Monday 6 October 2014

Metaphors for Computing - A collaborative project

Many teachers have come to realise the power of metaphors. If this is not something you've tried or if you are slightly skeptical, I highly recommend this blog post by Alex Quigley (@HuntingEnglish).

I've found metaphors particular helpful in Computing as there are so many abstract ideas and concepts. Metaphors, analogies and similes certainly make these concepts much more accessible to our 11-13 year old students!

I've started creating some slides to document these and invite other teachers of Computing to contribute.

Click here to edit/contribute or feel free to browse through the metaphors and comment below:


Sunday 7 September 2014

Key Dates for Computing

Here are some useful dates to keep in your diary. You can use these to plan units with a specific focus:


Please comment if you have other suggestions.

Saturday 12 July 2014

Learning to get better

We've been waiting for a return visit from HMI for the past three weeks. In preparation, we've had two inspection teams from Outstanding schools and an actual HMI come in to look at the school.

Initially, the workload increased massively in preparation for the inevitable monitoring visit. However, looking back I think it's all been worth it. As I've mentioned in a previous post, you cannot possibly prepare for an HMI visit in 24 hours or even a week, it takes weeks if not months and therefore I think the mock inspections have not only provided us with time to prepare but also lots of practice.

In preparation, I've started filming a lot of my lessons. I teach 8 classes and I think I've filmed 5 of them so far. It's been quite insightful. There are a few things I've learnt from watching this footage back:

-There are a lot more hands up than I realise
-Body language matters a lot
-Formative assessment works

As a result of the first of these issues, I've put more of a focus on modelling during the Do Now and before the main activity.

In addressing the second issue, I've been more aware of when I'm giving instructions, where I am and how I deliver these instructions. Certainly the worst way to deliver them is sat down! I've also noticed that in some cases I have been leaning or supporting myself with a chair or the mobile white board! I'd be the first to admit that this is not the kind of body language that is favourable for information transmission or simply getting the attention of kids. I corrected this and am more conscious about this than ever before.

Amy Cuddy's brilliant talk discusses the importance of body language in more detail:

On a more positive note, I found noticed that traffic light cards and mini whiteboards, simple as they are work well. By forcing students to have 100% participation, everyone has to think to respond and therefore will learn a lot more. Linked to student participation, our observers also noted that we should script our questions more. The only way you can use questioning effectively is if you plan the question and plan who you will ask it to. This way your expectation of a student response (no opt out) can be met in the first instance.

I've told my students that the last few weeks of term are simply to improve by doing corrections on our exams. I've opened our lessons with quotations and these two quotes seem the most apt:

“Improvement begins with I.”
Arnold H.

“It’s through mistakes that you actually can grow. You have to make mistakes in order to improve”
— Paula

Looking ahead to Monday's monitoring visit, I'm feeling confident because I've made so many mistakes in the past 3 weeks and indeed over the past year that I've learnt a lot and improved my teaching as a result. Looking back over the year, it is the most difficult and daunting things in teaching that offer the most benefit. Line management observations, filming yourself and being scrutinised by 3 different sets of external inspectors in 3 weeks have all been challenging and at times slightly uncomfortable. However, every significant success I have had this year has come about through either one of these forms of observation or the reflection/debriefing on these afterwards.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Lessons learnt from setting up a new Computing department

This post is a reflection on my last 12 months as the lead teacher of a new Computing department. As I transition to the role of Head of Department, there are many things that I have learnt, wish I knew from the beginning and things that I would do differently.


Curriculum- I would aim to teach a GCSE shadow structure right from Year 7. There is no reason why 11 year olds can’t start with Python. Even students with severe SEN including ASD have managed to write simple programs in Python. Some may argue the case for Scratch or Snap!(BYOB), but to be honest most kids will have used these a lot at primary school, things like LightBot and Blockly are a much better gateway to text-based programming. I would however only spend a short amount of time on these.

Likewise, teach your students GCSE theory up to GCSE level, most of our students understand Von Neumann Architecture and can convert between binary, hex and decimal. It just takes solid structures, but with the correct structure and support, the kids can learn anything.  

Teaching and Learning

Get observed lots, bad observations are good ones because they should inform how to improve. Observers (including support staff) often see things that you don’t see. My worst lesson observation was followed by a debriefing where I reflected with my line manager. We spent some time rethinking my pedagogy and how to deliver a lesson with lots of content. The result was that in the following observation, my line manager said that he observed the perfect lesson.  He shared some of the techniques with the rest of the school.

I can’t emphasise how valuable it is to work closely with your support staff and technicians; on any given day they will make the difference between a lesson that works and one that doesn’t.
Observe your peers in non-graded observations. Visit other schools, find the best people on Twitter or at Computing events and just ask to go and see them. Visiting other schools is always inspirational, either they’re doing great stuff that you don’t yet know about or vice versa. You’ll always end up leaving in a positive and productive mood.

