Welcome to the festive-fifth in the weekly series of top-IT-tips, where I layer sarcasm upon a genuine desire to  to get everyone using technology to enhance teaching and learning.

For the last passive-aggressive article before Christmas I thought I’d tackle something seasonal.

Don’t use Computers as End-of-term entertainment

This is a bit weird, as I write this whilst all my students are engaged in competitively playing video games as part of our Community day activity; I’m not disparaging the practice of games on computers, or even students using them as entertainment – you can structure valuable learning activities around games – what I am crusading against is the end of term practice of “You’ve finished your work, so find something to do on the computer”.


Allowing students that have completed work to entertain themselves with whatever they can find online, with social media sites being blocked by most schools this normally translates to students ending up playing flash games whilst all around them are focussing on the work at hand.

This seems like a good idea initially, it gives the students something to work towards, the “if I can get my work done faster I can go on games!” attitude is something that does actually work to motivate students to complete the work at hand. Well yes, but students do end up rushing the work to get there and this builds an unrealistic expectation that they can ‘go on games’ whenever they happen to have finished some work. You may think this is harmless in KS3, but students’ expectations are solidified in that time and they expect to still have ‘game time’ in KS4 and KS5.

All I’d ask is this, in a normal lesson would you allow them to go and do whatever they wanted when they’d finished their work? Students tap dancing and playing tennis next to people furiously trying to finish an essay? No? Then why do we find an exception when we sit in a computer room?


It’s nearly Christmas. Students have worked really hard and there’s only a lesson to go. I know, I’ll be nice to them just before the holidays and anyone who finishes the work from last time will be able to go on games. This is great as the next piece of work they’re starting is quite fussy so I need to explain in in detail, and then they’d forget, so I’d have to do it again when they get back from the break.

Better just to do that, surely. It’s the end of term, they’re only watching videos in other lessons, aren’t they?


  • Yes, it works as a nice incentive, but what are you incentivising? The practice that completing and handing work in quickly leads to rewards? Is that something we really need to be encouraging? When I’ve seen students being encouraged with this practice in the past the end result is rushed work of a worse quality than usual
  • Students are much more focussed on the end result of them completing the work than the actual work, and if you’re counting on them remembering or embedding the concepts from your lesson then I’m afraid it’s not going to happen. They’re going to remember how close they were to beating level 6 on Mario instead.
  • If you use this as an incentive more than once then students will come to expect it, in fact at the end of term if you actually need to get work done then you’ll face a lot of resistance from the students who are used to, and expecting to, play games for the lesson.
  • Students forget there was any work in that lesson, and will begin to associate the end of term with simply playing games and enjoying themselves, meaning that they will start to switch off much earlier toward the end of term than they would otherwise.
  • Students playing games always disturb the concentration of those around them, because whilst little Jimmy is enjoying another round of Space Invaders poor Johnny is labouring away on his coursework but being distracted by flashing lights and furious tapping of the keyboard
  • The students’ experience of using a computer is that there is a reward of games at the end of it, meaning that when you intend to use a computer for proper academic work the student is more concerned with speeding through it
  • Students don’t realise there’s anything wrong with playing games when work is done, so often when they complete a piece of work will immediately leap onto a game rather than improve, critique or seek out new work. I have had many conversations with students asking why they thought it was acceptable to play a game rather than ask what to do next. It’s frustrating!
  • Students often attempt to multi-task with a game and work at the some time, an impossible task
  • Students always want to ‘do this on a computer’, as they expect games as a reward, therefore perfectly acceptable and useful non-computer based activities will be seen as ‘boring’ and ‘pointless’
  • Students are spending part of their lesson not actively learning anything. They have little enough time being taught as it is so why not use the time effectively?


Why not just start the new piece of work? Yes you might have to talk through it twice, but students will at least be learning right up until then end. If you want to be nice to them then don’t give them any homework, come on, we’re teachers – we should teach!

Okay, so actually you want something a bit more festive and fun, then why not let the students access pre-selected educational games? There are plenty of websites that pass content quizzes off as video games where students have to answer questions to build up enough points to play a few minutes of Pacman, and that’s totally cool, as students are still learning or being assessed.

Honestly though, if you’ve thought through your differentiation properly then you should have a never ending, exciting task for your high ability students to be engaged with – a task that’s open ended enough to last you if that student has completed all of the work they need to have done. Relying on games to keep your students going needn’t be a thing you have to use.

Now my students are working right up until the end of term, they’re not switching off and when they go to their next lesson then that teacher will benefit from the students still being in work mode. I’m stopping holiday creep (where students switch-off earlier and earlier) and demonstrate an extremely positive work ethic. Without them being used to playing games then they won’t expect it, and if they don’t expect it you can teach more ensuring the student gets the most benefit from their time in school.


