Why teaching ICT cannot be abandoned

By Photos public domain.com [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As Russel Tarr’s recent response to a high-profile attack on his methods of teaching the history of the Weimar Republic (1918-33) gathers deservedly increasing views across the Internet, other parts of Michael Gove’s “Mr. Men” speech align with my concerns about the move away from teaching of ICT in schools and its replacement with (the far more high-brow sounding) Computing Science.

“As long as there are people in education making excuses for failure, cursing future generations with a culture of low expectations, denying children access to the best that has been thought and written, because Nemo and the Mister Men are more relevant, the battle needs to be joined.” (Michael Gove, 2013)

Contrast with one of the recommendations from the Next Gen. report mentioned by Michael Gove:

“Recommendation 3: Use video games and visual effects at school to draw greater numbers of young
people into STEM and computer science.” (Next Gen., Ian Livingstone & Alex Hope, 2011)

The draw of the shiny and new! As scenarios go I would far rather create video games or animations related to Finding Nemo or the Mr. Men than Of Mice and Men and Henry V and I’m pretty sure my students would too, given the choice. Seriously though, creating video games and visual effects using industry-standard software applications requires advanced problem solving skills, application of mathematics and physics and understanding of how a computer system can turn instructions into actions on the screen. It also involves management skills, teamwork, design and creativity. My concern is that a large number of schools are using the headline “games design”, “app design” or “computer animation” to try and reverse declining numbers taking the subject, then use the same teaching methods as they did with package skills…

“What has been wrong with education and IT is that it has been very much focused on the clerical aspect of IT – Microsoft Word, Powerpoint – and that has gone into every remit of the curriculum. It is about giving students access and inspiration so when they go into the wider world of work they are part of the technological advances of the country.” (Depute Principal of St Matthew Academy, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16186705)

“It was a boring set of documents that encouraged boring teaching of boring tasks in a field which should be one of the most exciting in education. The ICT curriculum we inherited was a tedious run-through the use of applications which were becoming obsolete even as the curriculum was being written.” (Michael Gove again, 2013)

But look at this: Lucasfilm want Interns! A quick glance at the essential and desired skills required for a role in Singapore – riding high in a recent index of cognitive skills and educational attainment – the  show a need for:

Education, Experience and Skills:

  • Interest in film production, digital games and media arts preferred
  • Workplace professionalism
  • Multitasking skills – Working on multiple projects with strict deadlines
  • Ability to work well in a multi-cultural team environment with diverse personalities
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills
  • Computer skills: Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook. FileMaker Pro experience a plus.

So an interest in digital media would be desired but most important are: social skills, time management, presentation skills and ICT skills to aid communication (wouldn’t that be classed as clerical skills?). The only other nod to multimedia computing on the page is a request to “link to your online/downloadable reel or portfolio (if you have these)”. Yes this is just one example but highlights the need for continued teaching of ICT. Perhaps just in a different way?

As a programmer I’m glad the focus has been shifted back to using computer systems to create software or link to hardware devices such as the Raspberry Pi or Arduino but without ICT skills linked to the essential processes involved in the world of work and Higher Education, you risk creating skilled coders who are unable to apply for and retain the jobs waiting for them to fill.

“For children who have become digital natives and who speak fluent technology as an additional language, the ICT curriculum was clearly inadequate.” (more from Michael Gove, 2013)

Perhaps rigour in teaching ICT skills and ensuring that the skills they learn are relevant to the rest of the curriculum at the right time would make them more useful. I’m keen on not having ICT on the timetable as it identifies it as a unique entity – unrelated to other subjects the student encounters at school. Tracking progress at primary school and allowing individual students to follow challenging pathways which further develop their skills is tricky to plan and implement, but I think also extremely important.

Here’s why: Children are, in the main, not digital natives. They might wear the badge with honour but, without developing their understanding of what a “digital native” actually is, you may find they are wearing that badge upside down. Students may be confident enough to explore and experiment when faced with a new software application but find it very difficult to recall practical skills when the Computing department see them for around an hour each week (if you’re lucky!).

