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”

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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!

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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.

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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?

problems

  • 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

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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.

Simple.

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hints

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.

conclusion

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…

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Welcome to the second in a weekly series of top-IT-tips, topped with copious sarcasm, in an effort to get everyone using technology to enhance teaching and learning.
This week, my second biggest concern.

You Suck at PowerPoint (and how to get better)

Yes. Yes you do.
Me too.
This isn’t because of your technical skills, in the main. You may be able to animate one funky transition and apply custom animation galore, but let’s be honest, you’re not doing a presentation; you’re using the slides to store the content of your lesson.
PowerPoint presentations are meant as an extra visual stimulus or a place to hold small amounts of key text – if you’ve got more than 20 words on a slide then you’re doing it wrong.
Worse still, our students start to emulate our PowerPoint style and end up giving the most god-awful presentations you’ve ever seen. So, for the sake of the children, please stop getting PowerPoint wrong.

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Filling a PowerPoint full to the brim with text. You’ve seen the ones, size 6 font, black on white, Times New Roman; they should be banned. The sort of presentation where you feel the need to apologise for the amount of text or the fact that people might not be able to see it or read it all.
If you’re apologising then don’t do it in the first place.
Maybe you’re using PowerPoint to store the entire curriculum text that you need to deliver. You know, just in case you miss something. Perhaps you’ve rushed this lesson and copied the textbook into the PowerPoint file? I really don’t know what to say here. In many ways having nothing is better than jamming all that on the screen.
Research suggests that people are less likely to pay attention or absorb information when there is an over abundance of text on the screen and a speaker or activity is ongoing. They are subconsciously attempting to read and process the text rather than listen to you.
As teachers we need people to listen to us. Otherwise you’d be better off giving your students the textbook in the first place.

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It’s Friday afternoon, you’ve got year 9. They’re going to be bouncing off the walls and you try and teach then with this:

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So what? I was in a rush, needed to cover everything about keyboards and copied and pasted in the content from the mark scheme. Not ideal. I could break it up over multiple slides maybe, and make it look a bit sexier? That would work… right?!

problems

  • There’s too much text, you will end up reading it off the board, modelling poor presentation skills and forcing the students to ignore your speaking as they rush to write down every, single word
  • It’s also really, awfully boring, there’s no stimulus here, there’s nothing to lead the learning around. You will be adding a minimal amount to this content by doing it in this way
  • Sticking a picture or animated gif on the side of this will just distract the student even further from your learning activity, and even distract from the text you thought was essential to the lesson.
  • No one can see the text, it’s far too small. Any student would struggle to see this and the frustration may lead to disruption, or the pace of your lesson simply dropping off
  • The important bits are lost on the students because of cognitive overload. There’s just too much there to take in in one go.

doitright

Simple. Chuck the text away. Why not go super minimalist? Just a picture to stimulate the discussion? I can knock this up in a rush if I need to, the lesson can be more student led and it is a real, good quality presentation that models to a student how to present when using PowerPoint in a way that will let them get a job!

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hints

1. Pictures help the retention of information, students use a different part of their brain to process that than they do the talking or discussion, therefore data is written to more areas and you have a simple stimulus to remind them of the discussion
2. The less text you put on the board the more you can make the students the focus of the lesson, an interactive session with debate, discussion or the like makes memories stronger as it increases the amount of associated memories and actions, increasing the likelihood that students will remember things.
3. Make the stimulus weird and wonderful, students will remember a wacky stimulus better than a boring picture, so if you’re teaching about fascism then why not have a silly gif of ‘the great dictator’ looping in the background? The absurd creates stronger memory associations and therefore helps students remember!
4. Students wont give up on you if your slides are simpler, because you have more to give them than they can access from the slides. Otherwise they do have a valid point when they say, “Can’t I just have the slides, Sir?”.
5. Please don’t think that just adding custom animation to make every word slowly drop in or appear will sort this out. What is wrong here is not our technical skills, but our attitudes to what we consider a presentation.
6. If you’ve got a lot of text to distribute then make it into a word file and print it out, using it as supplementary information. If it’s important enough that every student has to have it then why are you letting them transcribe it poorly?
7. Remember this applies whenever you’re using PowerPoint! Even if you’re showing a bunch of adults your slides as you talk then the same rules apply. It’s even worse here because adults are actually polite about your presentation, and don’t tell you that they tuned out two slides in.

conclusion

You can make the presentation any way you want, but PowerPoint presentations are there to support the content with stimulus and not serve as a place for you to dump all the text of your lesson so that you can just read it aloud. It is not a aide memoir if every bit of text in the world is written on there; it’s a script.
No one puts the script to a new movie up on screen whilst you’re trying to watch Bond do his thing.
So please, make your PowerPoint slides less verbose and simpler.
If not then you’re getting I.T. wrong.
And maybe you need

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Welcome to the first in a series of top-IT-tips to get you properly using technology to enhance teaching and learning. This week I’m tackling probably my biggest gripe ever.