  • Simply never allow students time on games if they’ve ‘finished the work’, it leads to bad habits and expectations of frivolity when work is the important thing
  • Always plan for differentiation by making sure that there’s always an open ended extension task that allows early finishers to extend their knowledge on your subject rather than improve their hand-eye coordination in Doom
  • If you are being nagged by an entire class for games as a reward then only ever concede to educational games, ones that you have pre-approved; if you’re a hard nut for not playing games then they will love this small concession and still be learning things
  • Students need to always be focussed on where we are, and what’s coming next; so by removing the end of term games from the equation then they are always preparing, at least mentally, for the next challenge
  • Computers will be seen more as work devices when the students are in school, and you will have to do less policing of student’s ‘entertaining themselves’ because they’ve ‘got no work to do’
  • Attendance remains higher toward the end of term because the time in school is not seen as a waste of time; remember, they’ve got better games sitting at home!


I’m no Scrooge, but letting gaming into you lesson without an educational reason is going to impact negatively on your students learning and your ability to set taxing, entertaining lessons towards the end of the term. Over time this holiday creep will write off entire weeks of time. If you aim to stop that now then you’ll have much more in the way of usable teaching time when you need it more.

Students that are not expecting to go on a game when they finish their work will be more likely to extend and stretch their learning, improving their attainment in the process. You’ll also find it easier to manage the computer classroom for the rest of the year because expectations will be that the computers are for working and games are frowned upon.

So try being a gaming miser, and don’t use it as an incentive, because it’s unsustainable.

Otherwise you’re doing IT wrong, and if you are, maybe you need my book…


Welcome to the fourth in the weekly series of top-IT-tips, officially the world’s most sarcastic effort to get everyone using technology to enhance teaching and learning.

This week I’m tackling something deep seated in our culture.

Stop Low-Level Plagiarism!

It’s a common problem today that students genuinely think that ‘doing some research’ involves a quick google search and then pasting the contents of a wikipedia page into a PowerPoint. If that’s homework then you probably have enjoyed reading the same copy and pasted article multiple times, but this low barrier to entry in the world of plagiarism leads to students going on insane binges of copy-pasting that ends up in everything from A-Level essays to work submitted as part of government dossiers.
Students have a major problem with low level plagiarism, and this leads to a poor attitude to the seriousness of the issue that is becoming more and more of a concern the further they get through school. In fact, stopping plagiarism in Universities is big business, with a hugely expensive software solution called Turnitin being by far the industry standard. So, if they’re working so hard to identify students who plagiarise work then shouldn’t we be doing more to change the attitude to it’s younger brother – simple copy-and-pasting – in our own classrooms?
How can we get the students used to not plagiarising any of their work, and why would we want to?


Letting the students get away with doing very little work when completing researching or ‘writing a report on’ type exercises; and not taking the time to identify when work is being simply copy-and-pasted off the internet in any form. Students start to get a little lazy with this and eventually you find that you’re telling a year 10 off for doing the exact same thing in their GCSE coursework.

What we’re really doing is reinforcing the idea that homework is quick, easy and requires very little engagement of cognition on the part of the student – and then they really do have a valid argument when they ask us, “What’s the point, Sir?”


I’ve set some homework for Year 7 to go off and research ‘Operating Systems’ and to come back with at least a page of research about that topic that we can use next lesson.

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Well, students did do that. They all did a quick Google search and copied and pasted the information from the wikipedia page entry, so when they turned up in the lesson they had nothing different to talk about, more than that; it turns out none of them have actually read past the first line… frankly this was a waste of time! I mean look, they haven’t even had the decency to remove the links from the text. 🙁


  • No one has actually done any learning, or anything other than mechanically type some stuff in. Really, all they’ve done is the modern equivalent of finding a book, photocopying a page and handing it in
  • If all your students are using the same resource to work from then they are going to have a very one sided view of the topic at hand
  • Wikipedia is not exactly a definitive resource, unless you really want to find out what happened in Breaking Bad S04e08 in tremendous detail, because it can be updated by anyone, no expertise required
  • Without the cognitive process of even the olden days methodology of ‘copying from a book’ then the information has not even entered the students brains once! They will really have no recollection of this in a days time
  • It breeds a culture that students just have to stick their question into google and not analyse the result, this means that students take this attitude with them throughout KS3, into GCSE work and beyond.
  • The content is at too high a level for the student, and chances are if you select a random word on the page they will not be able to define it
  • High level thinking skills are certainly not being utilised, let’s be honest, neither are lower order thinking skills. I’m not even sure typing the exact question and copying and pasting the first page result into a word document counts as conscious thought. We could probably train cats to do that.
  • Students don’t see plagiarism as a big deal, they build bad habits and end up writing entire essays without really engaging with the topic
  • Students get frustrated when future work requires them to engage their brain or use more than a few seconds of their personal time
  • Students have no concept that merely copy and pasting someone else’s words, or changing a few here and there, doesn’t actually count as their work


Instead of setting a task that is just called ‘research’, I’d be better placed to explain what I mean by this and what I expect. Finding information, and copying and pasting it is acceptable as long as it’s referenced and they have summarised it in their own words afterwards. Why not set the primary task being to evaluate how trustworthy or accurate the source they have found is and justify that? Let’s steal the idea of primary and secondary sources from our friends in the History department and get the students to really think about where they’re getting things from and what value they’re adding to them.

