BBC Micro Bit – Bit late?

The BBC launched their “Micro Bit” device today. The Micro Bit is a programmable pocket sized computer that will no doubt be used to introduce students to an array of programming concepts (please pardon the pun 😉 ). It is expected that all Year 7 students in the UK will have access to one of these come the Autumn.

Although many would be excited about the release of the device, it’s important to note that this concept is nothing new and has already been explored by our friends at Raspberry Pi, Arduino and Galileo. However, one thing that sets the Micro Bit apart is the muscle that comes with it. As well as teaming up with ARM, the BBC also has backing and support from  Barclays Bank, Samsung, Microsoft and Lancaster University. With all these big boys on board, I think it’s safe to say that the Micro Bit may escape the risk of being another fad and even something that I may be using in future lessons. I can also relax in the knowledge that the likes of Wellcome Trust and ScienceScope have promised support and will be no doubt providing curriculum resources that I’ll be eager to exploit.

It’s interesting to see that this isn’t the first time the BBC has managed to create a computational device that is used in schools. People from my generation will remember the BBC Computer (that’s right, that hefty keyboard thing with big clunky black and red keys) which was supposed to introduce coding and programming concepts to students, but was often relegated to the position of a fancy typewriter. I can’t help but wonder what the fate of it’s latest successor would be if not utilised to its full potential; Bookmark? Coaster? I certainly hope not! Lets see how things progress…

I must admit, as a fan of the Raspberry Pi and all the curriculum resources that are available for those little badboys, that I do see the Micro Bit with some scepticism. The BBC argue that the Micro Bit will ultimately compliment the Pi’s and could be used together with them; this is yet to be seen.

I can’t help but wonder if the BBC may have missed a trick here. They’ve created yet another programmable circuit board  that can be accessed and programmed with an android smartphone and yes, even apple devices. There’s clearly a market opening now for customisable and programmable devices that can be attached to our smartphones; perhaps the BBC should have tapped into and monopolised on an App store to compliment the device. I predict the advent of a new generation of app store that will allow users to customise their circuit boards and use them for various purposes by downloading the appropriate code. However, the following questions arise: Although clearly some people will embrace the programming and continue to produce fun and interesting things, will the rest of us continue to be consumers that download and use apps/code and devices to meet our ever changing needs? Ultimately, will the BBC’s Micro Bit with all it’s backing produce a generation of programmers, or another generation of users that simply don’t have a clue and are looking for their next App/Code fix?

I guess only time will tell – will keep you posted 😉

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The Ten Commandments – Advice for new teachers

As we approach the end of another academic year some budding teachers will be sat in anticipation, eagerly awaiting their new careers and looking to make a difference in the world and play a pivotal role in the development of our youth, or join one of the training programs that will put them in good stead for a career in the classroom.

With slogans like “Your Future – Their Future” ringing in the minds of new recruits along with pictures on government websites of attractive twenty-somethings smiling with glowing skin, amazing teeth and sharp suits;  surrounded by bright-eyed children eager to learn and promises of £25,000 bursaries protected from the evil clutches of the tax man, who wouldn’t want to “get into teaching”?!

Recently the UK government has expressed concerns that there aren’t enough teachers and many teachers are leaving the profession; the teaching profession currently seems to be struggling in the UK due to lack of teachers. I feel that it’s my professional duty to advise the newcomers and allow them to have a pleasant initiation into the fantastic world of teaching. It is for this reason I would like to present them with the following letter of advice:

Dear Newly Qualified Teacher/Trainee Teacher,

Congratulations on your new career choice, I hope your journey will be a fruitful one that will serve you well and allow you to bloom and play a key role in the development of young minds.

Having taught for 10 years, I feel somewhat qualified to give you new recruits some advice, free from the waffle and educational jargon that you will no doubt encounter along the way. I have summarised my advice into my 10 Commandments of teaching that I’ve borrowed (Thanks Moses!). I have adapted them for teaching and I’d like to convey them to all you people and hope you may find them useful in your quest. So here goes…

1. You shall have no other gods before Me – The ‘Gods of the educational world’ are usually seen to be Government bodies like Ofsted, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate, The Minister of Education or a Policy that has occurred as a direct result of the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM); I would urge you to familiarise yourself with GERM as soon as you can in your career – they don’t teach you that on your PGCE. You are now technically a slave to the ‘system’. You will find that the various bodies that own you cannot make their mind up about what they actually want and change criteria and expectations on a daily basis. Get used to it. One day Ofsted criteria may tell you that you are “Outstanding” and the next day you may be put on some support programme to improve your teaching as you’re just not good enough. The truth is that no one really knows what’s going on so just do the best you can.