Email: Content vs Attachemnts

Please stop getting email wrong.

The content of an email should be all of the information that you want to communicate, it’s just like a letter that way. Attachments to that email are meant to support the content or be an easy way of sending a file.

You should never, ever send the content of your email in an attachment. Continue reading “Email: Content vs Attachments”

I’ve never been that particularly bothered about my weight, but recently I’ve been working to lose some by becoming fitter. What’s this got to do with education then, you may be wondering?

Well I can’t really organise myself to exercise before work. I live 50 miles away from my school and a morning stroll into work has been estimated at 14.5 hours, which rules that out as a morning fitness activity. I also find it hard to break away from work in the evenings long enough to go to the gym or for a cycle. Nevermind, that’s what the weekends are for? Well, again, not really.

Continue reading “Unintended Educational Consequences of Personal Fitness”

I’ve been playing with the idea of using print on demand for our own uses for a while, and on a small scale I’ve been creating and printing up custom teacher’s planners for my colleagues and me for a while; today marks the first foray into large scale deployment of this model in an effort to aid learning.

I have created custom notebooks for students studying OCR Computing A Level F451, F452 and F453 units to allow them to better take notes in a Cornell Style, Plan revision, identify weakness and reflect on their learning.

If you want to jump ahead and take a look at the finished products then click the image below to be taken to the online shop.

Covers

The Why.

Students in our Post 16 struggle to take notes. They can ‘do’ the note taking thing but this is not being developed and often devolves into writing down what’s on the slides… which are available online anyway.

I want my students to be able to use note taking as a learning resource, to reduce the cognitive load on their brains during revision and allow knowledge to being to settle into their neurons completely unconsciously.

I’m also finding that students do not use interim assessment points properly; they don’t revise adequately, don’t reflect on their achievement and once they’ve received their grade they rarely step back to examine how their mistakes can be used to refine their revision.

I want my students to plan, log and be accountable for their revision. I want them to be able to honestly reflect and evaluate how they’ve done and use the knowledge of where they are unsuccessful to plan targeted revision. I want students to have a complete written archive of all of this so I can see how they are doing and work with them to work smarter at revision rather than simply working harder.

The How.

We’ve already tried teaching these concepts, trying to enforce them in lesson time, etc. however with students all deciding to implement this in different ways there was simply no way forward for the concept if we wanted it to succeed other than giving them a standard way of working.

We could have simply photocopied a pile of note styles and revision guides, or done something fancy with the computers (we have before, I program bespoke systems all the time) but the reality is that the cost would be silly for what we want, it would look awful and lose student engagement and finally, students are hand writing the answers to their exams anyway so using the same medium to take the notes seemed like a prudent idea.

Pages LayoutI took to photoshop and began designing the ultimate layout for a cornell note style format, adapting this a little to include more relevant symbols for students at Y12 and Y13, and stitching it together in a nice little package.

This meant that I could add my own little flourishes, like a reminder to the student to take a photo of their finished note page (just incase they lose their books) and some special symbols for things like Past Paper questions and Definitions that need to be learned.

Each chapter has a specific content page to explain how to take notes (again) and describe the content of that particular section, giving hints and advice as to how to take the notes. Whilst this is not especially necessary I wanted to have each chapter as a standalone element so any student falling behind wouldn’t feel the pressure of leaving a gap themselves. This did mean I had to work out how many pages I think students would need to take notes on each topic, we’ll find out how that goes this time next year for revision two!