The solution mooted in Scotland a few years ago was to teach ICT in every subject and leave the programming and multimedia-specific elements to Computing Science teachers. Increased exposure to tasks which relied on students applying their ICT skills to solve problems, create reports or prepare presentations would reinforce practical skills and re-engage disaffected learners. Great idea, poorly planned and implemented due to a stunning lack of staff CPD, limited resources for using ICT in all subjects, corporate filtering and application deployment systems and push-back by subject teachers who felt they had enough to cover already without also including ICT in their remit. It is understandable: staff need to trust that the technology will work consistently enough to be able to teach their subject content. If it is unreliable and the root cause is not remedied, it will be treated as a strategy that does not provide benefit to the student – and abandoned.

The current pedagogy of how ICT lessons are delivered, assessed and reinforced must change to suit the needs of the individual learner.

Breaking out of the silo? The VLE formerly known as Glow

I’ve been out of the Glow-sphere for eighteen months now. In that time I have been waiting patiently for parental logins, sighing knowingly when my 8 year old daughter describes forced IT lessons using Glow as the medium (and if she realises they’re forced, something is seriously wrong with using Glow to enhance learning and teaching) and reading – with increasing interest – the often faltering attempts to rebuild Glow as a serious VLE built for learning and teaching but that also allows students and teachers to move beyond the silo and harness the myriad services that exist on the Internet for digital creation, curation and citizenship.

A Digital Learning Environment for Scottish Schools clearly states that teachers “should be trusted to use their professional judgment in how ICT should be used.”, enabling staff to decide how best to use Internet-based or locally installed services to augment their learning and teaching. Some staff will be more comfortable in finding and utilising these services than others, so ICTEx proposed that ‘best of breed’ services should be made available through a national schools Intranet (they have called it Glow+ in their document). The accelerating pace of change in both hardware platforms and software resources means that any solution has to be future-proof and this means that (1) the system must be easily adaptable with regard to access, platform and cost (2) the interface must be device agnostic (3) it should be a springboard for innovation in the classroom, not a constraint.

This goes against the grain of the original Glow design – already out of date when I first saw it in 2006. At that point the security was so tight that access to resources from another school was near impossible, there was no search functionality to make links with other teachers and your individual upload limit was 5MB. There was no option to access via a mobile device (I’m still amazed at how quickly the smartphone explosion has changed the way we demand to access services, but even so I wasn’t designing a future-proof national intranet for Scottish Schools) and no way for students to get feedback or inspiration from those outside of their school but completing the same certificate course.

Admittedly there was an attempt to improve things but, by then, it was too little and far too late. Glow as it exists today is suffering from dwindling numbers of users due to the development of freely available VLE competitors, tech-savvy teachers setting up their own Moodle / Google Sites / hand-built solution or formerly positive teachers becoming disenfranchised with utilising technology in their classes and being forced to use Glow over any other solution by their local authorities.

I’ve sat in on enough seminars, workshops and online discussions to know that the current demand is to utilise existing services in a way that makes the learning outcome greater than the sum of its (online) parts. Rather than having data hidden in silos, unable to control who has access to the information you created, actively sharing content across a number of web services to develop digital citizenship skills and engage students creatively and collaboratively is rightly placed high on the educational agenda. The last two years of presentations at the Scottish Learning Festival have taught me that there is no single solution to the problem of enhancing learning and teaching through the use of technology.

The way the solutions were shared was consistent but the solutions themselves were disconnected. Research and development was inefficient. Schools still remain silos of ideas unless you happen to have connected to an individual teacher in another establishment via social media, email or good old face-to-face meetings. The only difference in these methods of communication is speed of access.

One development that may encompass the aims of the ICTEx group as well as provide a means of sharing good practice between educational establishments is Glew, a single sign-on service that allows access to a variety of Web 2.0 or social sites. Since initial creation in late 2011 Cults Academy Teacher of Computing Charlie Love has utilised the Agile model of development to quickly extend the functionality of his Glew service based on user feedback. The current iteration utilises GlewTiles – a user interface based on Windows Metro – to allow users to customise their Glew desktop.

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Glew is accessible from desktops, tablets and smartphones. Visit http://www.glew.org.uk to sign up to the service and try it for yourself. Then tell Charlie what you’d like him to add!

Using Edmodo to Engage Learners From Day 1

Over the past week I have been introducing my S3, S5 and S6 pupils to their myriad Edmodo groups and getting them to set up their profiles, communication preferences and folders. Compared to last session (BE: Before Edmodo) the learners have hit the ground running with regard to interacting with their peers and making a contribution to class discussion.