2. You shall not make idols – In many institutions it’s expected that you ‘brown nose’ the person above to ensure that your “career” remains stable. Doing this may keep you in a job, however, you will lack the integrity required of someone in your profession. Idolising the right people may also get you more TLR points and positions of responsibility – if this happens then you will soon realise that you’re talking about stuff and using educational jargon you don’t really have a clue about and everyone nods in agreement with you even if your ideas don’t make sense or are actually not worth thinking about (that’s people trying to brown nose you for recognition and credit – well done if you manage to get this far, you will realise you’re not really doing much teaching if you get to this stage).

3. You shall not take the name of the LORD vain – Especially when you’ve been blamed for something that either wasn’t your fault or something that was beyond your control. Remember that you will be blamed for everything; so learn to accept the fact that you are a walking talking disaster waiting to happen. Understand that unrealistic expectations are the norm with many schools expecting you to produce results that are near impossible to achieve with the students that you’ve been given. Try your best not to make up results and levels to fit the model that the school management expects you to adhere to; however, all your colleagues will be making these up to either stay out of the firing line or to make themselves look good. Try not to fall into the trap of doing your students work for them, or worse, giving them helpsheets which are basically the answers. This goes on a lot. I say try, but I’m sure you will inevitably fall into the trap of doing this just to survive and meet the demands of the idols mentioned earlier who just don’t have a clue; remember desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures…so be prepared!

4. Remember the Sabbath day – It should be a day of rest, but that doesn’t exist in your world. You will work after school, evenings and weekends (yes on the Sabbath too) and during your 12 weeks of compulsory holidays that everyone envies you for. Most importantly, you will do all of this for no additional pay (teachers are one of the only professionals on the planet that do not get paid overtime). In addition to this many schools will now expect you attend Saturday sessions (so much for the Sabbath!) that you will be contractually obliged to attend; remember these are also usually unpaid and you’ll have to prepare resources and mark work for them too.

5. Honour your father and your mother – But honour the mothers and fathers of your students more as apparently they know more about teaching than you do. Parents have become an integral part of school education reform and will be summoned before educational policies are implemented. Their decisions, that will usually have no educational basis will often create work for you, so be sure to respect them.

Additionally honour your contract too. Always be sure to get a job description outlining what your responsibilities are. Many schools avoid giving job descriptions for one simple reason; if you knew what your expectations were, they wouldn’t be able to make you work as hard as they’d like. Work is very easily generated in schools. Understand that off-the-cuff policies designed by people with little or no educational knowhow (it’s the idols from the Second Commandment again!) will be created and shelved soon afterwards. You will naturally be expected to input into these essentially creating a document that will give you more work to do. But remember, unless policies are clearly written after an in-depth consultation process with all staff and the governing body, understand that they aren’t worth the paper they are written on so don’t beat yourself up about them as the “experts” in your school will soon realise that implementing such policies are more work than they are worth and will send them to ‘Room 101’.

6. You shall not murderFirstly, Kids are annoying; at many points in your career you may want to kill a few of them. My advice to you is “Don’t!” They will not listen, they will not complete work, they will not respect you or cooperate and they will make your life a living hell – but that’s just the way it goes. You will have constant thoughts of how miserable they have made you and they may also cost you your marriage; but other than that, they are generally quite sweet and lovely so learn to persevere. Secondly, do not try and kill any friends or family that keep reminding you that you’re the luckiest person alive as you get up to 12 weeks compulsory holidays a year (learn to forgive them as they obviously don’t know that you’ll probably be working through practically all of them, refer to the Fourth Commandment). Lastly, please also do not try and kill yourself either. Teaching is an increasingly stressful job with suicide rates on the increase; please avoid contributing to the statistics; it makes the rest of us look bad.

7. You shall not commit adultery – I find that teachers who generally do well in the profession are usually unmarried and have no children or personal responsibilities. If you are one of these, then you’re in for some fun. With all the unpaid work you are doing, you may not have an opportunity to have an affair anyway. If the opportunity arises do not do it with a fellow colleague in the same place you work; it’s extremely awkward and unprofessional.

8. You shall not steal – But in order to survive, you will have to appropriate resources that others have made. Inevitably they will also want to take some resources too so it’s expected that you give something back. Join online teaching communities for your subject and share those resources! ‘Do not re-invent the wheel’ as working together will allow you enjoy life (well what’s left of it after you’ve completed your work…if you ever get to that stage).

