Month: April 2012

Easter Planning – Kodu Part 3 (possible learning outcomes)


So, I have the learning objectives sorted, but what do I want my students to actually produce?

“Students should be working independently towards a single aim.”

The statement above is true, however, I still want to ensure there is a minmum requirement students will have to meet. If I had more time one of the things I would like my students to create would be a plan for their game. What is the story? What would you like the world to look like? What would the rules be? How would you win the game. However, for the time being at least, this will be put on the back burner.

So what will the outcomes be?

  • Students will be able to explain what programming means.
  • Students will create a world that includes (minimum):
    • Basic terrain
    • Mountains
    • Waters
    • Trees
  • Students will create a game that (minimum):
    • Allows user to control a character
    • Create characters that move on a path
    • Create a game that allows the user to score points
    • Allow the user to collect items.
  • Students will produce documentation that includes:
    • Well presented evidence of their game
    • Annotated screen shots explaining their ‘code’
    • An evaluation of their game
    • Feedback from at least 2 of their class mates.
Phew! There is plenty more for students to do, but this is what I would like them to produce as a minimum. This will then give my students the opportunity to produce a really good, unique game rather than a game I have designed and expect them to copy.
Next: What independent learning skills will students need and how will I deliver this scheme of work in lessons.

(Updated) Online / technology safety for parents (Presentation/Video included)


UPDATED – New presentation included

Last academic year we had several requests from parents for some information about online and technology safety.

Many parents felt like they were out of touch with technology and what it can do, as well as what was available on the internet.

In order to remedy this, myself and another member of staff set up a parent association evening. I have included some of what we have covered. Several of the slides have been removed as they link directly to files on the school server and would be inaccessibile.


Easter Planning – Kodu Part 2 (possible learning objectives)


At the end of my 1st year lessons before Easter I gave them a quick glimpse of Kodu. My students instantly got very excited, it was very clear that they could not wait to start this project (a project that was yet to be written).

During one of these lessons, a student turned around to me and said this:

“Whats the point sir? I thought we were not allowed to play games at school?”

This is going to be my biggest hurdle. Students MUST understand why they are using Kodu and what they are learning. It isn’t simply about playing games or in fact making games.

Today my plan is simply to decide what the project learning objectives should be. So far I have the following:

  • To understand what visual programming is.
  • To understand why we are using Kodu
  • To learn how to use the Kodu programming environment
  • To develop problem solving skills.
  • To develop self-evaluation
  • To develop peer-evaluation

These learning objectives will be broken down further during individual lessons. Due to only having 6 or 7 lessons to deliver this I am a bit limited to how much depth I can go into. However, many students will develop skills independently during enrichment time and at home. Essentially, this is what I would like to happen.

Students should be working independently towards a single aim.

Assembly – Three useful web services for students (Assembly presentation included)

Smartphones and tablets

Several weeks ago I held an assembly for the schools seniors and decided to present three web services I thought would be useful to them. I knew I only had about seven or eight minutes as the head had some prizes to give out.  This is not a long time!

There are a lot of websites I could have chosen, so which did I choose?

I am well aware that many of you would disagree with these but, here we go:

  • Dropbox
  • Google Docs
  • Twitter

As well as these services I wanted to mention mobile devices. All these services are available on smartphones and tablets, and I wanted the students to use these devices for more than playing Smurf Village.

I have included my presentation in this post for you to look at. You may even choose to use it in an assembly you are planning.

This presentation was originally a PowerPoint but I have uploaded it to Google Docs so it has lost some of the formatting.

Peer assessment using comments on student blogs.


Before Easter my 1st years set up blogs on Edublogs and began blogging about how to stay safe online. I had no idea they would enjoy it as much as they did. Many of these students don’t enjoy writing that much but seemed to love blogging.

It was great fun and my students learnt a lot about not only creating and managing blogs, but how to use the internet and other technology appropriately.

Unfortunately, I was unable to come to the last lesson as I had to go to a meeting regarding the school website.

The day before the lesson I was thinking how I was going to set cover, I didn’t think that I would be able to explain the lesson using the usual cover template.

Instead, I quickly knocked up this video explaining what they would be learning and what skills they would need.  I completely understand I sounds like a bit of a joker, but I did my best with the time I had. Next time I think I will ensure I have I plan what I am going to say before I sit down to record the video.

Essentially, the lesson involved students assessing their friends work by writing comments on their posts. My students loved it and found the video incredibly useful. Enjoy (and dont laugh).

If you would like to watch it in HD please change the setting on the video (look for the cog).

How to create QR codes

QR Code

I knocked this very rough video up a few months ago when I was asked by several colleagues how you create QR codes.

In and around my classroom I like to have QR codes on posters and wall displays that students can scan with their smartphones. These QR codes redirect students to YouTube videos, student created books review, information on various technologies and much more.

You will have to excuse the quality as it was done in a massive rush and not exported in HD. Anyway, enough excuses. I hope you find it useful.

Easter Planning – Kodu


I have had a very busy Easter holiday so far. For the first 3 or 4 days I completed all my marking. All in all I marked about 190 projects. By the time I got to the very last piece of work I was completely exhausted. Once I had done that I planned for the interview I was carrying out in a few weeks. I put some questions together and notes together and email them to my fellow interviewer.

