adopt the big idea in your own school. It may mean that you have to spend more time preparing the groundwork, or simply going into it with your eyes more widely open and your feet more firmly on the ground. Good luck!
Your newsletter editor is hard at work doing research 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.
Greetings! I hope you have had a nice summer break. I’ve taken some time off, in the sense of not trying to update this website as frequently as I usually do. But I was doing some reading and writing, so I thought you may find these links interesting as you start a new school year.
Believe it or not, I started this post a week ago. It’s not that I’m a slow writer (I’m not), but I kept thinking “Ooh, that would be interesting to include” and “Ooh, that looks good too”. well, after a lot of “ooh-ing” I thought “Ooh, I’d better stop and hit the Publish button”. Just as well, because one of the conferences I mention is tomorrow – eeek! Anyway, now even this intro has started to take on a life of its own, so I’m going to stop right now. There. See? It’s just a question of self-discipline.
Back to work...
From #blimage to #blideo
Over the summer a series of posts were written as part of the #blimage challenge. This was to write a blog post based on or inspired by a particular image – hence the neologism “blimage”. Now Steve Wheeler has thrown down the gauntlet again, this time replacing “image” with “video”, giving (you guessed it) #blideo. Same sort of challenge, only based on a snippet of video instead of an image. I haven’t taken part in this yet, but may do. It’s a creative writing exercise for adults (although there’s no reason not to use with kids), and fun too.
Back to school
Teacher and blogger Shelly Terrell has written a great post: Back to School Like A Boss! 10 Survival Tips! It’s a slide show, with links to further resources. Well worth looking through.
One of the things I feel quite strongly is that teachers don’t have enough self-confidence when it comes to assessing what pupils in Computing. That’s why I wrote this post: Professional judgement in assessing Computing. I hope you find it useful.
Flipping the classroom
I’m not a great fan of the so-called “flipped classroom” as far as how it is usually presented is concerned (see that link for some of my thoughts on the subject). However, I think the general principle of flipping is sound, if one takes a common-sense, pragmatic view (ie not expect all teachers to spend 20 hours a week recording or finding videos). Here’s an article I wrote on the subject: Making the flipped classroom work. The link is to my article, but the first part of it appears on the Tech & Learning UK’s website. I’ve linked to the article there rather than on my own website because they are featuring quite a few articles on the flipped classroom theme, which you may find interesting.
Reluctant young writers
I wrote a blog post for 2Simple about how several of their Purple Mash applications can be used by teachers to get youngsters writing. You may be surprised to earn that not all of the applications I talk about are very obviously related to writing – but they work just the same! Here’s the article:
5 ways to inspire writing with Purple Mash. Disclosure: This was a paid-for article, but I approached them because I like their software so much.
Here’s a very nice “dipping into” book, with contributors from teachers who teach subjects across the board: Book review: Don’t Change the Lightbulbs. Disclosure: the publishers sent me a complimentary review copy, but that didn’t influence my review.
Here are two conferences you may be interested in.
Organised by Tom Bennett, ResearchEd is a conference that features talks by people who actually have some evidence to back up their point of view (that’s a novel idea, isn’t it?). It’s tomorrow, ie Saturday 5th September. It’s my first one, and I’m looking forward to it. Here’s the link: ResearchEd 2015.
Here’s a good-looking conference coming up in September, so you have plenty of time to arrange cover! The future of computing in schools. It’s another action-packed – well, speaking-packed – agenda, covering issues like how have things been going with the new Computing curriculum, teachers’ skills and meeting the needs of industry. Ed tech luminaries such as Oliver Quinlan (Nesta) and Debbie Forster (Apps for Good) will be speaking. Disclosure: The organisers of the conference, Westminster Forum, have given me a complimentary ticket so I can report on it afterwards.
How much “free” time do you get?
Calling all leaders of Computing in schools: how much time do you get to actually do the job? The last time I was Head of Department (ICT and Computing) I was given 5 hours out of a 25 hour timetable. It sounds a lot, but I had to look after a department of 4 (excluding myself) and a technician, and bring a moribund subject out of the doldrums, plus all the normal marking, preparation and covering absent colleagues – can’t you hear the strains of a violin as you read this? Anyway, I wanted to see if things have changed much since those days (they haven’t), so I set up a survey.
I haven’t attempted to derive averages or anything like that, because people’s situations are so different from each other’s that meaningful comparisons are difficult. However, like those websites that list rates of remuneration enjoyed by different journalists for similar freelance assignments, the results do provide a kind of ball park figure or set of figures, which could be useful: if you’re offered the job of leading Computing and given one free period in which to do it, you could take a chance and say to the boss “Most schools have (rightly) taken the view that the job needs a lot more time than that to do properly”. On the other hand, if you are given two complete days a week and a guarantee of no cover, just keep your head down and say nothing.
Enough of this persiflage! Here are the links:
To view the results so far, go to HoDs Free Time Sheet. If you’d like to add your own data, the form is at HoDs Free Time.
For more articles like this, plus news, commentary and freebies, sign up for my ezine Digital Education. Great content, longer articles, book reviews, competitions, news, comment and guest articles.
Digital Education Ezine
Finally, I’m in the process of putting together the first Digital Education ezine of the new school year. It will include articles by Anna Shipman (“How I got into coding, and why I think everybody should do it”), and Kathryn Day, ICT and Computing Advisor in Suffolk, on the way Suffolk has interpreted the Computing Programme of Study. It’s very interesting, and original. I like it a lot.
I’m also hoping to include a competition with a brilliant prize.
Look out for that soon.
More Recent Articles