Monday 28 May 2012

Eric Schmidt "Why Science Matters" #ComputerScience #ICT #DigitalStudies

Eric Schmidt is the Executive Chairman of Google and he has been outspoken on the (poor) teaching of computing, ICT and digital sciences in the UK. In putting his money where his mouth is, he announced on Wednesday that Google would be sponsoring Teach First, a scheme set up to address educational disadvantage by taking exceptional graduates and putting them into challenging urban schools where they can make a big impact. As part of the sponsorship, Google will be providing teachers with Bursaries so that they can buy much-needed resources to address the lack of solid computing skills currently being taught in many schools and inspire students with technology such as Raspberry Pi's and Arduino's:





 Jump to the end of the post for a condensed statement from Eric Schmidt.

Setting the scene

Google have stated a commitment to inspiring the next generation of scientists and computer scientists. However to look where they can take us, let's look at where we are now.

There are 1 billion smart phones and 2 billion people with Internet access. But this is a minority, there are 7 billion people on earth and so the world wide web is yet to live up to its name. Indeed, there will always be a digital divide. Schmidt described it as a ditital oasis in a desert. Yet in the UK, the world wide web is a platform for 8% of the UK's GDP. We're certainly a privaleged minority.

Schmidt and Google believe that if we connect people to information, you can change the world. To connect the world is to free the world as this network is not merely a network of machines, but minds. Schmidt also predicted that by the year 2020, Optical fibre will be running in all major cities, offering speeds of Gb/s. Science fiction will become a reality. However in the meantime and in developing countries, we cannot predict their future by extrapolating the past. They will not merely use e-mail, the Internet and then ten years later move onto mobile devices. Mobile devices are here now and are becoming cheaper by the day. Even with modest connectivity, we can change lives.

Three worries

There were however three concerns:

  1. The Internet was built without criminals in mind and now we are fighting a battle against cyber crime
  2. There is nod elete button on the Internet. False accusation used to fade in the traditional print world, now it can last forever. However, Shmidt believes that with voting/rating of news stories and commentary like in a democratic society, people will be able to vote and rate what is true and what is not.
  3. Government filtering and censorship. It is insteresting that Google mention government intervention, as a TED talk highlighted filtering happening everywhere.
 On a more positive note, Schmidt went on to quote Arthur C Clarke:

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"

Scmidt predicts that technology will eventually dissapear because it will be everywhere and a part of everyday life, essentially becoming invisible. In order for this to happen however, the teaching of ICT and Computing needs to be kept scientific. With the same steps as any other science, Hypothesise, Test, Devise, Conclude and Repeat. Computer Science like all sciences requires careful repeatable rigour.

At a secondary (High School) level, through events like Google Science Fair amongst other competitions that we run in our own classrooms, we provide motivation for excellence. We cannot simply approach education the same way that we have approached it for decades, teacher at the front lecturing. Similarly, ideas are not enough, we need to actually use them and put them into practice. Many teaching ideas will fail, but many will succeed.

The value of an idea is in using it ~ Thomas Edison
In terms of science, we need to apply science through subjects like Engineering. It is therefore shocking to find that over 2/3 of all students would not consider Engineering at University. This is despite Engineer's solving many of the world's problems such as the rescue of Chilean miners, the design of games, buildings, componentry. So we need to make students more aware of what Engineers, Scientists and Computer Scientistists do in the real world.

This is where museums like the Science Museum come into it. Through a Google sponsorship of £1 million, The Science Museum will be launching a new gallery on modern communication in 2014-this will cover everything from The Telegraph ot the Tweet. In the meantime, there is the Alan Turing exhibition which runs throughout the year.

There still remains a shortage in Computer Science teachers and graduates in general; a NextGen report announced a shortage in UK-based animators, special FX and software engineers which all need Computer Science or Maths degrees. It is a sad state that only 0.5% of all students in the UK take computing at GCSE or A-Level. And whilst scrapping the existing curriculum was like pulling the plug out, we now need to power back up. Only 2% of Google engineers were not exposed to Computer Science at School. Furthermore, we have already seen what the BBC Micro did for computing in the UK, so imagine what the Raspberry Pi could do!

