Sunday 24 June 2012

Guardian Education Centre and Facilitated Discussion at #GuardianCS

Lunch at conferences is always an interesting affair. For the vegans out there, they usually end up starving and so resort to popping down to the local café or getting out a lunchbox which they had already prepared. It is also clear which teachers have a decent canteen at school and which clearly do not. I walked past one delegate, sat on his own (he had clearly ran to the front of the lunch queue) and without exaggerating, he had at least 15 items (wraps, sandwiches, buns) piled high on his plate. It was clear which group he fell into and he certainly got his money’s worth from this CPD!

After lunch, we made our way into the Guardian Education Centre which is headed up by Margaret Holborn and her colleague Ellie. Margaret and Ellie run sessions practically every day, where school groups can come into the Guardian and learn to use Print and Video editing software that are actually used by the Guardian team every day. Access to the centre is at no cost and for this reason, you have to book one year in advance. Speaking from experience, this is certainly a worthwhile trip to plan for your school calendar. It has worked well for both Year 8 and Year 12 students at our school.

We also had the opportunity to chat to developers at Guardian. A friendly bunch, which held very mixed views with regards to Computer Science in schools; they were willing to answer our questions honestly. Here are some highlights:

Students will always ask “Why I am learning this?” or “How does it help me in my life?” It is no longer acceptable to reply along the lines of “It’s on the curriculum” or simply “Because I say so”. So as teachers of ICT, we have the perfect opportunity to teach whatever you want i.e. whatever you feel will be useful for your students when they enter the world of work/higher ed. Clearly, if at this point, you think it’s still OK to teach Powerpoint skills for more than 3 years in a row, then you are slightly deluded. There are so many excellent practitioners such as Genevieve Smith-Nunes, Matt Britland, Peter Kemp-All teaching interesting skills such as Animation using Blender, Coding using Kodu, Game Design using Stencil and Mission Maker, Music Video Production using iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. There is no reason why you shouldn’t ditch that dull unit on “Databases” or “Powerpoint Revisited” next year.

We asked the panel what their ideal curriculum would contain and these were their thoughts:

-An understanding of why computing and the internet works. How communication technology works e.g. The Internet and E-mail
-An understanding of why things go wrong i.e. why things fail, how to fail and how to recover
-Some theory e.g. What is an algorithm. Which can be easily understood by using the example of how to make a cup of tea.
-A study of “What does a self driving car look like” and an evaluation of “Why this study of self driving cars is important”-There are obvious implications like the laws of robotics, the technology required, challenges to be overcome etc.
-Web tech
-Doing things with quick feedback e.g. Coding-Not only is feedback quick, but it is private as well. No one see’s you fail.
-Code their own website (You can start with Weebly and embed code from other sites). Learning HTML and CSS is also a good start.
-Testing and quality assurance-understanding the user needs and running both automated tests and unit tests. Thankfully, this sounds a lot like Unit 14 of OCR Applied ICT.

The panel also talked about the CSWG, a working group (The CS does not stand for Computer Science) which has a period of 2 hackdays every 3 months. These 2 days give the team a chance to develop ideas and present them back to the group. Ideas can then be voted upon and implemented in the Guardian. Many of the ideas born out of these Hackdays are implemented on the beta site:

A delegate commented on similar hackdays aimed specifically at girls, which are obviously the more under-represented gender in computer science. These hackdays are run by RewiredState . Aimed at girls with no experience of coding. Languages such as Python were a popular one amongst delegates first learning to program. And whilst code academy offers great free resources for adults, most felt the code avengers was more suitable for students.

Two sites that were mentioned during facilitated feedback were and CS Unplugged.

Two further things worth looking at:

Programme or be programmed by Doug Rushkoff

The session got me thinking about independent challenges that we run in our school. These are set by each subject. Idea’s for ICT at our school include:

1-Build your own website using
2-Learn a new programming language e.g. Python (Youdacity / Invent Python/Py Games) or Javascript using CodeAvengers
3-Storyboard, Plan, Film and Edit your own short film or music video
4-Make your own game using Kodu, download it to an xbox 360. Get friends to play it and offer you feedback for improvements.

The role of the teacher – facilitating expert advice by Peter Kemp

“98% of Google engineers were exposed to computing at school”

Peter started his talk with this statistic to re-emphasise the fact that we cannot simply expect students to learn computing at home on their own, they must be exposed to it at school. But what happens, if as an ICT teacher you have little/no computing skills. Well to start with, it’s never to late to start learning. Peter started learning Blender a Free 3D animation program which is similar to Maya /3D Studio Max. He then exposed his students to it and they created this stunning animation for the Manchester University Animation Competition. Based on Peter’s introductory course as to how to make a cup, students taught themselves and relied on Peter’s network to create their animation in less than 3 months:

Peter’s expert which helped facilitate the course was called Tom. He is a Doctoral Researcher in AI at Queen Mary Universtiy. Of course, this was a great help, but what if we don’t have a large network?

