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  1. Digital Education ezine July edition now available!
  2. 7 reasons that the FAIL acronym fails
  3. Some interesting-looking computing conferences coming up
  4. 7 reasons to have a Computing wishlist
  5. Inspiration for students of Computing (and other subjects)
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search ICT and Computing in Education
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

Digital Education ezine July edition now available!

I don’t know what the opposite of “bumper” is (as in “stupendous, 200 page bumper edition”), but the latest issue of Digital Education is small – but perfectly formed. Here’s what it contains:

Your editor reads loads of blogs to bring you interesting stuff

  • News, eg conferences
  • Resources, with a focus on music this time
  • Articles you may have missed

Sign-up is free, and you won’t get spammed. I use a double-opt in system, which means that your friends can’t play tricks on you by signing up on your behalf!

Self-portrait with coloured pencilsFor more articles like this, plus news, commentary and freebies, sign up for my ezine Digital Education, for great content, longer articles, book reviews, news, comment and guest articles.


7 reasons that the FAIL acronym fails

It is fashionable these days to avoid the ‘F’ word – by which, of course, I mean “Fail”. This is not confined to the area of teaching Computing, but enough people in this field have written about it to nudge me into writing my thoughts on the matter. So, the FAIL acronym, in case you haven’t come across it, is First Attempt In Learning. The idea of it is that instead of telling kids that they have failed at something, you tell that they have not failed. They may have not succeeded, but that is fine, because it was a First Attempt In Learning. Well, I have always been a believer in telling it how it is, and so for me the FAIL acronym does not benefit kids at all. Quite the opposite in fact. Here are my objections:

A pretty good example of a "Fail"! Photo by Kevin Jarrett

  • Failing is empowering. You have the option of improving by recognising your mistakes, or having them pointed out to you. Additionally, it gives you the option of doing something else instead. There may not be much scope for this in school, but Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in her book Discoverability: A WMG Writers Guide* includes a great acronym: WIBBOW. This stands for Would I Be Better Off Writing? Obviously, that applies to writers, because that’s who the book is written for, but the principle is a good summary of the economist’s concept of the law of comparative advantage, which I explained in the article Why you should collaborate on a Computing scheme of work. Basically, it’s like this: I am useless at home improvement. If I put up a bookshelf, it will fall down as soon as I put a sheet of paper on one of the shelves. But I’m pretty good at other things, like writing (according to feedback I’ve had). So I would be better off writing and paying someone else to put up my bookshelf. The reason I know this to be true is that when I bought my first house, I spent ages putting up a bookshelf, using a spirit level to make sure it was completely level. After a few hours’ labour, I stood back and admired the jaunty angle that the bookshelves had assumed. In other words, I failed. And frankly, I am pleased I learnt after a relatively short and innocuous project that DIY and I don’t get on. Can you imagine if I had decided to install my own shower?
  • This business of not wanting to upset kids by using the F word. Good teachers address the work rather than the person, and make it quite clear that pointing out that some work that doesn’t come up to scratch is not the same as saying the pupil is a failure. So this FAIL acronym merely serves to muddy waters that should be crystal clear.
  • Besides, I thought one of the things that schools were meant to be doing is instilling resilience (another current buzzword). I don’t see how you can build up resilience without saying that some things a pupil has done aren’t good enough.
  • The acronym isn’t really logical. What do we call the second attempt “in” learning (horrible grammar too if you ask me)? SAIL? The third attempt? TAIL? Fourth attempt? FAIL? Gotcha!
  • Quite frankly, it’s patronising. What’s even worse is that most kids know when they are being patronised.
  • When the pupil has to take a test or an exam that is externally marked, getting insufficient marks to pass will not earn the pupil a pat on the back with a note from the examiner saying “Well done! This was your First Attempt In Learning”
  • In real life, getting a computer program wrong may have some pretty unfortunate circumstances. Employers and users are highly unlikely to say “Never mind! It was your First Attempt In Learning, so I don’t mind that I’ve wasted a lot of money!”
  • Finally, is there any research evidence saying that using the FAIL acronym has benefits? I haven’t come across any. It sounds to me like the same sort of nonsense that says kids’ self-esteem suffers if you mark their work with a red pen, so you should use a green one. (Incidentally, that is nothing new. My head of department mentioned this to me in 1978.)