Make a website to host all your documents, cover work and showcase material. Some like to use Google Sites. I value aesthetics so I use Weebly and combine this with Google Docs and Tiny URL. When students miss a lesson, their first port of call can be the school website. Some argue for a VLE or network, but nobody likes logging in and if your student is ill at home, a website is the easiest thing to access and Google Docs offers the most streamlined solution for hosting and sharing documents with colleagues and students.

Google Docs is also great for creating tests which mark themselves. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Edmodo, in that it corrects students answers too. I like the sound of that and may try it next year.

In terms of formative assessment, print out name tags for every student, Get some traffic light cards laminated and buy a class set of mini white boards. These will guarantee that you know what the students actually know during your lesson. According to Dylan Wiliam, what you do with this information is the difference between average and great teaching.

Logistics and Resources

We started the year in a temporary building with laptop trolleys. Regardless of your environment, every class needs to be inducted into conduct, rules and routines when using IT. Do not assume anything!

If you have a laptop trolley the induction should include:

  • Two angles-90° and 45°. The former is the screen angle for working, the latter for when you are talking. Closing the lid forces some laptops to go to sleep, so this should be avoided.
  • How to carry laptops-not by the screen as this puts stress on the hinge.

  • How to stow laptops in the laptop trolley, managing cables and ensuring the laptop is on charge
  • How to log off. If you close the lid midway through the log off or shutdown process, the next user will not be able to log in without clicking the subtle “switch user” button. Attempts will be met with “No log on servers available”.
  • If you have not bought a laptop trolley yet, opt for two 15 capacity trolleys rather than one 30 capacity ones. The latter are heavier and difficult to move.
  • Move the trolley to the classroom of intended use, not the laptops. This will reduce damage to laptops.

In a computer lab:
  • Entry routine: Where to sit at the beginning of the lesson-is the routine to log on then take a seat in the centre desks?
  • Moving around the room, must be on foot, never on wheely chairs as it inevitably causes silliness and damage to chairs.
  • Where to save
  • Pack up routine: What should a tidy Computer desk look like. Headphones stowed behind/on monitor, no trailing wires, chairs tucked under.
  • No open water by the computers. Or no eating/drinking at all-the same rules as a Science lab.

Once students have been inducted, appropriate sanctions should be issued to encourage the correct conduct and routines.
Other notes:

You get what you pay for. Only trust the big brands (Dell, Lenovo, HP) and check reviews on Amazon

If you are tight on budget, you can get a lot of nearly-new IT equipment for cheap from or

Label and number everything with your own Avery labels or tipex. You can label your equipment with a room number, department and item number. I’d advise labelling anything that is not fixed i.e. laptops, chargers, headphones, portable speakers. It sounds petty and arduous, but this year we spent over £200 replacing lost/damaged peripherals. Damages was caused by both students and staff. Whilst this was either due to neglect or laziness (teachers having one charger at home and one at school), it can be avoided.

Student technicians-When you’re a small department, you need all the help you can get. Our school didn’t have a permanent technician, so I trained some students into the upkeep of laptops, installing printers, general troubleshooting of all things AV and Wifi. They were also taught  filming and photography skills. This means all events can be documented by students. Next year, I hope to train them to edit in iMovie too. Student technicians are also helpful to have at open days and on interview panels

Other helpers-There are lots of volunteers waiting to help you learn to program and run clubs for you. STEMNET and Code Club are a great source for CRB/DBS cleared helpers. A parent who works at an investment bank in Canary Wharf recently volunteered to come in and help me develop my programming skills. Sometimes all you need to do is ask, othertimes, the help comes to you.
Buy one of these organisers for only £11. It has a capacity of 500 sheets and once you create a tab for each of your classes, you will still have capacity for your form group, department, extension, spare sheets and helpsheet tabs. It has made teaching so much easier. I just do all my printing first thing in the morning, then carry this around with me.

·         If you need a book to learn Python and have never programmed before, I highly recommend Chris Roffey’s books:
book 1 cover

Lastly, teaching resources. Most of them are free and I have written extensively about these here.


Some Computing departments will have small budgets, particularly if you are a small school with only one or two cohorts of kids. Unless you have a full school, budgets will always be small. This section is mainly for those who have a budget of less than £1000.

Provided you have an IT suite or laptop trolley, forget the tempting gadgets and toys such as Raspberry Pi’s, Lego Mindstorms and Arduino’s. Spend most of your budget on training. There are plenty of courses on the Events page on the CAS network, some of them are free.