1)     Sign up to CAS and attend your local CAS hub
2)     Sign up to which links professionals with school. There is no shortage of professional volunteers, but there is a shortage of schools! Computing Plus Plus also do CRB checks for you through STEMNET.
3)     STEMNET Has lots of groups such as BT IT ambassadors, Girl Geeks, Video Games Ambassadors, E-Skills UK. Which will all be willing to offer help and advice for your students
4)     Your local university
5)     Universtiy Ambassador Scheme e.g. KCL and 15+ other universities have student volunteers doing outreach work with schools all over the UK

Peter’s advice for how to write to professionals is to simply be bold and ask. People are looking for solutions, not problems. Give them a date and what you need from them. The worse they can say is “No”.

Peter restated that for Outstanding computing, we need just 3 ingredients:
1)     Experts
2)     Teachers
3)     Resources

All of these were outlined in his excellent talk.

The expert in the classroom - Genevieve Smith-Nunes

Genevieve presented what seemed like a utopian phrase that “Everyone is an expert in the classroom”. But the more I thought about this and the more evidence that Genevieve presented, I was convinced that she was right. I made it my mission to find out what each student’s expertise was in my classroom and to try and use it to my class’ advantage.

In my new school as an ice-breaker, I could ask each student to write on a wall, their name, their year group and their expertise. That way, whenever someone was looking for an expert in (say) audio editing using (say) Audacity, they would know who to go to.

Genevieve herself epitomises Peter’s BOLD approach by contacting professionals from around the world using Google Hangout. She has previously hjad Bob Shukai, the head of Global Mobile Tech at Reuters teach in her classroom via Google Hangout.  Eventhough there was a massive time difference, usually when you ask experts, they’re more than willing to offer help. Maybe that’s a key characteristic of an “expert”?

During the Google Guardian Hackday, Genevieve also helped facilitate a session where all students a 2-player Rocket Space Game. Extraordinary that this can be done over Google Hangout, allowing up to 10 people to video conference at the same time.

She ahs also had Master Students come into school as experts in Tech Enhanced Learning Envionments and HCI. They have been in to test their VLE and have offered help with building apps, creating a wireframe interface for students to experiment with. Simply using Mozilla and Thimble, her class were able to create an HTML render.

Genevieve will be running a HackDay at her school on Friday 6th July and she speaks very positively when she says, the worse thing that could happen is that we could fail. And even that isn’t that bad, because that’s the best way that we learn. And collective failure is safer than individual failure, because we share the experiencr together and nobody is to blame. It seemed that failing was something that is missing from the UK curriculum, Linda outlined this point in her excellent talk and Genevieve closed the day with it. In a funny way it was really empowering. There was once a saying that asked, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” But perhaps if we frame failure in a positive and realistic light, and ask a different question “What would you attempt to do, if the worst that could happen is that you would learn from your failings?”

Well what will you attempt next week, term or year? 

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Top 6 websites for teaching, learning and CPD

I've been teaching for six years and had some excellent INSET and CPD during that time. Imagine if you could have the world's leading practitioners at your fingertips, without paying a penny or even leaving your house- you'd be silly not to take up the offer! Some of the best content in education is being created right now on these 6 sites.

The learning Spy: David Didau's @LearningSpy  every post is guaranteed to make you think. If you're brave enough, they will also make you act. A leading proponent of the Solo Taxonomy.

(Content) Curation is King: @AnaCristinaPrts is a higher ed lecturer. Her curations specialise in autonomy, creativity and technology:

Learning with 'e's-Great name for a blog about e-learning. Steve Wheeler @TimBuckteeth is a leader in digital learning:

Cool Cat Teacher: You've hit gold. What can only be described as a treasure chest of Pedagogical goodness: 

Mark Anderson's Blog: If you're a visual learner, you'll love @ICTEvangelist's blog:

Edutopia: With guest posts from teachers around the world, this site covers everything from the micro level learning with individual students to the macro level at school and policy level:

Bonus link: Create your own inforgraphics. I've got to try this!

Saturday 2 June 2012

5 websites to learn more about Raspberry Pi #Edtech

The official website where you can find out more about the Raspberry Pi and have a look through their Quick Start Guide.

Here you can buy your Raspberry Pi and there's a huge community of users.

3) A realistic and fairly neutral viewpoint
Engadget's view

4) A success story in school
Swallow Hill Community School have already taken the brave step towards Innovation / early adoption

5) Blogs
Ok, it was meant to be five, but there's a few blogs worth reading:

<UPDATE> Speech regognition on Raspi!:

Another school success story :

Crust ->Pi tastes better with a crust.

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 Garçons, 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.