The Royal Society also published a report in January, which stated that the professional development of teachers is the main priority for reviving computing in the UK. In response to this, Google announced it's support of TeachFirst where it hopes to attract 100 exceptional computing/science (STEM) graduates which will impact 20,000 students. Whilst this may not seem like many graduates, it is the first step and it is very generous and brave of Google to make this first step where others have often talked but feared to tread. A summary statement is also provided below.

  1. Buy a Raspberry Pi
  2. Start reading and engage with GotoFdn
  3. Find more genuine examples of successful female scientists/computer scientists to display around school
  4. Create a list of attractive jobs which rely on Computer Science, Maths and Engineering,

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Learning in the real world #ukedchat

Three years ago, I had a bespoke item of clothing made. The fabric was traditional British suiting and I was amazed by how personal the service was- from choosing my own outer fabric and linings to finally receiving a tailored jacket with my name on the label, which was subtly included on an inside jacket pocket.

The label was called "House of Billiam" and the jacket was a hoodie. Yes, you read that correctly. Today, the business has grown exponentially but remains personal, run by Tom Bird and Rav Matharu. Their stories of how they got started in bespoke tailoring (of the urban streetwear variety) could not be more diverse. This story contrasts learning in the real world of work vs in a formal environment such as at University.

Reversible, original design House of Billiam 2007

Bird was a self-taught tailor and designer. He literally taught himself how to pattern cut and sew in his bedroom. Having graduated with a degree in Philosophy from York, his tailoring was a creative pursuit which he took more and more seriously, until he started his own business formally as he became overwhelmed by requests from friends and their wider network. Granted, the first batch of items from his early bedroom days (and nights) would not have passed QC for (say) Liberty or Comme des Gar├žons, but he was learning a craft through experimentation, risk taking and sheer hard work. He continues to work more than 60 hours a week for most weeks of the year and I cannot remember the last time he took a day off to "just go on holiday".

Matharu on the other hand was trained formally at Leeds College of Art and Design where he gained a 1st class degree in Fashion. They continue to collaborate and are currently planning their Spring/Summer 2013 collection. Incidentally, they did eventually get their clothes into Liberty and Comme des Garcons, where their collections have flown off the shelves.

Two very different people with very different schools of training are now producing products of exceptional quality. So is formal education worth it? Absolutely, without Matharu's input some of the shapes and sillouettes which are now famously worn by Ed Sheeran and Tinie Tempah would probably never have been conceived.

However, equally valuable was the informal training received through the world of work and experimentation as experienced by Bird. Can the same be said about other professions? Certainly in the creative industries, many of the most successful DJs, Dancers, Musicians and Film makers have certainly made it from grass roots with mostly informal training. The following successful professionals never undertook any formal training past secondary (high) school: Jane Austen, Michael Caine, Robert De Niro, Eminem, Li Kar Shing, Miguel Adrover, Elijah Wood, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and George Washington-Yes the first president of the USA.

As a teacher, where does that leave me on my thoughts about schooling and education in a formal setting vs. in the real working world. Personally, there is little difference, for every successful person who never went  to (or dropped out of) University there are an equal number who have graduated such as Lee McQueen, Natalie Portman, Barack Obama and Yo-Yo Ma. I believe as long as you do well at secondary school and leave school with decent literacy and numeracy skills, you can be a successful person in many fields without going to University. The exceptions obviously being Law, Accountancy and Medicine. Whilst both the Higher Ed route and the Vocational route are clearly equally effective and should be equally valued, the current attitude amongst many remains that unless you go through formal Higher Ed training, you cannot be successful. This is a great shame. It is a shame that this lie is sold to students by the media and by some schools,l as eventually students will believe that if they don't go to University, they have already failed in life. Maybe it's time we look realistically at what Higher Ed is for, who it is for and whether the same if not better skills can be learned in the workplace. Clearly House of Billiam and many of the people mentioned above are living proof that the two are equal merit.