I know my previous statement about learning toys is contentious, but a class set of Raspberry Pi’s sounds good on paper, but really they’re just slow computers which need all the peripherals of a standard computer. When put together, they don’t sit well on a desk and are prone to damage. Even with a case, memory cards can break off and go missing, power leads can get pushed too far in. From what I’ve seen and heard, they’re great for kids to use as a learning tool/toy at home. But the classroom really needs robust computers. Not a worthy investment in my opinion.  


In finding someone to join your department, recruit early but don’t hire someone unless they’re absolutely right. I was lucky in finding a candidate on the third interview day that we held.

We run a fairly rigorous recruitment day including a code review, curriculum task (planning a SOW), teaching of a lesson, numeracy and literacy test. The last two perhaps are less significant, the main thing is the lesson that they teach, the subject task and the interview.

The main things you’re looking for are alignment with the school culture, subject knowledge and alignment with your own personality as you will have to work with this person for the next 1-20 years! The best advice I was given when visiting another middle leader was that there are some things you cannot change in a person e.g. their personality-“can you work with them?” is the big question.

Other big questions: If their subject knowledge isn’t quite where you need it, is the candidate trainable? Do they want to improve? In your interactions with them, do they give you energy or sap it out of you?

Top 10 Websites for GCSE Computing resources

There’s a lot of resources out there for teaching Computing. Finding resources is never an issue, there are anywhere between 10-30 new resources uploaded onto CAS every week. However, it’s sometimes difficult to follow a single scheme of work when presented with so many different resources. We also have our own preferences. The list below is based on the resources I have found most useful. This is by no means a finite list. There are many teachers out there who create resources but do not host these publicly or centrally on one single site. Those that do are listed below. Feel free to add more suggestions in the comments. Mr O Callaghan is a Computing teacher who loves pedagogy. Like David Didau, Alex Quigley and Harry Fletcher Wood, he is an outstanding blogger. He frequently applies techniques based on educational researchers and cognitive psychologists such as Willingham, Kirby and Wiliam. Wonderful site of resources and thinking from CAS master teacher Simon Johnson Self-taught Computing teacher Alan O’Donohoe presents his thoughts and resources for teaching Computing. If there is an example of someone who has re-defined himself from novice to expert, it’s Alan. -All round site covering Computing, ICT and IGCSE Not only does Matt Britland teach Computing, he does it with style. Great SOW and articles about EdTech. Multimedia (Video, PDF, Word Documents) A set of comprehensive resources for Computing, ICT and Creative Media collection of theory and practical resources. Resources which will help deliver OCR GCSE Computing. Some content is subscription only

thedenniglessons Ms Dennig also teaches Computer Science to her year 7’s. Lovely slides which break down complex abstract ideas into more concrete accessible ones.

gcsecomputingbalcarras A great collection of videos and websites which will take you through OCR’s GCSE My own website where I share every resource that I use in lessons. There are links to Zipped Files and Curriculum plans.

Bonus link: This is not a website, but rather a list of websites which are useful for teaching Computing from KS1 to KS4

Saturday 3 May 2014

Open questions and lesson starts

I cam across two excellent blogs about "Do Now's" and lesson starts in general and it made me realise that a lot of my lesson starts involve closed "Do Now's". I suppose I have fallen into the trap of closed question Do Now's because it makes for quicker and easier marking/assessment and suits Computing quite well. Computing is a science afterall and so asking students to do closed problems like you might do in Maths seemed to make sense.

I then realised when I read the aformentioned article by @HFletcherWood's, that having closed questions probably encourages plaigirism and the belief in only one right answer. It also means that the activity by definitioncannot be low threshold and high ceiling-this is a big problem. Having also attended further training on Python programming, I realised that for many problems there is more than one correct answer.

  Some example Do Now's from a unit of work about Python

My aim for next week then is to plan more activities where there is room for more open responses. I also think this will help slow down the pace somewhat. Often, I feel asthough I use Do Now's simply because it is school policy. I try to rush through all the correct answers, albeit using lollypop sticks to keep kids on their toes. The rush stems from me wanting to start the main activities. Perhaps this is a result of me feeling that time is tight. I lose 10 mins every lesson simply through taking out and returning laptops from a trolley. After a 3-5 minute do now and 5 minutes feeding back, that leaves 35 minutes for the rest of my lesson. I would usually try to plan something meaningful, challenging, with a solid outcome and genuine learning. At the end of the lesson, I'd also like to do extended plenaries and exit tickets, but realistically this is sometimes just not possible, hence why the start of my lesson is rushed.

Slow down, do less, do it better

After observing lessons and thinking about the burnout at the end of last term, I promised myself to slow down, do less and do "it" better. Having tried slower paced starts, I find that students are less confused; simply slowing the pace slightly allows them to process the new material and perhaps frame their questions more carefully.

In my next post, I hope to talk more about open tasks and questions that I have tried.