I introduced Edmodo as an electronic extension of their classroom. This helped set out my expectations quickly without having to labour through lists of rules. Over three quarter of the 31 pupils surveyed found setting up their pupil accounts straightforward and our mechanisms to ensure an element of data privacy (if not protection) – first name and initial of surname only, and no real profile photographs – were easy to implement.

Opening tasks were straightforward but promoted collaboration and contribution. For example my S3 class were investigating the different graphical user interfaces encountered on mobile devices and making notes in their jotters for a future lesson. While they did so I took photographs of their devices and uploaded each one to Edmodo. The class were then encouraged to either log in or use the mobile app from home and claim the photo of their device and say why they liked or chose that particular make or model. So far, over half of the class have successfully completed the task (and the follow up dialogue!) and been awarded the “Alert” badge I created for learners who keep up to date with their group posts outside of class time.

My Higher Computing class, who began today by learning how to play and then extend the card game War, Shove Ha’penny and Penny Football, were then set a paper-based challenge entitled Mia’s Maze. This task was a Primary 2 homework  sheet dutifully completed by my daughter a few years ago but is, I think, perfect for reinforcing the need for establishing good boundaries before developing winning strategies. The target is zero or lower. I used Edmodo to successfully share a video of the solution but want to encourage my learners to start submitting their own screencasts or video responses in the coming weeks.

Out of all the benefits to me as a teacher I think the top one is the quick construction of positive relationships with the classes. Already I feel I know more about my S3 and S5 classes than I usually would at this stage in the term (less than 1 week in!). Also all my learners are included in the dialogue. They can take time to formulate and express their opinions and connect more with the lesson objectives. I’m excited to find out if continued use of Edmodo will help deepen their understanding of the course.

I thought I’d finish with a quick Edmodo tip: if you want to award badges to multiple pupils from your group. Right click on each desired pupil name in the posts section of Edmodo and select “Open in a new tab”. This allows you to award the pupil their badge and then close that tab while still being able to see what is going on with the rest of the group.

Are we insulating our 21C learners from critical thinking?

Today is the 30th anniversary of the ZX Spectrum. This little box of wires, alongside some forward-thinking parents who patiently saved up to buy one for the family, crafted my career plans and interests from a very early age. Five to be precise. I know I am not alone in being introduced to computers at this early an age, especially in the 1980s, but to me there is a clear difference between the children using iPads and those who used ZX Spectrums (or their contemporaries): real critical thinking.

Today’s computers provide so much functionality and are so integral to the day-to-day life of the family there is much less time dedicated to tinkering. Even when your child gets a chance to experiment they are insulated from the core functions of the computer by helpful graphical user interfaces, voice recognition, touch screens and thousands of pre-written apps. So your toddler can swipe and pinch an iPad screen? Fantastic, but in ten years time how much further will they have progressed? Computer experience akin to bubble wrapping the user is rarely going to inspire, but what about if they could move on to change the way the iPad functioned without the need for expensive developer licences or extra hardware? What if they could tinker, knowing that if the worst happened they could reboot to a stable state and start again?

You thought this was another plug for the Raspberry Pi didn’t you? Not this time. To my dismay, the same insulation is happening in the classroom. As teachers we strive to make learning accessible to all, so we create many ways to access the same information: text, presentations, podcasts, video lessons, wikis, blogs. And we keep doing it, adding an extra layer to the fact bubble surrounding our learners. We explain, they absorb and we watch for signs that they aren’t understanding it before adding another layer and starting again. I’ve experienced this more and more in the last seven years of teaching and think the solution is as simple as the ZX Spectrum itself. Users who tinkered with the computer engaged more deeply than those who simply tried to load a tape: learners who tinker with the resources should more fully grasp the concepts contained within them. As teachers we should stop removing the possibility for divergent thinking from our learners by overloading them with all the solutions in all 52 flavours.

Today, in not so many words, I was asked to provide transcripts for videos which I had selected and included in a set of theory notes. Admittedly this was the first time I had heard this kind of request but then again two years ago I wasn’t recording video summaries. Or dividing up my non-contact time into podcast friendly chunks. It made me stop and think – is this approach actually helping or hindering my pupils? Is our eagerness to engage removing the challenge and spark or interpreting knowledge in a unique way?