Monday 21 May 2012

Leaving on a high

I'll be leaving my current post and moving on to an International school in the summer. However, I'd like to share something with students before I go. These poems are excerpts from a Vlog and are used for GCSE ICT revision tools:

Original Vlog:

If they get good views and rating (, our school department could win £1000 . What a leaving present. Please help me make this happen.

Monday 14 May 2012

Response to a Manifesto for sustainable effective teaching.

As posted in the comments to the original manifesto:

All in all. It's not been easy. A manifesto is a great idea but really behaviours speak louder than words. I think it's been good to have as a guideline and it makes me more aware of myself and listening to my body etc. However, our profession is demanding, like most professionals (Doctors, Nurses, Accountants, Lawyers), we do have to put in the hours. We serve the public. Despite this, we also need to rest, we need to serve and reserve ourselves. Finding the balance is the greatest challenge, not necessarily just sticking rigidly to the manifesto.

Saturday 12 May 2012

I'm Possible

When Stephen Hawking was at Oxford University, he arrived late to a lecture. The lecturer had given out a set of incredibly difficult Physics questions. They were so difficult that two of his peers working together managed to solve only two of the questions. One of his peers, working alone managed only one of the questions.

As Hawking had arrived late to the lecture, her was unaware that his lecturer had told the class that these questions were "extremely challenging". When teased by his contemporaries and asked how many questions he had managed to complete he replied, "I only had enough time to complete the first ten..."

On a more trivial note, a friend of mine name Jo works at a law office. She's allergic to nuts which is a shame because once in a while their office host Ferrero Rocher eating competitions. The challenge is to see how many you can eat in a minute. Her colleague managed to eat 8 in a minute. They later found out that the world record is 7 in a minute. I would suggest that if somebody had told her colleague that the world record was 7, perhaps this would have set a glass ceiling for him and he would have stopped trying at 6? Side note: Unfortunately the experience was so nauseating that he's not willing to attempt the feat again!

The glass ceiling theory comes from an experiment with putting a flea in a jar. Fleas can jump/fly to any height. But if you put one in a jar with a see through lid on it, it will jump but keep hitting this glass ceiling. After a while, it will jump but not so high, so it does not hit the glass ceiling. Even if you take the lid off, it still thinks the lid is there so it stops jumping as high. How many times have you told someone or been told that something is impossible? If nobody tells us something is impossible or if we choose not to believe them. We can achieve anything we put our minds to. Here are some b-boy (breakdancing) moves which were once deemed impossible:

Kipup to handstand (Omega bomb)

Double elbow track

To close, I would like to leave you with a philosophy to live by and to pass on to others, your peers, students and friends:

"If you wan't to believe in something, believe in yourself."


Further evidence that we can do anything we set our minds to:

Footnote: Stephen Hawking's peers had been up all night working on the problems. Stephen Hawking went to bed early and only started on the morning of the next lecture.

Saturday 18 February 2012

#ICT500 Rethinking ICT

There is one key difference between ICT and most other subjects, the content and field of ICT is evolving much quicker than any other subject. The events leading up to WWII and the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan have happened and very little new information is going to be gleaned from these events, with the exception of new interviews and new case studies. These events which are core to History and Geography have happened and they are not changing, events do not evolve.

Contrast all other subjects and fields to ICT- forms of information are constantly evolving, five years ago, infographics were neither common, nor fashionable. Data visualization as a field did not exist. In terms of communication, VoIP and Microblogging were once used by a small minority during a time when text messages and e-mail were replacing office memo's. In terms of technology, a clear trend in the 90's was the shrinking of mobile devices-we all wanted something more compact, smaller, thinner. The use of mobile technology changed however when mobile access to the Internet meant people were quite happy with a larger device with a larger screen.