In my opinion, we should stop bending over backwards and tying ourselves in knots as if we are doing some sort of advanced mental yoga. Just tell it how it is: honesty is always the best policy.

* If you buy the book via this link, I will earn a small commission from Amazon. Go on, buy it: you know it makes sense!

Self-portrait with coloured pencilsFor more articles like this, plus news, commentary and freebies, sign up for my ezine Digital Education, for great content, longer articles, book reviews, news, comment and guest articles. I’m working on a new issue right now, in fact.


Some interesting-looking computing conferences coming up

There are several conferences coming up in computing, ICT and education technology. If you’re not careful, you could spend all your time and money going to conferences without getting any actual work done! Still, I do think it’s worth going to two or three a year if you can persuade the powers-that-be that it’s in their interests to allow you to attend. So, here’s the current listing. I’m not saying it’s a definitive list, just the ones I know about.


I mention this for the sake of completeness really, because the ISTE conference takes place on June 28th to July 1st, in Philadelphia. I’ve been to ISTE a couple of times, and it is amazing: thousands of educators, loads going on, and fantastic opportunities to meet others and network. It is absolutely worth going to I think if you can get to it. On one occasion Peggy George (who is one of the hosts at Classroom 2.0 Live) and I ran a poster session together, about the free book on Web 2.0, Coming of Age (a seminal work that is still available on the free stuff page on my website).  On each occasion I met a whole load of my heroes, some of whom (bizarrely) regarded me as one of their heroes! Mutual admiration society anyone?

Digital Education conference

Nothing to do with my newsletter of the same name, this conference takes place in London on the 30th June and 1st July. The speaker list includes Sir Ken Robinson, Sugata Mitra, Richard Gerver, Tim Rylands, Sarah Neild, Daisy Christodoulou, Ewan McIntosh, Andy Hutt and many more. There are talks, seminars and workshops, so it looks quite packed.

Some of the topics that will be covered include:

• Using augmented reality to enhance learning

• Enhancing learning through online quizzing: How can big data transform education?

• A practical guide to gamifying learning

• Get safe, get savvy, get social media

• The digital revolution: 20 ideas to transform teaching and learning in your school

• Implementing a digital learning vision into the classroom

• Bridging the digital skills gap: The importance of STEM in education

• Preparing pupils for a super-intelligent future

• 10 top tips for tweeting teachers

There’s a flash sale, if the £95 tickets haven’t run out, and more information here:

Child Internet Safety Summit

This takes place on 3rd July, and I have a code for free entry for five of my newsletter readers. I’ll be putting the link for that in the next edition of the newsletter, which I hope to publish soon. Actually, entry is free anyway if you work in a state school, but everyone else has to pay. The conference website is here:

ITTE Conference

Finally, on the 4th July there is the ITTE conference. ITTE is for teacher trainers in the field of ICT, but I think the conference looks interest enough for teachers and others to attend as well. It’s only £20 too! The theme of the conference is Digital Futures: Shaping tomorrow’s learning and teaching. Details are here:

Self-portrait with coloured pencilsFor more articles like this, plus news, commentary and freebies, sign up for my ezine Digital Education, for great content, longer articles, book reviews, news, comment and guest articles.


7 reasons to have a Computing wishlist

How do you decide what to spend money on when it comes to ed tech? Do you have a list of things you’d like to buy, or do you decide on an ad hoc basis when you read review of software and so on? Do you know how you would spend a small amount, like £10, or do you take the view that unless you’re allowed to spend at least £500 you don’t want to know?