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I’d also take this work in electronically. Get them to email it to you, use Moodle or use Edmodo – it’s up to you – but the point of this is that I’m going to copy and paste the entire thing into a google search and see if it matches anything already out there – if it does google very kindle emboldens all the text it matches. This is the poor-man’s-turnitin but it works, and if the student has copied and pasted more than about a third of it then they’ll get it back with a big fat zero on it, asking them to do it again.
The key to this is being more prescriptive with the learning you want to take place with the task, explaining clearly your expectations for a student in evidencing it, and demonstrating they you can identify when they’ve tried to take the shortcut to success.

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  • Why not set this as one of your first homeworks in September, then take the class apart for their plagiarism and make a huge deal of it. Better yet – catch them early and do it on the first lesson in Y7. Students will learn to identify low level plagiarism with not getting the work completed to the appropriate standard and stop doing it.
  • You only really need to make a big deal of this on the first occasion, an entire class shamed through the simple art of the ‘copy and paste into google’ technique shows them how easy it is for you to be able to identify any copied work. You may need to follow this up on occasion but once they know that you’re no fool then they’ll step into line
  • Really make sure students are aware that the work should take them time, and that the point of the exercise is to see what they can learn from it, not just who can do the best google search
  • Do the brilliant embarrassing thing of asking student to define some of the complex, eight-syllable words they’ve undoubtedly submitted to you
  • Have sanctions in place for plagiarism, sanctions that you’re using and effectively demonstrating to the students that you care about it and will not tolerate it
  • Make sure you do this in KS3, sure it might not be externally assessed but this is where we are building the skills for their successful future education
  • Call it plagiarism, call it cheating, make the language you use more impactful when decrying it than calling it ‘copy and paste’, ‘cause that sounds cosy and nice
  • Try a real software solution to this, packages like viper (, The Plagiarism checker ( and more are completely free to use. They show you statistics for how much is copied and even show you the links to the original works they were copied from, this is really nice for presenting to students or even parents!
  • Get the students to use this software too, if they can see what they need to do to transform a work into their own then they are developing the analysis and synthesis skills they need to succeed
  • Get parents involved in persistent offenders, if we’re spotting this in subjects as varying as drama and mathematics then we can see patterns and read more into a students’ attitude to work than we could otherwise
  • I used to do something a little naught many moons ago, and when I set a research task on something like ‘Operating Systems’ I’d sneak into wikipedia after the lesson ended and put something random in the article for the topic, like ‘Any student with this line in their work will do an after school detention with me’, lo and behold most students ended up with that copied into their homework! The look on a students face when I returned the work with that one sentence highlighted was amazing! It’s very difficult to do nowadays though as the wikipedia guys are changing it back and banning you in a few minutes. Sad times for sarcastic teachers.


Make an effort to seek out and identify this poor practice and the students will engage more in your lessons and homework, because once they realise that you’re not just wasting them time in setting them donkey work tasks, but rather that you’re endeavouring to improve and extend their understanding, they’ll be much more on your side. You’re also going to benefit from the students realising what a big problem plagiarism is and wipe it out whilst it’s still at a low level and not going to mean a major lot of rewriting for an externally assessed piece.
More than this, thought, make it obvious that as a teacher you too live in the 21st century and Google is more your friend than it is theirs!

Otherwise you’re doing IT wrong, and if you are, maybe you need my book…

This is a first draft of a brand new levelling poster and system that combines the new national Computing curriculum model for KS3 and KS4 with our schools change to GCSE grades instead of levels (here, an H corresponds to level 2, G to 3, etc.). I am hoping that you either steal it and do what you want with it, or help with some constructive criticism on the level descriptors, these have been created based on both the curriculum and different Bloom’s levels to develop the students as learners as well as great Computer Science practitioners. Continue reading “Computing Levels Giant Poster”


Welcome to the third in the weekly series of top-IT-tips, filled to the brim with sarcasm galore, in an effort to get everyone using technology to enhance teaching and learning.

A big hello to Mr. Wilson this week, who used last week’s tips with some of his students, and he promises me that their PowerPoints improved!

This week I’ll be tackling something most people are either unaware of, or take for granted.