With so many changes, you would think that ICT as a school subject would have also evolved, kept up with these changes. Unfortunately, it hasn't. It apparently takes a few years for new Specifications to be approved and maybe for this reason, ICT remained focussed around (Microsoft) Office applications. There was no motivation to change, teachers were fairly content, students knew no better and accepted the system. The system however did not evolve-in 2001, when I did my GCSE, the only way of apparently demonstrating understanding was through printscreens and annotation. Despite screen capture software and free audio capture/editing software such as Audacity now prevalent, relatively little has changed in the way we assess work.

In rethinking ICT, we need to look at the real world. Not just an office environment using Microsoft Office. What do film studios, software companies, startups, mobile phone companies, game designers, web designers and network engineers actually use? What skills do they need? We need to work backwards from there. We need to respond by improving our curriculum so that it prepares our learners for the real working world.
We need to seek support from industries and we also need to teach a wider variety of technical skills alongside a wider variety of approaches and thinking skills. Learning skills is one thing, knowing how to approach a problem, knowing who you need in a team are other key skills. The importance of the team cannot be underestimated, very rarely do people in ICT work alone. Group projects would bring a more balanced and realistic dynamic. Students should be able to experience more streams/types of ICT and then choose which one(s) to pursue in more depth. A modular approach like A-level Maths is probably more suitable than a prescriptive one-size fits all approach.

Monday 13 February 2012

Will it get me more marks?

Frequently students may ask if an extension task or extra project will get them more marks or extra credit. Sometimes these extra projects do count towards their final grade, sometimes they do not. This project shows that creativity and freedom alone are big enough incentives for students to achieve. The reward is the number of compliments they receive from their peers!

In the first year of A-level media studies, students are asked to produce a music magazine, front cover, table of contents and double page spread. To push the students creatively, I asked them to create an advert to go inside the magazine, this was not on the exam specification and was for no extra credit or marks but was an opportunity for them to create something original using their own photography and image editing skills. Here are some of the results.

Thursday 29 December 2011

Things to try next year

I've been reading a lot about education in Finland and also based on my visit earlier this year to Sweden; I've decided on a few things I'll try in my teaching and learning with students next year.

1) Let students write their own test questions. Finnish students have fewer standardised tests, but teachers do regularly write their own. Perhaps students could also write their own? What better way to test your understanding of a topic than to write your own test questions for yourself and each other. This activity requires not only understanding but also enough knowledge in terms of subject/topic content to formulate an answer and in turn a suitable question.

2) Celebrating co-operation rather than competition between students.
According to Vygotsky, learning is a social collaborative activity. Students which are at a more advanced stage can help those at a less advanced stage in their learning so that the latter can progress to a higher level too. In students teaching a concept to their peers, the skill and understanding is also solidified further. This also applies to my learning and my work with my department, I will seek more co-operation and try to eliminate the competitive mindset that can sometimes settle in. In aiming for more co-operation in the classroom, perhaps I could reward this more through praise and other reward systems.

After thought: If learning is social, can our school VLE or existing social networks be used for social learning?

3) Fun consolidatory/exploratory/creative tasks for KS3 "homework".
Homework is not set until teenage years in Finland. I believe that some homework that is currently set lacks meaning and purpose and in turn it saps passion out of a subject. It should be fun and in the flipped classroom, perhaps it should feed into next lesson. Ideally, it should be set in such a way that students actually want to do the homework because of the pleasure that it brings. If homework is not fun/meaningful, I won't set it.

4) Enable students to find their passion and state why they enjoy this part of the subject.

I believe that school is about finding yourself, finding what you are good at and what you enjoy. In Finland this principle underlies all schooling from age 8-15. This can be applied to your individual subject, in my case ICT. What do students enjoy the most and why? This activity also enforces the notion that there is no right answer to the question. If you prefer spreadsheets and formula to graphic design in Photoshop, that's great. If you prefer using Photoshop over Movie Maker or Powerpoint, that's fine too.

Also worth reading: