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"ICT in Education" - 5 new articles

  1. Ed tech heroes get nervous too
  2. Girls cram for exams using a mobile app
  3. Neurodeterminism as an antidote to common sense? I doubt it!
  4. 8 reasons that worksheets work for Computing
  5. Quick look: Literacy from Scratch
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search ICT in Education
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

Ed tech heroes get nervous too

I was struck by a comment made my Steve Dembo on Facebook recently. He said:

“I imagine that some day I'll stop getting nervous before presentations. But today is not that day”

I’ve met Steve: passionate, enthusiastic, a great speaker. I came across him via his blog and podcasts some years ago. I found him to be really inspirational, and was delighted to meet him at a conference a few years ago. So I was shocked to read his comment, though not surprised.

I was speaking to a public speaking expert last year, someone who earns his living from training in that field. He has worked with famous actors and all sorts of celebrities, and some of them get physically sick before going on stage.

I asked him if he himself ever gets nervous. He replied:

“I always wonder if this will be the occasion when someone comes up to me afterwards and taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Perhaps you might think about a different line of work…’”

I get nervous too – but I actually think the nerves, combined with other factors of course, are necessary.

If you are interested in my take on this, read this article:

What acting taught me about public speaking


Girls cram for exams using a mobile app

Everyone goes on about “boys and their toys”, but according to research carried out by a revision app company, more girls than boys are using the app to help them revise.

The app is Gojimo. It provides educational content by working with various educational publishers. I haven’t tried the app myself, but I thought this set of statistics was interesting:

“30 per cent of all summer term revision activity was carried out over the four days in the middle of GCSE[1] exam week, between 1st and 4th June 2014: 79 per cent of this activity was carried out by girls.”

Gojimo was founded by someone called Guy Burgess, who was only 17 at the time. As he says, the statistics can be interpreted in several ways. Well, quite. Also, we don’t know how many students were in the sample size. Still, I quite like the idea that maybe Burgess is right when he infers from the data that:

“While boys are sticking to their traditional study guides, girls are exploring different revision options including mobile testing.”

I think more research needs to be carried out to see if this is actually true, or even possibly true. (It would be interesting, I think, to carry out your own survey amongst your classes: how do your students revise? If quite a number expect to revise on their phones or tablets, that is potentially very useful for you to know.) But whatever the “truth”, Gojimo looks interesting. At the moment it’s available only on IoS devices, but an Android version is due to be released in the first quarter of next year. Perhaps that will be in time for the Bett show, which takes place at the end of January.

[1] GCSE = General Certificate of Education, taken at 16 years old by many students in England.

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Neurodeterminism as an antidote to common sense? I doubt it!

Mel Thompson discusses a certain type of determinism found in the area of Philosophy these days. Some time I ago I discussed this phenomenon in the field of educational technology [1] and later discovered that Mel and I shared certain views and frustrations! Read Mel's article: do you detect any similarities between our two disciplines?

Advances in neuroscience have given us new insights into the workings of the brain, at least to the extent that the measurement of blood flow suggests which parts of the brain are operating at any one time. When we make a decision, the only physical evidence for how we do it is in terms of brain activity, just as when we go for a walk, the only physical evidence for how we do that is the movement of muscles and limbs, along with the corresponding unconscious brain activity. Such an observation is in accord with a common sense view of the mind, for few today would subscribe to the idea that we have a disembodied self, independently capable of pulling our physical puppet-strings. We think, we walk and we decide what to do – that is how we experience ourselves. We are real and we are embodied.

I am utterly frustrated, therefore, by those who take a further step and try to suggest that the self is nothing other than neural activity, or that our every decision is an illusion, created by neural activity that has taken place prior to our becoming aware of it. They suggest that, because they can detect activity even a fraction of a second before we make a decision, it is not we who have made the decision at all, but our brains, and therefore that we have no more than an illusion of being in charge or of being morally responsible for our actions. At this point, neurodeterminism parts company with common sense. We know what it is to agonise over a decision and then take responsibility for it, and no analysis in terms of neural activity is going to render that process illusory, any more than a Mozart symphony is rendered illusory by being analysed in terms of a sequence of sound waves. Of course there is no symphony without sound waves, nor some extra-terrestrial ghost of Mozart, but no list of frequencies is going to replace what we mean by the symphony or our experience of hearing it.

Neurodeterminism only makes sense if we assume that the human brain is the cause of its own activity and that human social interaction and communication are merely its by-products. Indeed, some enthusiasts for neuroscience mock the common sense view that we have of ourselves as thinking, choosing, creating, conscious beings as a relic of a pre-scientific outlook. If it can’t be measured, it can’t exist!

In fact, I would argue that the relationship between self and brain is exactly the reverse. Communication and social interaction, with the development of signs and language, provided the context within which natural selection favoured the development of mental capacity. Those best able to identify one another, communicate and make good decisions about how to act together, were able to survive in a competitive world, and the brain capacity that made possible such thought and communication therefore increased over time. To suggest otherwise requires belief in some external force that appears to have determined that hominids should have ever-increasing cranial capacity. But – if natural selection is a valid way of looking at evolution – it just doesn’t work that way. Change requires context and competition. It is because we flourish as a species if we think, decide and communicate, that our brains develop over time. Pure Darwin.

Notice that it is the reality of countless individuals in their interaction with one another and with their environment that enables this evolution to take place; it provides the context within which increasing brain-power makes sense. But, quite apart from evolution, we also know that the brain is plastic and constantly changing. It responds to our choices and actions. As we learn a new skill, the relevant neural pathways enlarge to reflect that achievement and to facilitate it further. We don’t find that we have a new skill because the neural pathways have changed; they change as we learn the skill!

What happens in the brain mirrors and continues to make possible what happens to us as persons and as social agents. We are more than our brains, and even if neuroscience were one day to achieve the impossible and give a full description of the activity of each and every neuron, that would still not explain what consciousness is like, or what it means to be a human being. That may be a common sense view, but I think it is none the worse for that!

About Mel Thompson

Mel ThompsonFormerly a teacher, editor and A-level examiner, Mel Thompson is now a freelance writer, with a particular interest in Philosophy and Ethics. His many publications include 8 books in the Teach Yourself series, Philosophers Behaving Badly, about the behaviour of some well-known thinkers, and, most recently The Philosophers Beach Book, which invites you to wiggle your toes in the sand and think!

For further information about his publications, and links to many other items of philosophical and ethical interest, see his website:

1. Ed Tech determinism and so-called conventional wisdom:

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 late July 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.


8 reasons that worksheets work for Computing

The use of worksheets is often derided. You hear expressions like “death by a thousand worksheets”, and even a Government Education minister (now ex-Minister for Education) has weighed in, saying that teachers should use textbooks instead of worksheets [1].

Leaving aside the observation that how teachers teach is, in my opinion, none of the Government’s business – it’s the equivalent of telling doctors to use electronic blood pressure monitors rather than the manual kind – there are perfectly compelling reasons to use worksheets in the Computing classroom.

What is a worksheet?

But first, what exactly is a worksheet? We may think of it as a sheet of paper, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be a web page or a slide show. It all depends on context and purpose.

Starting the lesson

Death by worksheet?! Photo by Wes Fryer think the phrase “Death by worksheet” must have arisen due to the tendency of some teachers in some circumstances to rely on worksheets to keep the class quiet. Well, guess what? I have too on occasion. There are some kids who don’t believe they are working or that a real lesson is going on unless they have been given a worksheet. You have to start with where the kids are, unless you want to be in constant riot control mode. So in my experience in that situation you have to ween the kids off them gradually. For example, I might give them a worksheet with some bits and pieces to complete when they entered the classroom, and then after ten minutes have a class discussion about their answers.