Getting ready for a safari

Tomorrow I take my laptop, preloaded with Safari Photo Africa – Wild Earth, to the Junior school to immerse the class in a scenario closely linked to the work they are doing with their primary teacher. I only have an hour with them, so want to make sure everything is set up to work as quickly as possible.

Originally I had wanted to make use of a Nintendo Wii with Wild Earth African Safari but this was not possible (or affordable) as a proof of concept in the timeframe available, so I found an old copy of Safari Photo Africa – Wild Earth for PC and installed it on my laptop.
It looks brilliant when displayed on the data projector and allows the players to take part in a virtual animal photograph safari – taking shots for magazine articles. The photos taken in the games are automatically saved to the user’s My Pictures directory on the PC, meaning that they can be used in other applications at a later date. I think this is also possible in the Nintendo Wii version of the game but imagine it’s a little trickier to get the images onto a PC.

 

When you complete an assignment your photos are inserted into a magazine article = instant reward!

 

The main advantage of a Nintendo Wii over a laptop is that the wireless wii controller supports exploration of the game by groups of learners sat in front of the SmartBoard. I’ve read posts by Dawn Hallybone and Nicky Newbury who maximise the interactivity of the class by pairing up learners and having one pupil move and the other take the photographs. The laptop could allow this but would mean a lot of moving around and swapping places, so I wanted to try and find the best way to interact with the game wirelessly. There is a GyroMouse in my classroom but no sign of drivers or installation CDs and I wanted to be able to use the keyboard wirelessly as well. Then I remembered reading about using an iPod Touch as a wireless mouse and found Logitech TouchMouse, an app which not only allows users to control the mouse pointer on the PC using the portable device but also access its keyboard. I installed it and after a little bit of fiddling with Windows 7’s firewall settings (you need to allow it to access the Private networks, not Public – go through Control Panel for this) I got it to work!

The only issue with using the iPod Touch as a wireless controller is that it needs a wifi connection that is shared with the laptop to communicate. This is a real issue in school where there are no wireless routers and a very tight rein on network security. When I was Mobile Learning Leader for Inverurie Academy I investigated using the school’s MacBook White to set up ad-hoc wifi networks to allow iPods to access the Internet. There was little success with the Internet-access part, but the iPods were all able to communicate with each other. If only there was a way to do this in Windows 7 I thought – and luckily enough, there is!

After a little Google searching I found Virtual Router – a freeware program which allows your laptop to be set up as a wifi hotspot with the intention of sharing its Internet connection with other devices. Set up is incredibly simple – you give your ad-hoc network a name and a password and it uses WPA2 encryption to ensure no rogue devices interfere with the laptop!

“at this moment i am typing part of my blog using the ipod touch wireless keyboard – i have turned off all connection to the INTERNET and only had to restart the logitech touchuse wireless server!”

It seems to work best if you access the iPod app before starting the Logitech TouchMouse wireless server. If you don’t you may find that the devices don’t connect.

Unfortunately although the keyboard presses do get sent to the laptop, using the keyboard for games control seems impossible. Neither Logitech nor HippoRemote Lite allowed me to control the game character so I may need to allow one child to use the laptop. This may mean one learner is looking at the laptop screen instead of the SmartBoard but if I can position the laptop in a suitable place it may be a minor issue.

I ran through the first assignment on my own and it took about 40 minutes – too long for the lesson tomorrow but if I can set up saved games to allow the class to jump in at appropriate points (meeting the elephant herd for the first time, giraffes grazing, the swimming crocodiles around the elderly elephants) I feel that the class will be able to generate excellent material for their podcasts.

If you have been using computer games to augment your teaching and learning I highly recommend you visit the Consolarium site. This service, offered by Education Scotland (new name for LT Scotland) aims to explore and share how the appropriate use of computer games can have a positive impact on teaching and learning. It has received international praise and attention, and for good reason.

TeachMeet Aberdeen October 2011

On Wednesday evening I once again found myself at MacRobert Building, University of Aberdeen six months on from the last one organised primarily by Stuart Brown. The wikispace advertising the TeachMeet can be found here and, in addition to this, Stuart made use of social media to extend the reach of the promotional material. This approach, along with the assistance of Jim and Linda at the University in selecting the optimum date for engaging PGDE and BEd students, resulted in over 60 attending the evening. At times the online stream had viewers into double figures but we were beset with technical issues, most disruptive was the lack of constant wifi and this seriously hampered our online impact as well as preventing the planned link up with TeachMeet Strathclyde. However the evening could be considered a success and as we were able to record most of the presentations on the laptop I hope we can – in time – share the talks with a wider audience.

To whet your appetite, here is a YouTube playlist of the May 2011 TeachMeet Aberdeen presentations.

When I find the time to edit and upload the individual presentations to YouTube I’ll update this post but I’ve included my notes on each presentation and relevant links to the web sites mentioned.

Stuart Brown – “Why de ye bother with aww that?’ – Justifying the use of ICT in the classroom

Stuart Brown: "the way we communicate is changing"

I felt this was an excellent start to the night. Stuart highlighted the fact that 19C teaching methods and environments are not suited to 21C learning. That most pupils have access to instantaneous information using devices which are often more technologically advanced than the computers and resources available in school puts today’s teachers at a disadvantage. I agreed (through gritted teeth as I recognised the phrase “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater” from many unfocussed, confused presentations on implementation of Curriculum for Excellence) with Stuart on the need for all teachers to adapt, not rebuild to ensure that we are serving our learners sufficiently. I recommend you watch Stuart’s last TeachMeet talk (May 2011) which is a stepping stone to this presentation.

I loved the phrase Stuart used in the presentation “to stratify education” – but felt it needed explanation. Internet searches show this to be standarisation of education or use of standard tests and tracking methods.

Ian Simpson – “Becoming Orson: Podcasting the War of The Worlds”

I did this so I won’t comment for long on the actual presentation. On reflection this talk was a little early, my lunchtime podcasting group had only been working on this for about 5 weeks (30-40mins per week) and despite their excellent progress there was little evidence to share with the teachers present. However it was a good starting point for a future presentation (maybe TeachMeet Aberdeen October 2012?) on how these learners have self-organised themselves into an amateur radio drama production group. After working with them the day after the presentation and seeing how they continued to innovate and collaborate with the newly-arrived high quality microphones I have high hopes of achieving our ambitious target to have recorded and shared the full radio play by next October. Follow the progress via this blog or my twitter stream @familysimpson.

In addition Dave Adams, DO Curriculum and Quality Improvement Service for South Lanarkshire, got in touch in September and kindly sent his ideas based around the 1938 Orson Welles War of The Worlds radio play for CBS. I’ve emailed Dave to see if these lesson ideas are publicly available and will update the links section if this is the case.

Nikki Stobbie – Random Name Generator

Nikki Stobbie describes how she uses classtools.net with her classes

A presentation from a press-ganged student! Nikki showed us http://www.classtools.net and, in particular, the random name generator. Great resource to use in class and a great 2 minute presentation!

Mark Hay – ‎”Look what I did…” E-Portfolio’s using glow wiki

I didn’t see this presentation as I had to run to the shop for supplies but will update once I’ve extracted the presentation from the video clips currently sitting on my laptop.

Martin Coutts – “Maths is just a game”  – Using GBL to raise attainment

Martin showed how he used Mangahigh with an Access 3 / Foundation class to improve their motivation and attainment. Pupils were taught maths through combination of games and Prodigi technique. Competitive aspect through bronze, silver and gold and school leaderboard. Martin especially recommends sigma prime.

Kathryn Roper – “GeoBus – A mobile Earth Science Resource”

GeoBus: based at St Andrews University but a national funded resource for secondary schools (or P7 at a push). Kathryn seems very passionate about Earth Science and claims to be able to develop activities to suit your curricular area.

GeoBus launches January 2012 but those interested can get in touch with Kathryn now via kathryn.roper@mac.com

Gretchen Perk exemplified how she uses the Frayer model to enhance literacy

Gretchen Perk – “Frayer Model in Literacy”

Meldrum Academy English teacher Gretchen spoke about the Frayer Model which is a “vocab aquisition graphic builder”. She found it great for more effective learning of keywords through use of higher order skills such as analysis and synthesis. I personally found the use of non-examples especially useful. Gretchen highlighted the fact that it is a good teaching strategy for all subjects I’m already thinking about how to use this with Computing classes.

Charlie Barrow – An outward facing classroom using Augmented Reality – Junaio

Charlie repeated his May 11 talk on using augmented reality in the classroom but wanted to inspire teachers to build an Aberdeenshire channel for augmented reality. I’ve included the video of his presentation from May and hope to be working with him in the future on his vision for an Aberdeenshire channel.

More information on his own use of augmented reality in the classroom can be found at http://www.charlesbarrow.com

Stephanie Orr – Medieval Law and Order

Stephanie gave a quick 2-min presentation on using games in class to motivate and educate by stealth. http://www.tudorbritain.org/joust

Ed Walton – Fusion, Meta-cognition and The Learning Story

Presentation written during teachmeet! Ed shared how Fraserburgh Academy used Glow effectively to dissemenate work to pupils unable to attend school during snowdays. Three themes; fusion, meta-cognition And the learning story. Ed showed snow work posted for AH on glow featuring embedded prezis for self-directed learning, stagework.org which allows users to be the director for a scene from His Dark Materials. It looked fantastic! Ed showed Comic Life which he has used with classes and whole-school assemblies to explain meta-cognition. Finally Ed explained how Fraserburgh Academy has been using Honeycomb / I Can as a trial school to build an ePortfolio which remains with the child as they progress from primary through secondary. I was interested to note that because data is stored on a separate server from Glow there is no upload limit so videos and large image files can be posted. To be honest the presentation was actually 3 or 4 but there was lots of useful information.

Darren Gibb describes how he uses a variety of ICT tools to enhance learning and teaching in the English classroom

Darren Gibb – ICT teaching and learning tools

The last talk of the night was delivered by Darren Gibb, teacher of English at Banchory Academy. He exemplified many ICT tools that has augmented his learning and teaching. Again the audience was treated to a suite of presentations on different services from Todaysmeet to Evernote, Wikispaces to Glow.

Threshold adventurers, my reflections on #SLF11

On Wednesday this week I attended my first Scottish Learning Festival at the SECC in Glasgow.

The first seminar was entitled Literacy Through Technology. HT of Dalmarnock Primary Nancy Clunie explained how the school first used blogs, wikis, then a dedicated website to engage the entire school in an international exchange through the Comenius programme offered by the British Council. I was particularly interested in attending this seminar as blogging has not yet been embedded in my current school and I was keen find out as much as I could about proven benefits to learning and potential technical issues to aid future whole school dialogue. Nancy showed how her school used eTwinning to improve pupil literacy in their email and blog exchanges with students in other schools in the European Union. Nancy explained that her pupils were struck by how few spelling errors were in posts made by Polish students. They decided that they should be extra careful with their own communications because of this, but Nancy did point out that although their electronic literacy improved it did not translate to their written work! Other projects and events mentioned included a multi-lingual book club and a Eurovision Song Contest-esque competition to choose a logo for their See The Sea project but Nancy was most proud of the direct communication between her pupils and those from other schools using Flashmeeting software.

After a morning negotiating the stands I was really looking forward to Tim Laver’s (@laverminded) seminar on how he has used Little Big Planet 2 as a teaching aid in his History classes. Tim began using PS3 and LBP2 after a pupil suggested he take a look at the game. He was hooked on the potential of its application in History. Although most of the levels have been created by Tim, he took time to explain that it was not educationally viable to have each pupil creating a level with the rest of the class passively watching and waiting their turn (after using the PS3 and Little Big Planet with classes in the past I can completely understand this point!!). Tim realised that the process of designing the levels were more challenging and engaging for the pupils and required a deep understanding of the topic and how these facts or concepts could be presented as a game so he created a series of worksheets to focus pupils on thinking carefully about their proposed learning outcomes. The pupils were later involved in selecting three of the level designs for creation through peer evaluation and these levels were created by Tim – who admitted this was a time consuming process – but he then showed us these games in action to highlight the high quality of level design shown by the pupils and the high impact presentation possible within Little Big Planet 2. Tim is adding video walkthroughs of these games to the littlebighistory channel on YouTube and plans to continue adding to this extremely creative resource.

I feel I scored with my choice of keynote. Sir John Jones was captivating as he explained to a packed house why he thinks The Future Is Not What It Was. How positive language can have such a beneficial effect on a child and how it can be used effectively in shaping responsible behaviour and how negative language, delivered off-the-cuff can “shred” a child’s confidence. How inspirational, emotional, caring teachings make a difference through RINGing education (making it relevant, interesting, naughty and having a giggle).

Click here to watch his SLF11 keynote

He regularly had the audience in stitches, especially when he used images of increasingly bigger cranes to highlight the benefits of double-loop thinking rather than brute-force repetition. He asked teachers to become threshold adventurers (I prefer this label to his magic weavers alternative), to allow the positive active kids to thrive: (they) “are in your face – is that not what we want?”. We all want engaged minds, not passive viewers and through personalisation of learning, a good relationship with your pupils and by teaching a love of the subject rather than a capacity to recall facts for an exam we will ensure that “they will be smart enough”… if we are good enough.

On the train home I reflected on the messages I took from each of the seminars and from exploring the stands at SLF11:

  1. All three talks promoted collaboration, passion and going the extra mile to help pupils achieve their potential.
  2. Blogs, websites and wikis are not new technologies and pupils should be using them to make learning relevant, accessible 24/7, interesting and to develop their skills as digital citizens.
  3. Well planned use of games consoles can inspire a class as well as providing teachers with a useful revision tool (passive and interactive)
  4. YouTube or other suitable video sharing services are of great benefit to educators in engaging pupils and creating the right conditions for a flipped classroom.
The only slight negative to my experience of SLF11 was the comments from other educators that it “wasn’t as good as previous years”. I heard this a lot – in the queue for coffee, in the main foyer, on the low-level train back from the SECC, even on Twitter. I can’t comment as this was my first year and I personally got a lot of great CPD from the event – CPD which would not have been as effective if I had simply watched the videos online. I hope that SLF continues to be a real-life event and that as many educators as possible benefit from the community and collaboration that these kinds of events offer.

Helping to elicit the stories…

A Wild Question

I love first thing Monday morning. Does that make me weird? Since starting my new job I have been fortunate to be able to teach primary school classes as well as secondary pupils. The role of an ICT specialist as opposed to that of a secondary classroom teacher is quite different: to begin with the class sizes are larger but the main difference is that ICT is taught to enhance the project work primary pupils are undertaking in their current term – the aim of curriculum for excellence in secondary school. This has a number of benefits: extrinsic motivation, longer learning periods (comparatively – perhaps not true for all schools), deeper learning. Also as the ICT needs to help pupils progress toward completion of their termly topics, it requires more in depth knowledge/experience from the teacher.

For example, I am preparing my primary 7 pupils to record and edit an interview. The ICT part is teaching Audacity skills but I also have to frame it within good interview and audio production techniques. This means lots of question and answer sessions with the class, quickly building a good relationship with the pupils is important when they are going to be recording their voice and receiving honest, constructive feedback. So I made sure that I exemplified bad interview technique during the first week and then referred to it in the second. This shows that I am comfortable making mistakes in their presence, hopefully building trust for future lessons where I hope they can make mistakes without fear!

Anyway Monday’s lesson focussed on questioning skills. I wanted them to realise that they needed to think carefully about their questions and try to get the interviewee to share their story instead of give a short response. The pupils combined audio clips to match a text transcript of selected closed questions I had asked them during last week’s lesson and then the responses the pupils gave me. We then listened to the restructured audio and discussed how to adapt these closed questions to elicit a story – or at least more detail! There was some great discussion at this point about what could be classed as an open and closed question – I just sat back and let it happen around me. Learning was clearly in progress and I would just interrupt it if I butted in!

The pupils then worked on their own examples of open questions and we finished the class with the pupils interviewing me using a few of their questions. They really did themselves proud by eliciting a few stories from me and by listening carefully to inform their follow-up questions. I can’t wait until next Monday morning!

Photograph courtesy of [F]oxymoron – A Wild Question: http://www.flickr.com/photos/f-oxymoron/5005673112/ (creative commons)

S1 discuss what makes a great password

The pupils arrived today; The decoration stopped and the teaching started. I’m actually really happy with what I’ve managed to create in a few days – it’s by no means finished but the space is there for pupil work. The opening lessons, as always, are to remind pupils of expectations and to outline good account security before they get to log in for the first time. The difference between today’s lesson and my previous experience is the level of thought most of these pupils put into their answers. In the end I had gathered possibly the best ideas I’ve had from S1 pupils ever – a great start if we want to have these pupils leaving Higher Education with what Professor Alan Bundy suggests is a more positive qualification for computer science degrees. I’ve included the pupil quotes below each image to show how deeply they were thinking about this.