So, with a chapter opening page, how do you close a chapter? My thinking was along these lines:

  • A Chapter Summary cheat-sheet. This allows students to summarise and synthesize their knowledge into bite sized chunks.
  • Keywords and definitions. Easy marks are lost by students not being able to parrot back the exam definitions of key words like ‘key field’, this will force them to make a note of those they come across.
  • Revision Strategy. Making the students reflective means planning what they are going to revise, how, for how long and deciding how they can evidence this to me. This section allows the students to plan out their revision in a way that they can be held accountable for in the following section.
  • Revision log. A recording sheet for students to put down the times and topics they have revised, for how long and where it was evidenced. I have tried to collect as much data here as possible so if a student demonstrates a lot of revision and a poor mark we can go into detail and unpick their revision strategies.
  • Exam Result Reflection. Not only making the students write down their grade, target, etc. for their interim assessment, but then going on to make them think about, analyse and explain areas of strength and weakness in this exam. Going forward from there allows the student to write the Post Exam Strategy, this lets them plan ahead for what they need to do to improve their achievement in this particular section.

Pages from the guide

All of the above seem to me to be a nice way to get the students trained in a self aware process of refinement in these difficult exam subjects. At the very least it provides a framework for training the students to be reflective and effective practitioners at their own learning.

Danger ScaleThe last aspect of this is, at the end of a complete section of work, getting the student to rank the chapters in a ‘danger scale’, a page full of bars per chapter that let them visually identify the chapters they are not too keen on, then encouraged to develop their understanding of the most ‘dangerous’ more than those that are ‘safe’. This addresses a real concern that students feel they need to revise but don’t want to encounter things that they do not know, by making it obvious which topics they need to focus on.

More accountability then with a revision log for the final exam, which can be examined by teachers in a post-results analysis of the date. The last page is a simple academic year planner so that key dates can be highlighted and obvious to students to encourage them to actually do revision in a timely manner!

I finished up with an example note page and my Revision skills handout reformatted to give students some good advice and there you have it – a nice custom, print on demand notebook.

The Printing.

I decided to use lulu.com because they don’t fuss around and have some cracking prices for b&w interior printing. Selecting ‘Publish’ then ‘Books’ I went on to pick the paperback size and shape, add some meta data such as the title, etc. Get myself a barcode for the book so it can go onto amazon later on, then was prompted to upload the content.

I took each page and stuck it into a word document of the right size, I uploaded this and Lulu.com processed the pages to give me a PDF of the final version. Checking this to make sure it was brilliant was easy, the next step was to upload the cover images, an easy job for me but if you’re not too hot on that they have an automated cover designer you can use for just as good results.

Covers

All that was left was picking the pricing, I set it at the lowest point and then set the biggest special offer I could to ensure that I was paying as little as possible for something that is basically replacing notebooks that I get for £2 a piece. The extra pound or so premium seemed worth it for my custom notebook if it has even the slightest positive bearing on student outcome.

Finalising and downloading the proofs to check takes but a second, then you have some great print on demand notebooks that you can share with the world!

The Notebooks.

Having already ordered proof documents I have seen these in action, they are absolutely epic and will be perfect for my needs. If you give this a go tweet me, let me know, maybe we can share out the workload for others.

If you’d like to take advantage of my hours of toil over this please feel free to grab copies of the A Level Computing Notebooks by clicking the images below to be taken to the Lulu.com shop page, I have the pricing as low as I can make it so it should be relatively affordable.

F451 Computing F452 Computing F453 Computing

I recently gave a presentation on our ‘Massive Data’ project that we have been pioneering in the last term. The idea is simple, I want every student in every class to have an accurate mark with detailed feedback from every single session so I can use this ‘massive data’ to see trends and fine grain information about all the learning happening in my class and department.

The presentation at TMClevedon was well received and can be watched in full by clicking on this link; lots of people have asked for the slides, they are embedded below. Please excuse my hand drawn slides, they are very much a product of the fact that I am now bored with PowerPoint.

If you have any questions please contact me and I’ll be happy to help you out on your road to massive data.

Massive Data Presentation

I produced a revision skills handout / poster for use in my parents evening. Please feel free to steal it and reuse it as you want, I’d appreciate a mention for my efforts but otherwise – go mental! (Click the image for the original)

Revision Skills Handout

It was originally designed to support parents and students in revising for the F451 and F452 Computing examinations. The intention was to hand it out and use as a discussion point in the sessions. We’ll see how well it works.

As an aside, I took all of the images from thenounproject.com which is a brilliant resource, however I was a bit naughty and lost the file I was keeping all the attributions in – I apologise to thenounproject contributors and will endeavour to add attribution when I’ve got five minutes locate the original icons.