Bad teaching

What about death by a thousand textbook exercises, or copying out? The worst examples of teaching I’ve seen is where the “work” is copying something out, whether from a textbook or elsewhere. For instance, one class I observed were give the task of entering hockey scores into a spreadsheet, so that they could then work out averages and so on. I asked the teacher why he hadn’t given them a spreadsheet with all the data in it already, leaving aside the fact that the exercise was pretty pointless anyway. He said it was to give them practice at keyboarding skills. I told him that keyboarding skills were not on the National Curriculum, and in any case that wasn’t the stated purpose of the lesson. In that instance, an Excel “worksheet” with all the data in it, with cells highlighted in which the students were to insert formulae, would have been much more useful, and potentially far less boring.

What textbook?

As far as I know, there is no textbook for the new Computing curriculum in England. 

Which textbook?

There are textbooks for established examination courses though, but which one should you use? When I was teaching Economics, I used a range of textbooks because there was no single one that was good enough for every topic. Sometimes, worksheets can be used to guide students to the best resources to use. In that case, the worksheet supplements the textbooks, it doesn’t replace them.

Explanatory notes

What is wrong with creating worksheets that give information about how to carry out particular procedures? For example, one of my “worksheets” was a reference sheet listing the formulae in Excel. That enabled students to get on with their work without wasting time waiting for me to answer their questions or looking up how to do it or getting it right by a combination of luck and trial and error.

It also meant that they didn’t interrupt their peers – something that tends not to be mentioned by the advocates of approaches like “Ask three and then me”. If I were a pupil, being constantly interrupted by people asking me how to do something would drive me nuts. I speak as one who knows: when I worked in a Local Authority, I was in an open plan office, which meant that my train of thought was being constantly disrupted, unless I escaped to a room somewhere or a cafe down the road. These options tend not to be available to pupils.

Next steps

If a student has finished their work, why not have them take a worksheet that suggests next steps, rather than your having to repeat it umpteen times or write it on the whiteboard or project it as a PowerPoint slide? In this situation, it means that the student can get on, and it buys you some time: you can continue talking to someone who needs some help and then check on the fast workers later.


Worksheets can be used to provide extra help for students to didn’t understand the explanation the first time. Again, in this case the worksheet might be a list of websites or videos to look at.

Project work

If you are teaching ICT and Computing through project work, and groups of kids are all working on different projects, how would a textbook be useful, even if there was one? But a worksheet suggesting websites to go to for research (there is more to research than Google and Wikipedia!), and perhaps some useful tips on interviewing people, or how to record data, could be just what is needed.


I think anyone who decries the use of one kind of resource in all circumstances is almost bound to be wrong. You can have death by PowerPoint, death by video, death by interactive whiteboard, death by anything in fact. Surely what matters is being able and willing to use the most appropriate tools at your disposal in the most appropriate ways?




Quick look: Literacy from Scratch

If you’re concerned that young children won’t be able to grasp computing concepts, or are worried about how you’re going to teach it, have a look around the Literacy from Scratch website.

Managed – and, I think, written by – Lawrence Williams, the  website contains examples of pupils’ work in Scratch, cross-curricular ideas and examples, and notes on pedagogy. I’ve only had a quick look at the site, hence the title of this article, but I’m impressed not only by the range of resources but the fact that the emphasis seems to be mainly on creativity. It’s always good to have a reason for doing something!

Example of a stry created in Scratch by a primary school pupil

There are examples of schemes of work too, and notes about how Scratch is taught in Prague.  The research and international aspects are to be expected, given that Williams is a Senior Fellow and World Peace Ambassador of MirandaNet, the research-focused organisation for teachers and others.

There is a new book out too, called “Introducing Computing: A Guide for Teachers”, edited by Lawrence Williams:

Again, I haven’t read this yet, but it seems useful and timely. As well as including practical ways to develop children’s Computing skills alongside creative writing, art and music, according to the blurb on Amazon “the book examines different approaches to introducing children from age 5 to Computing”.

It contains chapters by members of Naace and Mirandanet. I recognise most of the names, and on that basis alone I think the book is promising.

You can buy the book by clicking on the image of the book cover shown, and if you do I will receive a small commission from Amazon, which I trust will give you a warm glow from doing such a good deed :-)

Paperless office?

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