That was all the work I did last week as I went to the wedding of my step sister; which was lovely.

Its Tuesday now and it is time to do something exciting…create a new scheme of work. Over the next few days I shall be preparing a project for teaching my students about visual programming/game design using MS Kodu.

This may sound sad, but I have been looking forward to planning this.

Over the next few days I will post a little about the progress I am making.

The Power of Twitter in Education

TwitterThis blog was originally published by The Guardian on 31st March 2012.

I signed up for Twitter several years ago but struggled to understand the point. What is it? What is it for? What information can I share in 140 characters? I did what millions of other people do: followed famous people, sportsmen, rappers, comedians and actors. Much of the time, it turned out, they didn’t have anything that interesting to say and, after a few weeks, I gave up on it.

Then, as the site grew in popularity, I decided to give it another chance. I had about 30 followers, mostly my friends. Every few days I would tweet about what I was doing and share songs, music videos and news articles and now and again I would tweet one of the many musicians I followed. Good fun but not particularly productive.

As time went on I began to take tweeting more seriously, posting more about technology and educational issues. If I saw an interesting news article, I would tweet it. I followed people more relevant to my profession, mainly users tweeting about politics, education and technology. The more I read, the more I retweeted. I started to gain more followers, which encouraged me to tweet more.

I began to understand what Twitter was about and what a fantastic resource it was for a teacher.

In fact, Twitter is the reason I am writing this blog. Back in January, when the education secretary was, it seemed, washing his hands of ICTat BETT, I lost it on Twitter. I have never been a fan of Michael Gove – after all, he seems to be doing everything in his power to destroy the teaching profession as we know it with his badly-thought-through policies and ill-informed rhetoric.

But this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. An hour or so after I tweeted my disapproval, though, some good news: @GuardianTeachgot in touch and asked me to write a blog based on my tweets. I was hugely excited and spent that evening channelling my fury into a post on the subject. Then, the day after it was published, I received another message on Twitter, this time from Sky News. They wanted me to do a live interview.

All this from a few tweets? Yes – Twitter really is that powerful.

The teaching and education community on Twitter is truly inspirational. I have learnt so much from reading tweets posted by all kinds of people working across the sector. Many of the resources, ideas and technologies I have read about I have been able to use in my classroom and school. In turn, I share my ideas and resources.

Twitter is a fantastic collaborative tool. As teachers, how often do we get to visit other schools? In my experience, very rarely. Twitter has enabled me to collaborate with teachers in schools across the country. Combine this with cloud services such as DropBox and Google Docs and you can create and share resources and ideas quickly and easily.

The site is also a great place for discussion. It is amazing how creative you can be in 140 characters. Teachers, academics, technologists and other experts come together on Twitter to chat and discuss a whole range of topics – you can follow and contribute to these discussions by using hash tags.

When used responsibly Twitter can be incredibly useful to students, too. I held a senior assembly last month focusing on how students could benefit from using the site. It will be interesting to find out how many have started to do so.

There are some downsides. Twitter does have a problem with spam, which won’t ruin your enjoyment or detract from the site’s usefulness but can be a tad annoying. And every now and again you can be followed by a fake account. These are easy to spot most of the time as they will have posted very few tweets and won’t have many followers, if any at all. Generally these accounts are accompanied by a photo of a scantily clad woman and are easily blocked – although they often disappear after a few days if you ignore them. The biggest downside for me, and this is very much a personal opinion, is how addictive I find the site.

If you are on Twitter already, I am sure you can think of many more ways the site could be used as an education resource. And if you haven’t signed up yet, give it a go. You won’t regret it.

How much will digital textbooks shake up education?

iBooks AuthorThis blog was originally published by The Guardian on 18th February 2012.

I am going to admit something right now: I am a bit of a fan of Apple products. I have a MacBook, an iPhone and an iPad 2 and always look forward to the next announcement to come out of Cupertino. When I heard that the keynote speech last month would involve an education-based announcement, I was particularly excited – there was a lot of talk on the web around the idea of digital textbooks and I was intrigued as to what the company had come up with.

For once, the internet buzz had got it right. Apple announced iBooks 2, digital textbooks and iBooks Author. I tracked down the keynote video onYou Tube and it was a typical Apple promotional video: cheesy and packed with the usual spin but undoubtedly exciting and well made. My initial thought was that this could change everything. I immediately downloaded Life on Earth so I could see for myself.

So what does a digital textbook look like? Well, fantastic, on the evidence of LoE. Opening with an inspiring, attention-grabbing video, it is incredibly immersive. The content is excellent with plenty of text and images. There are more videos to watch, imbedded interactive Keynote presentations and a quiz at the end of the second chapter. It was certainly a very satisfying experience and I would have loved to have had one of these when I was at school many moons ago. Could digital textbooks be the future?

Many students dislike having to carry around piles of heavy books – in fact sometimes they dislike doing it so much they purposely leave them at home! Digital textbooks would make this a problem of the past. Students would only need to bring an iPad to school, something that many are doing anyway in some educational institutions.

Another big problem with textbooks, as we all know, is that they are often out of date as soon as they are printed but going digital would negate the need to constantly purchase the most up-to-date physical version of a text. With Apple’s latest technology, textbooks can be revised via an update in iBooks. This has got to be a good thing.

For me, though, the most exciting part of this announcement was the release of iBooks Author. This is available for free via the Mac App store. It allows Mac users to create their own interactive books and submit them to the iBookstore or share them with other iPad users. This could afford teachers the ability to build interactive schemes of work for students to download, I thought; to create immersive training resources or personalised school textbooks in a quick and easy way.

Unfortunately, it is not all good news and there are some obvious drawbacks.

Digital textbooks and books created using iBooks Author can only be viewed on the iPad. This could be a bit shortsighted by Apple, mainly because the tablet is an unarguably expensive bit of kit and many students and schools will not be able to afford them. Schools are already struggling with their budgets and iPads will not be top of the list of things to buy. This may lead to a technological gap between schools.

The second problem is the amount of hard drive space these books use. Life on Earth is a near-1GB download and that’s just for two chapters. The complete volume could take up most of a 16GB iPad: not a lot of good when you want to buy several textbooks.

Finally, there is the issue with the iBooks Author end-user license agreement. It’s quite a hefty topic to discuss fully here and in itself is probably another blog for another day but I would certainly advise you to read this article on I am not sure how I feel about this aspect of Apple’s announcement but it is certainly causing some controversy.

Is this really the digital revolution that Apple would lead us to believe? Or is simply an update of CD-ROM textbooks on an expensive mobile device? Is this something students will buy into or am I looking at it from the perspective of someone who grew up without mobile proliferation and Google?

What do you think? Please share your opinions and thoughts on digital textbooks and iBooks Author in the comment field on this blog.

Is Gove washing his hands of ICT?

Michael Gove

This blog was originally published by The Guardian on 13th January 2012.

Like many ICT teachers across the country I waited with some trepidation to hear Michael Gove’s speech. Many questions were running through my head. What will he say? What will he do? Am I qualified to continue teaching the subject I love? Will I still have a job? The press had put thousands of ICT teachers into a panic. They had labelled ICT teaching as boring. We were told that we were failing our students. This upset many of us and painted us in a bad light to students, parents and schools. There were some seriously angry tweets the morning before Michael Gove’s announcement at Wednesdays BETT conference. But did I jump the gun?

Before Gove’s speech, he had spoken on how the current ICT curriculum in state schools was simply not good enough. We were told that we should drop ICT and all students should be studying computer science and learning to code. Whilst I agree that more computer science and coding should be taught, I don’t see it as something that should take precedence over the more creative aspects of ICT. Surely there is room for both in the curriculum?

This is why Gove’s speech took me by surprise.

His speech started well, it was well researched and informative. Then he hit us with it. As of September state schools will no longer have to stick to the ICT curriculum. This was great news. The current curriculum is tired, restricting and out of date. Finally teachers can be free to innovate and move forward. Then I read between the lines. Michael Gove and the government are simply washing their hands of ICT. By taking away control and government influence he is simply saying “get on with it”.

This opinion is echoed by Mike Matthews (@mikematthewsCDN) who is a Head of ICT at a state school on the south coast in his blog.

“There are some positives in this speech and some good will come out of it, it always does. However, I would say that Michael Gove, under the pretence of setting ICT free, has in fact, simply cut the subject loose. Abandoning it to fend for itself against private industry and interest who only see pound signs not exam results”.

The majority of us have been “getting on with it” for years. Independent and state schools are full of innovative and inspiring teachers that continue to push the boundaries and have done so for a long time. I rewrite or amend schemes of work at the beginning of every academic year. At my school we are teaching students to blog, design apps for mobile devices in groups and creating screen mock-ups. We are teaching students how smart phones, tablets and many more technologies work. We are using students to help teach HTML coding to their peers. This is just a small selection of what we deliver to our students. Schools across the country are doing the same, it just seems to go unrecognised.

As much as ICT teachers appreciate their newfound “freedom” it does come with some problems. Problems I thought Gove was going to address. Those innovative teachers will continue to innovate; those uninspiring teachers will continue to deliver substandard lessons. In fact there is now even less motivation for them to improve their teaching. Why? Because it will not longer be monitored, technically they will no longer have to meet the minimum requirements of the national curriculum.

In my opinion this will also encourage schools to use even more non-specialist teachers. Some non-specialist are fantastic, they are enthusiastic and keen to learn. However, some find having to teach ICT as a bore and therefore deliver uninspiring lessons. Why spend the money to pay for specialist to deliver a subject that no one will be accountable for?

The most worrying problem is that not all students will learn the same thing. Some students, in some schools will have an outstanding, varied, exciting digital education. Some unfortunately will not.

In conclusion we should thank Gove for letting teachers free of the constraints of the national curriculum. However, we would all benefit from reading between the lines.

Let’s continue being the best that we can be and work together to share the resources that we create in order to ensure that all students are prepared for the future.