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour – What you will realise is that there are many people in the teaching profession that for some reason or another would want to screw you over. Usually it’s someone in senior management who doesn’t like your tie or the fact you’ve progressed in your career a lot quicker than they have or that you may actually know what you’re talking about and be more intelligent than they are. Be on your guard! Your examination results, students’ progress and general “professionalism” WILL be used against you. I learnt this early on in my career when even 98% A*-C grade passes were not good enough; my own results were a false witness against me!

10. You shall not covet – Finally, Your life is technically not yours any more. It now belongs to another (i.e. The government, the institution you work for, Ofsted etc.). Besides, any dreams of owning a house, a nice car or the nice suit that you saw on that government promo poster to get you into teaching in the first place will not be possible as your pay will not be proportional to amount of hours you put in. Accept the fact that on average you will earn less than Coal Mine Operatives, Crane Drivers, Pipe Fitters, Train and Tram drivers and some Police Officers. Everyone will complain about your pension benefits (which will diminish year on year) and you’ll generally be seen as the “enemy” by demanding your pension rights (which will only be useful if you haven’t killed yourself by then; refer to the Sixth Commandment). So in short, you will not covet much anyway, as quite frankly, with paying off your student loans, rent, taxation, pension contributions  and other expenses etc. you simply won’t be able to.

And that’s it really! Teaching is a lovely profession and hopefully you will not drop out of the profession after three years like most teachers do. If you can stick at it and put up with everything that works against you, then you’re in for a whale of a time!

I hope this advice has motivated you more to take up this wonderful career. I wish you all the best and wholeheartedly respect you for the sacrifices you’ll be making. I wish you the best of luck (as you will need it) – Welcome Aboard!

Best wishes and regards,

Omar Sheikh

Overcoming technological challenges in schools

Schools face a number of challenges when implementing technology. Based on my readings and studies that I have conducted over the past few weeks (and taking UNESCO’s ICT Integration Study as a basis of my findings) here are some challenges that schools face and possible solutions or pointers that they may wish to consider when trying to embed technology across the school and curriculum areas:

Teacher Confidence: Various studies have suggested (you can refer to my previous posts for a detailed look at these) that teachers are often reluctant to adopt technologies as they simply do not have the confidence to deliver their curriculum using the technological tools available to them. Additionally CPD is a problem with many schools who are reluctant to invest money and resources to develop their staff. Online learning platforms are becoming increasingly popular for people wishing to learn about various topics and I feel that they are a resource that are yet to be exploited by schools to ensure the development of their teachers. In order to deliver particular aspects of the curriculum, teachers need to be aware of how to use various technologies and software, one way to do this is to allow them to independently work through online courses and MOOCS that will allow them to improve their skills and collaborate with other teachers and learners to improve their teaching practice and knowledge in a particular area. Sites like Lynda.com, Mooc.com, Coursera, Edx and Udemy are excellent in allowing teachers to learn, practice and ultimately deliver the curriculum with confidence. This is not only a cost effective way of delivering CPD, but also allows teachers to develop their skills in their own time and earn recognised certification from reputable institutions and ultimately build their CPD portfolio.

Money: Schools often do not invest in technologies as they are simply too expensive. Yet time and time again studies have shown that schools that open their doors to institutions and other schools make more progress when it comes to technological integration. Collaboration with organisations and other schools to share ideas, (expensive) resources and good practice is a good way to overcome issues with spending. Sharing of resources is cheaper than buying outright and also allows schools to share the load.

Support: An online Learning Management System (LMS) or Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) where teachers can collaborate, help and support each other as well as share good practice will allow teachers to be less pressured when having to deal with areas of teaching ICT and technology that they may not be comfortable with drawing on the experience of others; this however relies on a good school ICT infrastructure (see point below).  There are an array of websites that teachers can and should be using to facilitate their learning. Teachers should assume that schools aren’t going to be helpful (a sad reality of the current system) – however websites (i.e. TES Resources) offer a myriad of free and paid for resources as well as forums to allow teachers to support each other and share good practice. An added incentive for some teachers now is that they can upload resources and be paid for their contributions.