A wishlist can help you think of great ideas!A wishlist is, as the name implies, a list of items you wish you had, and which you would buy if you could. But here’s the killer: a good wish list covers everything, from the ridiculously small to the ludicrously large. But given that money and education are two words not usually found in the same sentence, why bother to create such a list? Here are several reasons.

Ensures you are ready when a windfall occurs

I have sometimes worked in schools that have to break even at the end of the financial year, so that any surplus can be a problem for the management. On one occasion I’ve been asked if I could spend £9,000 (around $14,000) by Friday — it being Monday at the time. Because I had a wishlist, I knew exactly what I could buy with that money, and so was able to take advantage of it. Had that not been the case, the boss would have made the offer to someone else.

Helps keeps you up-to-date with developments and prices

For your wishlist to be any good, it has to be reasonable up-to-date as far as prices (and other things, like versions and models) are concerned. So having a wish list kind of forces you to keep abreast of developments right across the board, and without having to feel guilty about spending time doing that rather than something more immediately useful. Keeping up-to-date is important, because in the scenario I described above, for example, had I needed to spend time researching and amending my wish list, I wouldn’t have got the money because the Principal wanted a definite answer there and then.

Helps you decide on, and change your order of, priorities

A wishlist is useful because it helps you to prioritise in a “what-if?” kind of way. On a superficial level, what you are saying is: “What would I purchase if I had £10? What if I was given £1000?” On a deeper level, your wishlist should reflect your longer-term plans. That means that what you are really saying is: “How could I spend £10 in a way that enables me to meet some of our long-term plans? Ditto £1000?”

Helps you think very big

I know it’s unlikely, but do you know what you would do with, say, £10,000 you didn’t know you were going to get? That actually happened to me once, as I mentioned earlier. The Headteacher came to me one day and said that the Governors had given me £9,000 to spend, double-quick. It’s good to be prepared, as the Boy Scouts say.

Helps you think very small

OK, let me just return to an earlier example for a moment. I asked “What would I purchase if I was given an extra £10?”. Well, you might think that is ludicrous: you could go out for a sandwich and coffee, buy a magazine to read while you’re eating and drinking, and you wouldn’t get much change from £10, so why even bother? If I was a Head of Computing and I was given a tenner, I’d announce a survey to find the most helpful digital leader in the school, and award them a £10 book token or iTunes or Amazon voucher. Or I’d run a competition to design a logo for a new project.

Can help you engage colleagues

If you work with a team of Computing teachers, then involve them in drawing up the wishlist.

Can help you engage kids

Get the kids involved too, through the digital leaders in the school for example.

Self-portrait with coloured pencilsFor more articles like this, plus news, commentary and freebies, sign up for my ezine Digital Education, for great content, longer articles, book reviews, news, comment and guest articles.


Inspiration for students of Computing (and other subjects)

I attended the Apps for Good Awards last night. Very inspiring it was too. As always, the young people were very impressive. Whatever question I threw at them, they were able to answer it. But for now at least, I just wanted to repeat something that the co-CEO of Apps for Good, Debbie Forster, said at the end of the evening.

Girls from The Abbey School talking about their app Problem Pals

Addressing the youngsters who had not won an award, she told them not to feel like failures, that every tech company represented in the room had experienced numerous failures, and that what they should do is carry on pitching.

This is great advice, and not just in the field of technology. I have in my loft a whole boxful of rejection slips from magazines, and I now have quite a few email rejection slips. Every rejection is like a punch in the stomach, but the thing to do, as Winston Churchill said to a roomful of students, is to never, never give up. Persistence pays. In my own case, for instance, not giving up led to my being published in numerous publications (I’ve listed them here).

So, I do hope those kids do take up Debbie’s advice, and also her kind offer to support them in their pitching.

Self-portrait with coloured pencils

For more articles like this, plus news, commentary and freebies, sign up for my ezine Digital Education -- great content, longer articles, book reviews, news, comment and guest articles.


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