With regard to Curriculum for Excellence, outcome TCH02-08a is on the money although a little basic for the age group. HWB3-16a is suitable as the class were discussing ways to keep their account safe from unauthorised access, reducing the risk of their personal information being misused or stolen.

not password, it’s too easy

it could be the first thing that comes into your head

i like using a wacky word and then adding something like 1,2,3 to it… why? because numbers on the end of the word make a password more secure

you could have a normal word but with capital letters at random in the word

i sometimes use a word – like “password” but then have the word again – only backwards… so it would be like “passworddrowssap”

you should use something personal… some personal words or numbers… which only you would know was important

you could take the initial from each word in a sentence… like “what makes a great password?”… yes, and that would be wmagp.

you could use numbers that mean something to you… how many numbers do you think would be secure?… eh, about 4… at least 4… like a PIN number?… yes. that would be good.

you could take a normal word and move your keys to a different point on the keyboard… but still make the same shape as the original word… do you mean something like a cypher?… YES! like the code wheel where you change the letters…

you could have a collection of letters and numbers… quite a few…the more you have the harder to guess

i might take two words and jumble the letters up to make my password… wouldn’t that be difficult to remember?… not if you had one letter from the first word then one letter from the second word…

it should be easy to remember

… yes, but also difficult for friends to guess.

I then told them about a scenario where I had many different accounts that needed passwords and that I had found a great password to use so used the same one for all the different accounts. We then talked about how I could adapt those passwords to make them more secure but also just as easy to remember…

you should put numbers at the end of the password… 1,2,3,4… then they’ll all be different… how do you know which account should have which password?… hmm… (another pupil jumps in)… you could use abbreviations of the site you are logging into like “fb” for facebook, “yt” for youtube and just put that at the end of your password…

you could change letters in the word to a number…. like an O to a zero…

what about punctuation in the password?

The next class discussed alternative ideas such as keyboard shapes (they didn’t like QWERTYUIOP though, especially when I admitted that my work password 10 years ago was 1qaz2wsx!), visual prompts such as a password inspired by a sticker on a screen or a poster near to the desk they use or a colour, and we got into a discussion about how long a great password should be. The consensus was that a number of no more than 6 to 8 digits would be acceptable, but more characters if words were used.

Finally we did a quite straw poll of the length of each pupil’s password. Average was 10-11 characters but one pupil told us his was 46 characters long… AND THEN TOLD US WHAT IT WAS! Oops.

Does any educator have some suggestions to add to this list?

Using iPod Touches in the classroom #3

Thanks for your comments, tweets and face-to-face discussions regarding the previous posts on using iPod Touches in the classroom (part 1 / part 2). This blog post concentrates on the issue of using QR codes with a mobile device that doesn’t have a camera!

I met with a colleague from the Aberdeenshire iPod Development Group this week to share what we were doing and to see if there was potential to work together. They discussed an idea to use the iPods in an outdoor learning exercise and wondered about using QR codes to allow pupils to access educational resources while exploring a forest.

I’d also been reflecting on using QR codes within the school for an iPod treasure hunt and we had both realised that the lack of a camera on the iPod Touch 3G made this tricky. Tricky but not impossible. The BeeTagg Reader Pro app (currently free) can read QR codes (and other types) from the iPod Photo Library!

I had successfully tried this app before but wanted to know if I could put more information into the image containing the QR code. This would allow the pupils to be able to differentiate between them in the Photo Library. I tried adding some text underneath the QR code and transferred this image to the Photo Library.

It worked! However the text is a little difficult to read on the small screen, especially when you only have the smaller tile view of the Photo Library. So next I tried colour-coding the QR code images.

 

It worked as well! I imagine that colour-coded or labelled QR codes could be printed out and placed in appropriate locations (either in the forest or within the school. Or even within your classroom!). The pupils could match up the QR code to the ones pre-stored in the Photo Library and then access the material on their mobile device. This method also enables use of mobile devices with cameras, so has longevity if planned correctly. The material linked to the QR codes can also be modified without having to reprint the labels so resources can be tweaked to improve pupil learning at will.

There are more pressing concerns as to how the content will be stored on the iPods or accessed from within a forest (I imagine you’ll need a 3G signal for internet access unless you can set up some kind of adhoc wifi network in the trees!) but allowing pupils to access this content quickly means mobile devices already have a significant benefit to classroom teachers.