Technology and infrastructure: How many times have we seen our schools invest in the latest technological developments only to see them shelved? This is a direct result of schools and governing bodies not thinking the problems through and wanting to implement quickfire solutions to long standing problems. When implementing technologies within a school, technologies should reflect of the infrastructure rather than the infrastructure trying to keep up with the technologies that the school adopts. All too often schools realize that their infrastucture cannot handle another ICT suite or a class set of tablets/iPads. A strategy that considers the infrastructure before any investment is made will ensure that schools do not waste money and resources and exhaust a system that cannot support. This will also mean less pressure on staff to deliver their curriculum on systems that just won’t cooperate (I am sure many teachers share this frustration!).

Time: All too often educators are battling with time to produce results and get the all important A* – C grades. Quite frankly, teachers do not have time to implement newer technological changes into their subject areas and often favor traditional methods over new ‘improved’ ones (past experience may tell them that these “improvements will be shelved anyway”). To combat this All stakeholders need to work together and share ideas as well as establish long and short term plans. When these issues are discussed, realistic time frames can be drawn that ensure that no stakeholder is pressured into delivering to unrealistic timings and deadlines.

School Management: With adequate training and development of staff, the management of the school and how operations are run will inevitably be streamlined. This will initially take time, but will work in the schools favor in the longer term and take pressure of teachers once better technological practices are adopted. Schools need to remember that change cannot happen overnight!

Family Context: Again, good use and implementation of VLE where parents are aware of what is going on in the school allows them to be more involved and readily share thoughts and ideas making the school more receptive to the family context. Schools should realize that parents are the important link to their students when they are not in the classroom and shouldn’t be treated as decision makers that influence academic decisions.

Ultimately, no school will be able to successfully implement technology  unless they are prepared to lay down the much needed infrastructure and evaluate where they are and where they need to go. The irony here is that most curriculum areas within schools encourage students to conduct evaluative studies of their work and make educated decisions about where they are and how they need to progress to get where they need to be; unfortunately our schools and their senior management teams seem to fall short in implementing such a strategy for development themselves!

ICT or Comptuing? – Planning for the future

ICT is… “so harmful, boring and/or irrelevant it should simply be scrapped”

In December 2012, I left my nice job as Head of ICT Department in an East London comprehensive, to venture into the unknown world of teaching beyond the school where I had completed my NQT year. I had six good years as an ICT teacher behind me and could have easily done six more. My department had successfully become a grade production line which took students in with the promise of A*-C grades and duly delivered – I opted to embrace change and go into teaching Computing too…since adopting this change, I have found that one thing that confuses many is the difference between ICT and Computing and how are things changing in schools?

Earlier that year, the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove along with “…other experts, including the British Computer Society and ICT professional association Naace, confirmed the current National Curriculum Programme of Study was dull and unsatisfactory. Some respondents to a 2008 e-Skills study said that GCSE ICT was “so harmful, boring and/or irrelevant it should simply be scrapped”.” (Ref)

After Gove’s crusade on my subject, I remember walking into my Line Manager’s office and asking her if I still had a job, at which point she smiled and said; “Do you really take what that idiot has to say seriously?!”

Now I’m in no way a fan of the idiot, oh errr, I mean Michael Gove or his “off the cuff” policies which didn’t appear to be well thought out or based on much other than how he was feeling at the time. But one thing I did learn, and stand by, is that most of the policies then (and now) are largely based on the fact that education system in the UK has been overlooked for so long that ministers must have woken up one morning in 2012 and realized that the world had sped on ahead while the UK was struggling to teach working class white boys how to read and write properly (yes that’s a priority of the UK education system); they wanted change and they wanted it quick! Subsequently, blame had to go on someone and as always the teachers were laid to blame for the shortcomings and neglect of the system. (We seem to take the blame for pretty much anything: Economy not doing too well? Must be the teachers pensions; Gun and knife crime on the increase? It’s the teachers’ fault; Increased level of teenage pregnancies? It’s the teachers again!; Too much salt in your cooking?…Yep gotta be them bloody teachers!).

So what’s all this got to do with the difference between ICT and Computing? Well firstly, it’s my blog and I felt like having a rant, but more importantly the idiot actually made sense! ICT had become a subject that had indeed become dull and boring and needed some serious change; it needed to be bought in line with technological developments and not about “hey guys let’s make yet another PowerPoint presentation about…PowerPoint presentations?”

So… what’s the difference between ICT and Computing? Well it’s quite simple really, and I like to give the following analogy to my students who eagerly come to me at the end of Year 9 and are choosing their options for KS4. I tell them:

“See it’s like this, if ICT is like learning how to drive a car properly then Computing is like being the mechanic”. It’s at that point the penny usually drops and students make a decision “Do I want to be a driver or a mechanic?”