Friday 7 February 2014

How 5 good habits can lead to excellent teaching and learning

I recently had an observation with my line manager. I used to dread observations, especially when being judged by an expert teacher. I think the thing that even the most experienced teachers fear is an Ofsted inspection. Having received positive feedback for my recent lesson observation, I looked back on what I did and realised that most of it was automated, I do these things every lesson without thinking.

I came to learn about these techniques through our head of CPD (@HFletcherWood) whose numerous techniques come from the books of Doug Lemov and also talks and inset by Dylan William (See Youtube for a taster). By automating these good habits, we can free ourselves (literally and mentally) to address student's queries more effectively. Since the beginning of the year, I have managed to automate 5 techniques which have had a huge impact on my teaching:

1) Start the class with a "Do Now"

This should have a low threshold for entry and plenty of room for growth. My example was simply to state what you like/dislike about the following posters and to suggest improvements.

2) Positive framing (Catching them when they're good)

By using positive framing; only announcing names of people who were doing the right thing, it encourages those who are slow to start. "I can see James has started jotting down some ideas...I can see Megan has put one point for improvement". Within 30 seconds, everyone is settled, they all have opinions and are scribbling away. This is the most challenging class in the school. Those who looked like they had finished were asked to suggest improvements to the posters or think of general rules to make the posters better.

Compare that to negative framing where you call out people's names for being slow to start, "Ryan, you've been in here 5 minutes and you still haven't got out a pen...Janet, why are you walking around?". This type of framing adds a negative vibe to the lesson and may also lead to confrontation.

3) No hands up and no opt out

Asking only students who put their hands up is probably one of the worst habits you can get into according to Dylan William. The shyer students never get to contribute, those who are feeling a bit lazy will simply opt out and those with their hands up will get frustrated when you don't pick them. Using nametags or lollipop sticks on the other hand keeps the class on their toes.


In combination with Doug Lemov's "No opt out", it ensures that all students will contribute when asked to give an answer. If a student answers "I don't know", you can respond with "I know you don't know, I just want to know what you think". Every student has something in their head. If they're still hesitant, simply reinforcing that there is no right or wrong answer will build their confidence and even the shyest students will usually contribute an answer.

Extra tip: There are times when the question is so difficult that there is a good 30-40% of students who do not know the answer and do not even know where to start to think. In these situations, it is a good idea to do a "Think-Pair-Share". A think pair share with a written outcome means you can quickly see if the majority now have an answer to give or if you need to go from pairs to fours to widen the pool further.

4) Student routines

All the aforementioned are teacher routines. As a Computing teacher, you will appreciate that we have one big distraction in front of every student, their own screen. For some teachers, they dread laptops or a lesson in the Computer lab as it just leads to students going on Facebook. Social networks aren't even blocked in our school, but a student has never gone on a social network in any of our classes as far as I can recall simply because the consequences are so severe. Some teachers also find it difficult to get students attention. I would recommend asking students to close their laptop screens to 45 degrees on a countdown of 3-2-1. Some people call this "pacman screens", I've heard of teachers literally holding up a hand in the shape of a pacman which seems quite novel and efficient. I just call it "45"-efficiency in routines is important!


By having routines for handing out folders, getting students' attention, you make your life as a teacher much easier. Expectations are clear and students do not need to think about their actions, they just do it and in turn you're making their lives easier. By having clear consequences for not following the routines, most students are quick to latch on.

5) Ending with an exit ticket

Ending with an Exit ticket is the quickest way to find out what students have learnt in your lesson. No student can leave the room before giving you their exit ticket. With these little slips (No smaller than a Post-It Note and no bigger than A5) you can quickly spot misconceptions and it also helps plan the start of your next lesson. It's one of the most efficient forms of assessment. Some teachers sort these exit tickets into piles, one for those who will be rewarded with housepoints next lesson, one which is the average pile and the last pile is the one where students simply "did not get it". The last group can also be pulled up for a quick lunchtime mastery/catchup session before your next lesson with the class. As mentioned earlier, these piles go directly to inform your planning. Very quickly you can plan for the top and the bottom.

Closing thoughts

When you get the dreaded Ofsted call, remember that there is no way that any teacher can change their teaching style for one lesson observation without seeming un-natural about it. The kids spot it, your observer spots it and you just end up running around the classroom sweating whilst trying to do a load of things you've never done before. Yes, I've been there loads of times, in fact probably for every single observation in my first 6 years of teaching! It took a school culture which does not believe in "performing for observations" or "pulling out an outstanding lesson with lots of gimmickery" which really changed my practice. The most important lesson I've learnt this year (mainly from my amazing head of CPD), is that in order to be excellent, you have to practice (and practise) excellence everyday. As your good habits become automated, you end up freeing up some of your mental capacity and therefore you are able to do even more for your students.