Classroom Management for Computers

You’ve been there too, students are trying to use a computer but, lo and behold, it’s not working. This can be easily fixed by improving some simple, non technical, classroom management skills.

Most people are really, really poor at managing the computers in their classroom, even though they can manage 30 teenagers with ease. You may have one, ten or a hundred computers, but making sure that the equipment in your room is ready to be used is something that everyone can benefit from.

The most common causes for down-time of Computers in the classroom is caused by teachers simply not applying the same rules and routines to the computers as they would any of the other materials in their classroom, so, for the sake of the children and our put-upon techies, let’s stop getting this wrong!


Letting your students fiddle with the computers, and not making them put it back the way it was at the end of the lesson.

This can be as simple as a student moving the machine to be closer to a friend, or even taking cables out all over the shop to get the computer they want working again, and leaving it in that place before they leave.

You may not log an IT problem because you’re busy, or you don’t need the machines that lesson, or perhaps you teach in their once a week so surely someone else will report it?

Even simply leaving the keyboard and mouse out and strewn across the desk cause problems. It’s basically just sloppy use of the equipment, but not dealing with it is the issue here.

Why might any of this be an issue? Well, whatever a student tells you they do not understand how to fix the machines better than our techies. In fact, most of their so-called ‘fixes’ might make the machines work for a lesson or two, but end up causing cascading errors and problems through our entire IT infrastructure.

The sloppy use of the equipment, moving it about, swapping cables, changing mice because they ‘don’t like that one’, means that cables and connections are being pulled and damaged, leading to the machine seemingly breaking on a regular basis.


I’ve let little Johnny in, and he’s sat at a computer. Problem is his friend, little Jimmy, is sat a little bit further away from him than he’d like. He shifts his computer close to Jimmy so that they can talk and work at the same time.

I don’t intervene in this because this seems like a pointless battle, why should I get Johnny all riled up over moving a stupid computer? He’ll do some work at least.

It get’s to the end of the lesson, and I’m busy getting students to put books away, organising homework and trying to run a plenary. I dismiss students who have sorted my equipment out for me. That’s fine, but Johnny and Jimmy have left their machines in that classic Mary Celeste way, keyboards are absentmindedly left about, mice are stretched to breaking point and the computers aren’t back where they came from.

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But that’s fine. It’s a computer. They’re robust. Right?


  • When you show concern over your resources, but not the computers, then students are more likely to treat them badly
  • Damage can accumulate bit-by-bit, meaning that things like buttons falling off computer screens, or mice that don’t work are not noticed
  • The students develop the attitude that, “these computers are pants” and treat them worse still, making them the excuses for not doing work
  • Computers end up breaking and being out of action more often
  • Your teaching starts to ignore the computers because you can’t rely on them actually working, you and your students lose out on interesting learning opportunities
  • Faults are not picked up and reported, meaning that you’re waiting around with a broken piece of kit long term
  • Students attempt fixes themselves, swapping cables, changing hardware, etc. that causes bigger problems on the network. Don’t forget, this is a big system being maintained by professionals, a couple of kids who are ‘good with computers’ can’t match that
  • Computers start being health and safety nightmares, what with all the cables hanging out of them all over the place


Simple. Intervene. In this case I’d warn them about moving the computers and sanction appropriately if need be. I’d keep my eye on them throughout the lesson, looking not just at them but the computers to check that they are being used appropriately.

At the end of the lesson I would ask them to make their workstations presentable and wait to be dismissed quietly by their chairs, before dismissal I would make a quick visual check of the computer, get the student to correct any obvious problems, then send them on their way.


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Think of the computers, and treat them, like any textbook, like any other piece of equipment you want to use.

When students sit down at a computer, intervene and sanction them for moving or fiddling with the equipment. If it’s broke, then log it with IT support and carry on with your lesson. Wait for an expert to come along and fix your problem.

At the end of a lesson make it part of your routine to not dismiss anyone sat by a computer unless it has been put back to the state it was in at the start of the lesson, being: Screen off, mouse tucked back in, keyboard pushed back or stowed away (depending on computer) and finally do a quick visual check to make sure everything looks right.

You might not be a computer genius, but you can easily tell if things look a bit wrong, and get the student to sort out what they’ve done wrong or at least log a call with the techies to come take a look.

Log any problems as and when they become apparent, no matter how trivial. If the techies don’t know it’s broken then it’ll never get fixed.

Log problems in any room you happen to be in, even if just for a single period a week. If no one’s logging problems then they’ll never get fixed and your ability to use the technology will diminish.


Take ownership of the tech in your room as if they were chairs, books or tables. We need to get involved in teaching the students to respect the equipment so that we can rely on it from day-to-day.

So next lesson, make them sort out the equipment before they leave.

Next time, intervene if students are trying some do-it-yourself repairs.

Or you’re doing IT wrong, and if you are, maybe you need my book…