ICT has evolved over the years and continues to evolve. In my 10 years of teaching, I’ve been involved in revamping as many schemes of work. Many people are under the illusion that ICT teachers generally have an easy ride when it comes to curriculum delivery. After all, what could be so hard about getting a bunch of kids to sit on the computer and make them watch YouTube videos and make presentations all day long? This has also become one of the reasons why students have, time and time again been pushed into taking ICT as options at KS4 and 5.

“It’s ICT, not Rocket Science!” was the response that I got from my current Headteacher after my students didn’t do as well as expected in a later position I took on. What my Head didn’t want to hear was that the students I had been teaching were doing the A-Level based on poor guidance by their tutors who thought it would be an easy ride and a good backup option. My students in the international school where I am teaching also have English as an Additional Language and weren’t cut out for an exam that was essentially designed for the ‘British’ student. Furthermore students were being entered into the ICT A-Level who wouldn’t have qualified for A-Levels in the UK and were well below the 5 A*-C grades (including English and Mathematics) that is the standard benchmark for considering students for study at Advanced Level. Ironically, the Head’s son took the exam a year later and had found the exam very hard. I was approached in the corridor by the Head and asked about the exam as his son had expressed how challenging it was; I responded diplomatically and said that it was as expected. I should have said “It’s ICT, not Rocket Science!”

“Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes” (Edsger W. Dijkstra)

The truth is ICT continues to change but the problem is people’s perceptions and ideas about the subject haven’t. Perhaps it’s this very reason why the subject hasn’t been given the opportunity to develop and thrive like it should. Unfortunately as a result ICT lacks the context that is required by a subject to make it engaging; most ICT is theory based and fuelled largely by abstract ideas and concepts that students can’t fully understand unless they apply them in a practical way. This is one of the reasons why I have become a fan of the International Baccalaureate which uses ICT as a tool for students to complete aspects of their work as opposed to being a subject that is taught discreetly. Computing on the other hand allows students to explore and understand computers on a practical level and is a subject that works well when being taught as a subject in its own right.

I think the quote “Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes” (Edsger W. Dijkstra) sums up computing and computer science very well as it emphasizes an expected level of understanding computing methods.

So What’s the Future of ICT and Computing?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) (especially at the Middle Years Program) has, in my opinion shown most promise for ICT within schools and laid good foundations as to how ICT should be used within the curriculum. IB expects students to combine learning, skills and theory from a range of subjects to ultimately create a project that demonstrates understanding in a range of areas (ICT being one of these areas). Schools now need to adopt this more integrated approach if they are to make students fully aware of the technological tools they can use to overcome real life problems.

Ultimately, In my humble opinion, as mentioned, I feel that schools and institutions should be using ICT as a tool to promote learning. You have probably gathered from my previous posts that I am in full support of contextualized learning and promote the use of ICT technologies across the curriculum to aid the teaching, learning and assessment process. ICT as a discreet subject, certainly at GCSE should be replaced in favor of Computing where students are expected to utilize ICT skills in order to understand the workings of a computer. However this doesn’t mean the demise of ICT as a whole, used well (again I will make reference to the International Baccalaureate) it should be used to promote learning throughout the curriculum and students should be encouraged to use it where possible. If we are to equip our students for the 21st Century, then we need to ensure that they understand computers (Computing) as well as being able to use them properly (ICT).

As a crucial first step, students and educators alike need to recognize the difference between the two subjects (I’d be willing to put my money on the fact that most Heads won’t know the difference between the two) and establish priorities for curriculum planning and delivery once those differences have been established. Let Computing be taught discreetly and let us embrace ICT across the curriculum!

Game designers of the future…

“Children need to be given digital building blocks to inspire them to build digital content” – Ian Livingstone, Life President , Eidos

Designing Computer Games in Schools

Computer games are not only fun, but also very educational (I wish I had known this when I was younger, as convincing my father to buy the latest games console would have been much easier!). Nowadays I have to convince my wife, naturally I use my 7 year old son as my excuse to buy my games. “Gaming can extend his learning” I say, or “He needs to be exposed to the rapid changes in technology and kept up-to-date to manage in this digital world”; she’s not convinced, but I end up getting my way anyhow 😉

In my previous posts (Using Games for Thematic Learning and How can we learn through games?), I have outlined the reasons I feel that computer games should possibly be used to establish excellent contexts to learning and allow students to access areas of the curriculum that they would have otherwise found dull and boring. I also spoke in favor of ‘Thematic Learning’ (‘Project Work’ in other words– why do we as educationalists have to use fancy words for simple concepts? Isn’t it supposed to be our job to make things easier to understand?!) and how Thematic Learning it can be used as a tool to facilitate multiple curricula.

I thought it would be interesting to have a look at the different tools that we as teachers could use to allow students to make the games rather than to play them (I’m sure my wife would find this more agreeable for our son). Making games is an excellent learning opportunity and as a teacher of technology I would urge all ICT/Computing teachers and subject leaders to introduce this into their curriculum as soon as they have the opportunity to do so. I will include some helpful links in this article that should hopefully get you started with possible schemes of work and study that will make your lives a little easier when trying to roll out a “Game Creation” module if you do not have one already.

Designing Games

Okay so we can all play games, whether it’s on our smartphones, tablets, PCs or consoles; the fact is that we are more exposed to games now than we have ever been. But not many of us want to venture down the route of exploring how the games were made. Believe me, this can be as interesting as playing them.

So when is the right time to get students started on this road to game creation? Well with the myriad of tools available for us as parents and educators we can start the wee ones off on their progressive journey towards game creation. Don’t worry I will include links for these too!

The important thing is that game creation allows the students to develop some excellent skills like coding and programming, as well as allowing them to let their imaginations, artistic abilities and passion for fun run a little…wild! In addition to this, game creation can have a lot of cross-curricular contexts (yes that’s Thematic Learning again) and you should have no trouble getting funding from your school if you can prove that it will extend the boundaries of your subject…

Step 1: Simple Design Tools

PowerPoint

Okay, so to begin with it’s very important to keep things simple and not to go crazy looking for specific software that is needed to make games. Microsoft PowerPoint (or Apple’s KeyNote for you Mac lovers – believe me, I’d be a Mac lover too…if I had the money!) is an excellent tool to get students started with games that require the user to make choices. A good example of this would be the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” type setup where students can generate a quiz and only progress through the game if their answer is correct. This can also be used as an excellent AfL (Assessment for Learning– more educational mumbo jumbo – AfL is basically when you check if the students get it) in the classroom to check the students’ understanding. You can download a template from here: http://www.teachingideas.co.uk/ict/files/wwtbamtemplate.ppt

This PowerPoint strategy is also good if you want them to create an adventure game which can have several outcomes with every possible outcome being on a separate linked slide. Try it yourself and see how it goes – It’s very good fun and keeps them engrossed for ages.

Scratch Junior (www.scratchjr.org)

This is probably one of my favorites, easy to use and you can let your, errrm I mean you students’ imagination run free. The Junior version that was launched in late 2014 is an excellent tool for children that aren’t quite ready for the standard version and also allows them to access the controls and coding blocks in an easier way. Additionally, the vibrant colors and easy to use interface allows the little ones to become more involved with the activities. The advantage of using the Scratch environment is that so many people have designed tutorials, videos and even done blogs to support the learning of it; this makes our jobs of delivering the curriculum a little easier – it’s a just a matter of filtering through the web to find resources that will suit you and your students.

The added advantage is that now both the Junior and the Standard versions of the software are supported as a web based application as well as being available handheld devices (yes, even the iPad supports it) – and it’s free!

Step 2: Game Design for Young Children

Okay now lets have a look at some specific examples of software that you could use to get students to create games using something a little more advanced (remember progression?)…

Scratch (https://scratch.mit.edu/)

Well we’ve seen the Junior version, the standard version is pretty much the same but has scope for so much more. As with the Junior version, this standard version has a whole host of resources available FREE online (that’s right, they wont cost you a penny and they will keep your students enthused all year long if you want!). Stuck for ideas? The Scratch website (https://scratch.mit.edu/) has loads of examples of other people’s work on there that both you or your students could check out.

Kodu Gamelab (http://www.kodugamelab.com/)

This is very immersive and allows students to create very professional looking games (Sorry Mac lovers, you’ll need a PC or Xbox for this one). The beauty of this is that it allows you to design games on your PC and if you have an Xbox controller, you can plug it into your PC and play your game. The environment also allows for characters to be introduced that can interact with eachother (links to literacy?) as well as being able to develop the much needed computational skills that you want your aspiring game creators to be familiar with.

Again, something you’ll be glad to know is that, like Scratch, Kodu also have plenty of free online resources and support. A couple of popular sites where such resources are available are Interactive Classroom and Consolarium.

Project Spark (http://www.projectspark.com/):

Sorry Mac fans, Project Spark is another Xbox thing, only works in Windows 8 using Internet Explorer 10 or higher; I bet you wish you’d bought a PC now – jokes aside, this looks pretty neat and generally simple to use, however, having a lot of optimization issues – I haven’t used this as extensively as I would have liked, but will be sure to keep you posted if I ever do. Have a look at the video to get an idea of what this game creation platform is all about.

Minecraft (https://minecraft.net/)

I thought I’d save my favorite to last. I absolutely love the creative nature of this game. The potential is huge and there’s no wonder Microsoft bought this for $2.5billion! If you haven’t played Minecraft yet, I suggest you get yourself a copy, free up an evening of your life; send your wife out with her mates, get a babysitter to watch your kids, stock up on essential rations and, get your creative juices flowing and spend some quality time just doing…stuff!

I won’t go into the educational potential of this game as there is loads out there on the net that you can use. Unfortunately not all of it is free, but there are loads of tutorials and videos etc. that you can refer to. Minecraft’s Education site (http://minecraftedu.com/) as well as the dedicated Minecraft Wiki (http://minecraft.gamepedia.com/Minecraft_Wiki) are excellent places to up your essential Minecraft knowhow. Here’s a quick video to get you going:

Step 3: Advanced Game Design Tools

Okay, so as mentioned, progression is important, so now lets move onto the bad boys of the game creation world…

RPG Maker (http://www.rpgmakerweb.com/)

If you like your Nintendo DS style games, you’ll like the RPG maker.  This is a map based game creation engine which is able to generate the Nintendo style games we have all come to be familiar with. The games are extremely narrative and the limit is basically the imagination of the individual using it. It’s worth checking out and generally good fun to work with.

UDK (Unreal Development Kit – https://www.unrealengine.com)

Okay guys – this is what you should have reserved for your extremely gifted and talented students. If you get this far in teaching games creation at school then you’ve done really well. Firstly, you’ll need a very good network and hardware to support this, and secondly, you’ll need loads of time.

For those that don’t know, Unreal are known for making some top games. They now have this development kit which is an engine that allows anyone to create games…for free! I was shocked to see that Unreal have made this stuff free as it’s basically professionally quality game creation stuff. If you do create a game using their engine, you’ll have to pay them royalties to be able to sell and distribute it.

I’m not going to go into much detail, as the potential for this is vast. Also, no one can say it better than the founder of the Unreal engine, Mr. Tim Sweeney:

 

The Royal Society of Edinburgh

On a final note, if you’re looking for pre-made stuff that’s been tried and tested, the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Computing Science resources are amazing. Why not have a look at: http://www.royalsoced.org.uk/1050_AnIntroductiontoComputingScience.html

So there you have it! A load of resources to get you started on your gaming journeys, hopefully you’ll have a lot of fun implementing games into your curriculum – would be interesting to know what you have done and how you’ve implemented it … Good luck and happy gaming!

What technology is right for my school?

A successful VLE is indicative of the involvement of staff and students (as well as parents and external bodies) of the technological health of the school.

4.1.2

When trying to integrate ICT into the classroom, there are a number of things that inevitably have to be considered. A good school looking to implement ICT into the curriculum should think about the following questions:

  1. Who should be involved in choosing technology or digital content for a school?

Choosing technology for a school is definitely a school wide effort. I have previously spoken about Internal, External and Academic factors that dictate the decisions made by schools with respect to the use and integration of ICT within schools and established that more often than not it’s the External factors that usually supersede all the others (i.e. the views, concerns and demands of external bodies and stakeholders i.e. school governing body, local council or businesses etc).

So who should be involved? Well interestingly I do feel that external stakeholders should indeed have a say in choosing technology and digital content for the school; after all they are probably going to be the ones that fund it…right? However, I hasten to add, that such decisions should draw in internal and academic influences (i.e. the school management and more importantly the teachers and their students). In my opinion, a bottom-up approach that goes from students (and their learning needs and expectations) to the teachers (and their ability to cater for the demands of students (and their parents) to the school’s management (and their vision) to ultimately the external stakeholders and their capabilities.

This grass-roots approach should allow everyone to have a say and allow views and expectations to be refined as they move higher up the ladder. A top-down approach may dictate a particular way of doing things whereas the bottom-up approach will make appropriate suggestions that will ultimately give all more scope and understanding of the requirements.

  1. What criteria do you think should be the most important to be considered when choosing new technology or new content?

So taking my ‘bottom-up’ approach, we firstly need to address the academic needs and requirements of the students and in turn go onto asking the following:

  • Is the technology needed to serve a particular area of the curriculum?
  • Will the technology allow students to develop necessary skills? Which ones?
  • How will introducing the intended technologies affect the way teachers deliver the curriculum? Will it generate more work?
  • Will training be required or provided by teachers to effectively deliver the curriculum with the technology? Will this be factored into the overall cost of the technology or will it come out of the CPD budget?
  • Will the investment be a cost effective one?

Clearly these are some of the questions that should be asked at every step of the process and refined as you mover closer to the external stakeholders.

  1. What are your plans for further extending the digital environment of your school, or your schools? What should a school be aiming at?

Following an extensive independent report of my current school, it is clear that use of ICT throughout the curriculum needs to be extended and promoted. Currently the school is working hard to deliver ICT CPD and promote the use of it’s FROG Virtual Learning Environment. This unfortunately, in my opinion is going in the opposite direction (i.e. motivated by external factors rather than the school starting it’s pursuit from where it matters; addressing the needs of the students).

I am a supporter of VLEs (when they are used correctly and the infrastructure to handle the user demands is adequate enough that the system doesn’t crash every time it’s overloaded with users)

Schools must embrace a technological vision. Technology, if not implemented carefully (often it is introduced prematurely) will not only go unused, but will also be a potential waste of valuable school budget and resources.

So what would I do to improve technology use within my current school and what should my school be aiming at?

Firstly, I feel that the school should address its curriculum expectations, look at the courses it is delivering and assess the need for ICT. This can be done through a detailed audit of the schools technology. Details like Computer to Student ratio etc. is an essential first step; establish what you are working with.

Secondly, the school should see whether its current ICT infrastructure is well equipped to deal with CURRENT expectations. If the ICT cannot meet current demands, then it will have no chance against any ‘improvements’

Thirdly, teachers need to be asked about their expectations by way of surveys etc. as to what they would like to do and whether they will benefit from newer technologies. It may be the case that they do not require any technological developments and their subjects are actually doing well without additional technology.

Finally, the school must embrace a technological vision. Technology, if not implemented carefully (often it is introduced prematurely) will not only go unused, but will also be a potential waste of valuable school budget and resources. A vision for the future is essential – everyone should be aware of this vision and work as a collective body having their input in every part of the process.

At the very least, all schools aspiring to be ‘future schools’ must be in the process of, or have already fully implemented a VLE. A successful VLE is indicative of the involvement of staff and students (as well as parents and external bodies) of the  technological health of the school. It also indicates the health of the staff and their abilities and can inevitably open doors to a wealth of cheaper (and even free) resources that can be used by all curriculum areas in the schools drive to be a 21st century school.

Ultimately, in my opinion – collaboration and an open mind is key!

Blooming Marvellous!

If you’re in teaching and education, then you need to know about Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Here’s a quick overview of what it is:

Blooms is something that I have used a lot over the years in my teaching career as well as my own personal development in a range of areas. It’s a fantastic way of outlining the different stages of understanding and operates, in my opinion, on the basis that ‘Knowledge precedes Action’.

When we teach concepts from first principles, we cannot expect the student to fully understand the intricacies of a particular topic or subject area. Rather we have to lay the foundations and ensure that the student are aware of some of key terms and terminology that they will be required to know (LOTS) and later build on that knowledge, understand it and ultimately translate it into an action based on that knowledge (HOTS).

This is where Thematic/Project based work is an excellent way of incorporating Blooms Taxonomy into the ICT classroom. Based on the principle that projects allow work to be contextualised, students will be able to learn newer words, terminology and ideas based on a common context that they will ultimately be able to extend through a series of understanding, analysing and evaluative tasks and activities until they ultimately reach their HOTS goals of Creating and Sharing.

All the work I do now in my ICT classes is thematic, whether students adopt the Olympic Games as a topic of study or whether it’s Global warming etc, the beauty of Blooms is that it can be broken apart and used in practically any setting and can become relative to any topic if applied in the correct way.

I have recently applied this to a scheme of work where I have successfully taught basic Python programming to Year 8 students. I am sure that with a little tweaking there is no reason why i couldn’t deliver the course to younger/primary students.

This is also, in my opinion, more of a reason for schools to become more integrated with the use of ICT and roll out an ‘ICT across the Curriculum’ style approach to ensure that students are always using technology to fulfill a need that extends beyonds the confines of discreet ICT lessons.

Other Links of interest: